If you thought the skin-lightening thing that was all the rage a few years ago among blacks in the Caribbean was a fad, wait till you see what’s happening in Africa. In particular, South Africa.
When we think of South Africa, we can’t help but the think of Nelson Mandela and black people who are proud to be … black! But would you believe that for some black South Africans there is such a thing as being too black.
A recent study by the University of Cape Town hints that one woman in three in South Africa bleaches her skin. The reasons for this are as varied as the cultures in the country but most people say they use skin-lighteners because they want “white skin,” reports the BBC.
One such woman is musician Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi. Now several shades lighter, she says her new skin makes her feel more beautiful and confident.
She has been widely criticized in the local media and social networking sites for her appearance but the 30-year-old says skin-bleaching is a personal choice, no different from breast implants or a having nose job.
“I’ve been black and dark-skinned for many years, I wanted to see the other side. I wanted to see what it would be like to be white and I’m happy,” she says candidly.
Over the past couple of years Ms Mnisi has had several treatments. Each session can cost around 5,000 rand (£360; $590), she tells the BBC.
Unlike many in the country, she uses high-end products which are believed to be safer than the creams sold on the black market but they are by no means risk-free, doctors say. Costly beauty
Ms Mnisi says she does not understand the criticism about her new appearance.
“Yes, part of it is a self-esteem issue and I have addressed that and I am happy now. I’m not white inside, I’m not really fluent in English, I have black kids. I’m a township girl, I’ve just changed the way I look on the outside,” she says.
The dangers associated with the use of some of these creams include blood cancers such as leukaemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, as well as a severe skin condition called ochronosis, a form of hyper-pigmentation which causes the skin to turn a dark purple shade, according to senior researcher at the University of Cape Town, Dr Lester Davids.
“Very few people in South Africa and Africa know the concentration of the toxic compounds that are contained in the products on the black market and that is concerning. We need to do more to educate people about these dangerous products,” says Dr Davids.
But skin-lightening is not just a fascination and obsession of women, the BBC report says. Congolese hair stylist Jackson Marcelle says he has been using special injections to bleach his skin for the past 10 years. Each injection lasts for six months.
“I pray every day and I ask God, ‘God why did you make me black?’ I don’t like being black. I don’t like black skin,” he says.
Skin lightening creams in a market in Yeoville, Johannesburg Skin lightening creams are popular in many parts of Africa
Mr Marcelle – known as Africa’s Michael Jackson – says his mother used to apply creams on him when he was young in order to make him appear “less black.”
“I like white people. Black people are seen as dangerous; that’s why I don’t like being black. People treat me better now because I look like I’m white,” he adds.