The photo above of an advertising hoarding for a popular skin cream is, in some respects unremarkable: yet another product to beautify the skin. But this is West Africa and even a generous interpretation would we hard pressed to describe the model as even mixed race. If this was some lone, anomalous advert it would not be worth more than a brief mention but it is typical of marketing for beauty products in the region. Of the dozens of ads I have seen, only one used a dark-skinned model and one had a typical skin colour. The rest used either light-skinned, mixed race or white women. To put this into perspective you can walk around many major cities for a day and only see one or two African women who fitted this “ideal”. As for mixed race women, I have seen none in two months.
It should be borne in mind that, unlike southern or eastern Africa there is effectively no local white and/or light-skinned population, such as the San in S. Africa. The light-skinned ethnicities such as Berbers and Tuaregs are essentially found only in the regions of the Sahara and if anything there is a negative feeling towards them in places, especially since the troubles in Mali. If you see a Tuareg in the southern countries they are more likely to be begging than out shopping. To some degree these groups are seen as North African rather than simply African.
The music industry, particularly with rap videos has done its bit to aggravate this issue recently by regularly using mixed race models in preference to dark-skinned ones. You would hardly expect the average rapper to be a paradigm of virtue in matters concerning the sexual imagery of women but it demonstrates the allure of the exotic, foreign women in much the same way as dark skin has been used in the West. More disturbing is that as these beauty product companies can hardly be staffed entirely by African rappers, there must be some women involved in endorsing these decisions. The end result of all this is to lower women’s self esteem and promote skin bleaching, which is well-known for its health risks. Although some of these are global companies, to think that some African women must be helping propagate these practices is simply depressing. Whatever happened to “black is beautiful”.
It has reached epidemic proportions in Nigeria, where a World Health Organisation survey found that 77% of women used skin lightening products. There is a surprisingly widespread perception that light skin is more attractive and such people are more successful. A globalized media and beauty industry has only served to exacerbate this belief. Ironically this preference for lighter skin can be traced back to the better treatment given by slave owners to their children with African slaves.
The image above must surely rank as the most absurd of my trip. I am sure the model in question is a fine young lady and I wish her every success in her modeling career but whoever decided that she should be the face of anything called Africa Queen needs to be taken out and shot, with their corpse unceremoniously dumped in a cess pit. To use a black model in, say Britain for something labeled British makes a laudable stand against racist attitudes. The converse cannot be said in Africa as it conveys the message that what nature or, God if you prefer gave you is not good enough.
If you are a mixed race model in Europe and lacking work, get yourself to Africa. I can’t guarantee you riches but you will soon have a bulging portfolio and get to shag some famous rappers.
Dark skinned women of the world we love you as you are, please keep it that way.