Cotonou/Ouagadougou – Across all vibrant cities and villages of West Africa, many people are artificially getting whiter and yellower –– every day.
Everywhere, grown-up women and men and even teenagers are applying hydroquinone products to bleach their natural black skins to look, as they put it, more beautiful, sex-appealing and cool.
“I grew up with a dark skin that made me uncomfortable and unwanted despite having a well-built body,” Amina, a 25-year-old Burkina Faso-born personal assistant, tells Daily Afrika as her skin-bleached friend Judith, looks on.
“I used to tell myself that the day I’ll become financially independent, I’ll change my situation. Look at me now, looking prettier and super attractive,” Amina says.
“Having a light-skinned gives you some sense of self-confidence and pride. We are all after big fishes and these guys are all after the banana girls. That’s why we are changing gear,” 24-year-old Judith explains.
However, it is not always a smooth-sailing exercise as a woman named only Baby found out.
“I started to bleach my skin in 2015, and went immediately through an intense session of injections in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), and after some time I started to see the results. It was amazing how I was transformed from a miserable dark girl to a super coloured woman capable of bringing any house of nice men down,” narrates Baby.
“Everything was going so well until last year when some stuff like fish scales began appearing in my back, arms and chest. Then itching kicked in, day and night, and got worse early this year, forcing me to urgently seek medical treatment;” Benin-born Baby says.
The medical doctor treating Baby refused to comment on her patient’s condition, except to say that the lady was in big trouble.
Pressed to comment further, the doctor replies: “The situation is worrisome and alarming. More and more women are coming to see me for the same problem. The terrible side-effects of an ill-advised skin-bleaching.
“Last week, a woman brought her 13-year-old daughter who was given an unknown chemical by a friend to bleach her skin. It backfired after three days, swelling her face and generating big, itching pimples.”
A medical source in Benin’s commercial capital Cotonou told Daily Afrika that Baby was misled. “The person who injected her did not know what he or she was doing. I’m afraid the scars will last a lifetime.”
Billboards advertising skin-toning or skin-lightening products, in which a ‘white’ lady is seen smiling, stand tall in West Africa’s streets, highways and intersections.
Community leader Hassan Badarou says these adverts must be banned because they were sending a wrong message to the youth that being light-skinned was linked to fame, social status and catching a big fish (rich or handsome guy).
“I urge governments across Africa to act now to not only ban the use of skin-lightening products, but also to close down the factories that make them. No need to wait until the situation gets out of control,” Badarou pleads, as a truck packed with skin-lightening products originated in Ivory Coast off-loads its macabre content across the street.
In Cotonou, Nigerian teenagers as young as 15 and 16, working as a prostitutes in neighbouring Benin, have all bleached their skins to attract men and be ‘different from others’.
“My competitors and I are not the same. I’m white and they are dark. Most of the time when we are together, guys choose me and leave them. It means that most guys are now after light-skinned women. This motivates us to push for more whiteness,” the girl nicknamed Azonto by her peers, says.
Though there are no recent statistics to quantify the extent of the issue both in Africa and West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in 2011 that 77% of Nigerian women use skin-lightening products on a regular basis.
Nigeria, a country where the Nollywood industry fascinates the youth across Africa, is said to be the continent’s largest consumer of skin lightening products.
“There is no doubt about it. Most Nollywood stars have bleached their skin. So, don’t be surprised. It’s our culture and our way of life,” a Nigerian man, who is half-bleached (white face and dark arms and body), says.