A Skin Bleaching Epidemic in Africa and Its Diaspora

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South Africa is marketed to the world as Mandela’s rainbow nation, where everyone is proud of their race and heritage. But for some black South Africans there is such a thing as being too black.

A recent study by the University of Cape Town suggests that one woman in three in South Africa bleaches her skin. The reasons for this are as varied as the cultures in this country but most people say they use skin-lighteners because they want “white skin”.

Local musician Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, now several shades lighter, 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.

Read more: BBC

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