Saturday, December 16, 2017

Stigma against dark-skinned women


By Mpoki Thomson

What propagates the dark-skin prejudice? Women across the world are being taunted for having dark skin.

Neema Abel, 24, is a young model who’s experienced prejudice because of her dark skin. The young model has had to withstand the ordeal of being overlooked simply because she doesn’t fit the definition of ‘beauty’ according to some modeling agencies’ standards.

She moved from Arusha to study in Dar es Salaam and also pursue a modeling career. Being the commercial capital, Dar presented her with an abundance of opportunities that could propel her career. She had a close friend who owned a modeling agency; Neema was one among a few women in the agency who had a skin tone that is a bit darker than the rest. During ushering events, she would often get mocked by some of her colleagues due to the fact that most men preferred light-skinned women. “I wasn’t fazed by their insults, I knew that I was beautiful no matter what anybody else said,” she speaks.

Neema has endured such mockery for years, being in the modeling industry means that she gets to experience prejudice against her skin disproportionately in comparison to women outside the trade.

Such is the world we live in today, and such prejudice has existed since time immemorial. Dark-skinned women have had to claim their spot in society. For some degenerate reason women with dark skin are condemned for how they look. Why can’t we just embrace all racial ethnicities, you are beautiful either black or white.

In India, a country that’s home to more than a billion people, women with dark-skin face hate and mockery. Southern Indians, or those from the Dravidian’s family tree, mostly have a darker skin tone. In an article titled ‘When I stopped accepting the stigma against dark skin’ written by Roshni Patel, an Indian woman who has experienced prejudice because of her skin, an excerpt reads; “I would like to urge all women who have experienced or have been experiencing such stereotyping on the basis of the skin colour, not to feel disgust or disdain themselves.” After years of putting up with discrimination based on her skin colour, Roshni finally decided to focus on herself and live her independent life.

Miranda Tryphone, Miss Universe Tanzania 2017 second runner-up, says that Tanzania’s modeling industry is now more accepting of dark-skinned models. “The (modeling) industry in our country values dark-skinned girls compared to other countries,” she says. Miranda does however add that there are people who still think and believe that light-skinned girls are more beautiful. “One of the challenges I’ve faced as a dark-skinned model is when a client specifically asks to work with a light-skinned model, this would mean that I lose out on the job,” she says.

While runway and commercial dark-skinned models might see the light at the end of the tunnel, the case is a bit different for video vixens. The bongo flava industry recently found itself in hot waters when most of the videos that were released by big artistes featured light-skinned models playing leading roles, with dark-skinned ones playing second fiddle.

From Diamond Platnumz, Shetta, Ommy Dimpoz, Ben Pol to Alikiba, all we could see in their high-budget music videos shot in South Africa were light-skinned models. The setup for the videos being Africa, a popular question was posed by fans making inquiries on why these artistes couldn’t use dark-skinned models. “Foreign modeling agencies have their own models, once we contract an agency, they bring us the model to work with,” was the response given by Ben Pol, an RnB artist.

After the heated debate on preference being given to light-skinned models had gotten enough steam, videos that followed started featuring a recognizable number of dark-skinned women. But this whole scenario taints the image of our society. Tanzania is a country filled with diverse cultures and people who hail from different backgrounds, racial prejudice should be a thing of the past.

In neighbouring Uganda, a dark-skinned artist, Sandra Nankoma embarked on a journey to change people’s perception about dark-skinned women. She too, like many African women with dark skin has been a victim of prejudice because of her complexion. “I felt that I did not fit in school. I stole my mother’s make-up in order to appear lighter because she is light-skinned - which did not help. I even asked my mother to change my school because of the daily taunting. I hated myself and even contemplated suicide because my mother did not understand my situation,” she said.

Sandra resorted to using art as a form of expression and shield against the hate. She decided to embrace her colour and launch an art exhibition titled “Melanin” that was held at the Under Ground - Contemporary Art Space in Kampala. The exhibition ran in June this year.

Sandra transformed the art space into one huge piece of artwork where she showcased her photography and a video installation for a performance under the theme “Dark or Light? The Politics of Beauty.”

As a self-taught photographer, she explores the stigma that society visits upon dark-skinned girls through the harsh comments and subliminal messages directed at them especially through the media.

Society to blame

I recently visited Kenya, in a dialogue with a longtime colleague, a comment was made which despite of its intended effect, made me reflect a little. In an attempt to crack a joke, my colleague said “in Tanzania, no woman is dark-skinned.” Such a view was made in reference to the number of women in Tanzania who have decided to change the colour of their skin tone through bleaching – that’s how much we’ve digressed from embracing dark skin.

Women who bleach have succumbed to the view that being light-skinned is beautiful. As such, they use all sorts of chemicals that can help change their skin-colour. Beauty shops are awash with all sorts of products made purposely to change skin tone from dark to light. Somehow, this has become the standard of beauty. On social media, adverts pop-up every minute advertising different skin enlightenment products and women buy them in bulks, to their own detriment.

Popular musician, Rihanna launched her Fenty beauty products to the merriment of many black women. For the first time, a high-end beauty product catered to the needs of women with dark skin. Never before had there been a product which targeted black women, most only served consumer needs of women with light skin. After the successful launch of Fenty, a host of other big brands started making beauty shades for women with dark skin.

I believe change in the way women with dark-skin are viewed starts with us. We need to make everyone feel proud of their skin tone, either black or white; we are all beautiful in our own unique ways.