“Welcome to the life of a decoloured… (laughs).” These are the absorbing words of Delphine a 28-year-old woman from Nigeria. Delphine started bleaching her skin at the age of 16 when she felt she could no longer bear being side-lined because of her skin complexion. The constant rejection led to a serious problem of self-hate which dealt a heavy blow to her confidence and eventual happiness. “Light skin girls were always the centre of attention. It really didn’t bother me at first but it gradually took its toll on me. It really hurt me to know I was not good enough. I just wanted to be like the other girls who got all the attention especially from the boys. Since I started bleaching my skin I have never stopped.” she explains calmly.
Skin bleaching is no myth in numerous African communities. Growing up in a society where most people hailed women with a lighter skin complexion, young Delphine was faced with an identity problem. Defining one’s true identity is a daunting journey every individual is expected to undertake in a world that is fast changing, very demanding and complex. Young girls in particular, have to battle incessantly with the ever changing standards of beauty, living most of them drowning in a state self-pity, low self-esteem and self-contempt, as they struggle to sculpt their individual identities amidst a whirlwind of challenging social expectations. According to Erik Homburger Erikson the developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, identity development occurs during the period of adolescence when the youth is confronted with the critically important questions of, who am I? and how do I fit into the adult world? In answering these questions, the youth reorganizes his or her early life into a meaningful pattern that links his or her past to the present and the future. In the search for answers, the adolescent is susceptible to influence as he or she struggles with identity development.
Moreover, Barbara L. Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts assert that the theory of Objectification offers a profound understanding to the psychological processes and social conditions that contribute to the engagement in potentially harmful body practices. Women tend to internalize the perception of others as a primary reference for viewing themselves. This brings about self-objectification which is a significant factor in body shame, culminating in an identity crisis. Delphine reveals she felt more attractive after she started whitening her skin. This came along with a great amount of courage and self-confidence as she noticed a positive change in reactions towards her physical appearance. “I was no longer as shy as I was. I didn’t have to worry so much about my appearance and the negative things people would say about my look. I am definitely happier than I used to be because I feel comfortable in my skin.”
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Leaning back in her chair she adds angrily “By the way, some people are very quick to judge others. They don’t try to understand why people do the things they do. How these people actually feel.” The health hazards arising from this practice is no breaking news to this ardent user, but she claims she can’t stop because her physical appearance plays a key role in fuelling her personality.
Admitting to the fact that this is a predominantly psychological problem, Delphine strongly blames the society for making it difficult for her and her peers to accept themselves as they truly were. “People are different and it’s not always easy to ignore what others say about you, especially the negative things. I was never the type who could ignore comments like that so easily. Even though I have learned not to care so much about what others say, I still have these thoughts in head: how does she look? does she pull off her look today and so on and so forth and I guess I’m only trying to live up to them.”
She goes further to say “On a serious note, I think we need to re-educate our society. Life is obviously not all about beauty or how you look. We have more to offer than our physical appearance. Our society should learn to appreciate people for who they are and stop victimizing others because of their physical appearance. It destroys a lot of people out there. They might never show it or talk about it but internally they are damaged and it can’t be fixed overnight. Yes, I have become more confident but I am still a little insecure. If I didn’t tell you, you would never know. Our men should learn to appreciate and treat every woman equally irrespective of their skin colour.”
Without bleach? “I think my life would be different. I don’t think I would be able to do some of the things I do now, if I didn’t bleach my skin. I would not be the fun person I am today. It really helped my self-esteem. Maybe changing my view of myself would have helped, but I made my choice and I am comfortable with it. So far so good.”
Wearing a slight frown on her face she adds “I have seen what happens when it goes wrong. Honestly, it scares me and I hope it never happens to me. In life we make our choices and sometimes we don’t get what we bargain for. Anyways, as I mentioned earlier we need to re-educate our society so we don’t have to talk so much about this issue. (chuckles) By the way, I guess the next flight to planet earth is like this instant! (laughs)” she concludes jokingly.
That was definitely the cue to leave this unveiling world of a decoloured.