It is my pleasure to introduce Solange M. Lopes, who contacted me last month about contributing a post. Here it is! Solange is a 33-year old native of Senegal, West Africa, wife and mother of two residing in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A writer at heart, her writing experience includes creating and editing the “Kawraal” student magazine at Suffolk University Dakar Campus and serving as student journalist for the Suffolk Journal in Boston from 2001 through 2004. She is the chief editor of her own blog at and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

A Lighter Shade of Woman

“Pretty for a dark-skinned girl”: since I was a little girl in pigtails, this has single-handedly been the one so-called compliment that’s always left me puzzled as to whether I should be flattered or offended by it. Or maybe a bit of both?

According to statistics by the World Health Organization for 2012, 77% of men and women in Nigeria alone regularly give in to the widely popular practice of skin bleaching. The report also cites other African nations such as Togo with 59 per cent of skin bleaching product users; South Africa, 35 per cent; and Mali, 25 per cent.

These statistics are not only proprietary to Africa. Per an article published by BBC News Africa in June 2012, “for centuries Indian women have been raised to believe that fairness is beauty, and this has given rise to a vast and ever-growing skin-whitening industry – which is now encouraging women to bleach far beyond their hands and face.” The phenomenon extends to Cubans, black Americans, Jamaicans, Japanese and Arabic women as well, largely in cultures which appear to vastly favor fairer skin tones.

Some of the worst components of skin lightening creams include, but are not limited to, topical steroids, hydroquinone and derivatives of mercury. As stated in the World Health Organization June 2012 Information Sheet, “many skin lightening creams and soaps contain some form of mercury as an active agent. But mercury is dangerous. It can cause kidney damage and may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.”  Unfortunately, the incidence of skin cancer, neuropathy, skin atrophy and pigment disorders, as well as neurotoxic problems, to cite a few, has not halted the devastating progress of this lethal practice.

All in all, skin bleaching, or “skin lightening” as it is often mildly put, represents a serious disease affecting not only the body at large, but also detrimentally endangering the mental health and social well-being of its advocates.

As numerous and alarming the consequences of skin bleaching, even more varied and dire are their root causes. So many reasons have been cited to attempt to explain, or maybe justify this practice, from the disastrous post-slavery and colonial effects, to the argument around debasingly low levels of self-esteem in women using lightening products, to the now most prevalent phenomenon of socio-economic and media pressure.

However, after so many centuries of theorizing the why’s and how’s of this phenomemon, it has become obvious that the conversation needs to be modified, if not redirected in an entirely new direction altogether. Dwelling on obscure questions and tentative answers to explain the occurrence of this rampant social plague only perpetuates the problem by pitting real or imagined offenders, be it slavery, society or the media, against enabled victims who have no intention of curbing their destructive habit. The conversation, therefore, needs to focus around working to proactively put a stop to this calamity through education, self-empowerment, and self-acceptance.

The truth is, directly or indirectly, closely or remotely, we as human beings and especially as global women and creatures of change and advancement, are victims. Victims of the lack of education around the practice itself. Victims of disempowered societies in which the woman’s appearance is viewed as her main means of survival through fruitful marriage contracts and unions of monetary convenience. Victims of deconstructed families in which mothers teach little girls and boys to erase the original versions of themselves from the blackboard of Experience, just as they would unfinished infantile drawings. Victims of the loss of our women, our authentic, strong, beautiful women, the ones to lift up our men, carry and bring up our children, feed our families, plant trees and open new paths.

Victims because we fail to see and call attention to what’s inside, so we can go on and teach other women to see and call attention to what’s inside. Victims because so many times, we remain silent instead of speaking up, because just ignoring the issue is an issue in itself.

– Solange M. Lopes