Wait, tell me, why do women bleach? – Olubunmi Ajiboye

Wait, tell me, why do women bleach? – Olubunmi Ajiboye

I decided to write this before I succumb to the urge to ‘mix’ creams just so I can get my complexion back. I’ve thought to myself, it’s just a little something to help bring my color back, it’s not like I’m reversing anything because I am naturally light-skinned. Well now that I’m putting this out there, I would be a hypocrite if I did, wouldn’t I?

I noticed that in late 2014 I started to get darker and break out a lot. It started with my feet and then early last year my face took a hit too. Vanity aside, I was genuinely worried. I would scroll through old photos in nostalgia at how I once looked and I tried everything I knew; from apple cider vinegar to homemade dried and crushed orange peels, but realized I was getting darker, pimplier and oilier. Now in the midst of my search for a solution, just lurking there in a lone space among the other harmless solutions was the thought of bleaching my skin. The thought watched me as I tried everything I knew, smiling smugly knowing I wouldn’t ignore it for long. And it was right, I didn’t. I had just seen another program on TV highlighting the dangers of skin bleaching, and I had joined my mum in denouncing the act or should I say art, when after the end credits it crept up on me whispering, “So what are you going to do about your face now?”

The woman who runs a mini supermarket close to my house sells a few of these bleaching materials; albeit cheap, low-grade ones, you know the ones your average young girl, house wife and trader can easily purchase. There, they are in different jars and tubes. My eyes catch them, and I take my eyes away. It’s only two hundred naira and you can stop before it gets out of hand, the thought whispers again. I literally run out of there. The next day, friends are telling me I am darker and look somehow. I get home and pick up the mirror again, moaning. By now my faith confessions have not only dwindled but are probably now working against me but I pick up myself everyday as I go out in spite of that inner policeman following me around telling me the reason that guy didn’t say hello even though I thought I looked good enough to be said hello to was because of my face.

There’s a young girl on my street, pretty young thing fresh out of secondary school waiting to get into the university, skin so fair and delicious I want to lick off the foundation from her face. Now that’s a girl that guy would say hello to, that evil thought tells me. However I found out she’s bleaching too and in shockingly heavy doses; the unmistakable red skin contrasting with the tougher-to-bleach-areas. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pretty sight on closer inspection.

These days whenever I see a light-skinned female, by default, my eyes immediately stray to her knuckles and her hands and I instantly have them categorized. First there are the ones who have neither the street sense nor financial ability to keep up so the skin, having lost its ability to return to its original state, takes on awful appearance: greenish, reddish, brown or something more undecipherable. There’s another group who have more street sense and financial means and they have found a way to even things out; so no dark knuckles or knees will ever give them away. And unlike the former group who trek and market in the sun they have all it takes to keep things nice and shinier by the way of air-conditioned cars, homes and offices, because with that degree of melanin annihilation it will be your undoing to be outside under the sun between 10am and 4pm.

bleached skin

For all my talk, when I see them, they stop me in my tracks too, I can’t take my eyes away and I find myself wondering, what if I had been born with that skin tone that would make people mistake me for white or biracial, would my life be easier or better? Would I have more admirers and haters, more hits and follows on social media? Would men stop in their tracks when I pass by?

Why are we so obsessed with being light-skinned? Why do we mistake ‘dark’ for ugly and unattractive?  Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s mostly about being attractive to the opposite sex. However is there something more, perhaps, pathological, psychological, sociological, colonialist and neocolonialist about this obsession? Because make no mistake about it, that sleek, shiny, red, yellow, orange complexion is the Nigerian dream.


My mum told me my great grandmother was a beauty to behold. She was so light-skinned they used to call her ‘Ufua’ meaning ‘white’. Some of my cousins on my mother’s side are light-skinned and my mum is too but none of them can measure up to Ufua. However, her genes weren’t that generous to the rest of us. Do I wish I were as fair as Ufua, that I caused a stir everywhere I went? A number of times I have. Sometimes my vanity knows no bounds and it doesn’t help that we live in a world that focuses a lot on outward appearances and beats down those who fall miserably short of its many unrealistic standards.

I understand that life in the tropics is hard because the sun and the skin are much like Tom and Jerry, sworn enemies, who are still in a sense friends because they can’t avoid each other and every now and then need each other. But haven’t we been here all our lives enough to know what to do to protect our skins? As for me my skin still has healing potential, but if I mess with melanin who will deliver me?


photo credit


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