The fight against skin bleaching on the continent has been years in the trenches, and some governments have stepped in to curb it in countries where it is particularly prevalent. Ghana and Ivory Coast, for example, imposed an outright ban on the importation of all products that contain skin-lightening chemicals.
In Nigeria, 77% of women are reported by the World Health Organisation to use some form of skin-lightening product on a regular basis.
Enter ex-stripper and model Blac Chyna, who, in a post on her Instagram page, said she had partnered with the beauty line Whitenicious to launch a face cream in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. The company’s website describes the Whitenicious x Blac Chyna Collection as an “illuminating and brightening cream” that “lightens without bleaching skin out”.
It goes on to elaborate that the jar is handcrafted with Swarovski crystals and will cost US$250 (£195).
Colourism and conflicting ideologies
The ban of and fight against skin lightening is based on both medical and ideological considerations. Medically, the practice can lead to kidney and liver failure and makes healing difficult. This could lead to major complications in surgery and an overall susceptibility to infection.
Ideologically, however, attitudes to the practice are split. On one side there is a strong reaction against it as an expression of self-hate and the damaging concept that black is inferior and not beautiful. This concept has made colourism something to contend with in Africa – ironically the one place in the world where every shade of blackness should be acceptable and celebrated.
Blac Chyna partnering up with Africa's bleaching king and queen to create a new face bleaching cream is beyond problematic.
It's really rubbing me the wrong way, ain't no way in hell she would do that in LA. Exploiting Nigeria's colourism problem is disgusting
— Tops (@SincerelyTops) November 20, 2018
saw a couple tweets stating “please learn the difference between bleaching and lightening”….let’s STOP acting like this advertisement, and company as a whole, (“whitenicious”) does not promote “lighter is better” mentality.
We all have brains. Let’s not be obtuse pic.twitter.com/pTlrzOV1rs
— La Bronze James (@jackieaina) November 21, 2018
On the other side are the pro-choicers who believe that regardless of the outcome, people should be allowed to do what they wish with their own bodies, especially in the age of plastic surgery.
The founder of Whitenicious, Cameroonian pop star Denecia, told BBC that Blac Chyna’s cream is being sold to people who are “more well informed than somebody who is buying it off of the black market”.
“If you feel like you want to be lighter, what if that’s what you really want and it’s got nothing to do with self-loathing?” she asks.
Whichever ideology one subscribes to, the reality is the desire to change your skin tone stems from colourism which, by definition, is based in prejudice and discrimination against individuals who have a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. People who bleach their skin may not hate themselves but they have been led to believe that a lighter complexion is “better” and will give them opportunities or attention that they have not been able to get with their natural complexion.
This notion is only enforced by personalities like Blac Chyna, who made their way into the spotlight by drastically changing their appearance, thus perpetuating the toxicity of and the damage caused by colourism.