Like many other parts of the world, Africa is no stranger to European standards of beauty. The practice of skin lightening is becoming rampant in many African countries as some folks go to drastic lengths to shed their dark complexions for lighter, “more acceptable” ones. And from advertising and magazines, to TV and film, the black aesthetics are being pushed out, while European standards of beauty — blonde hair, blue eyes — are becoming more mainstream.
“It seems that the world is conspiring in preaching that there is something wrong with Kenyan ladies’ kinky hair and dark skin,” Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana told the Daily Nation.
Nasenyana wonders why European skincare companies that push lightening creams are entering Kenya marketing the European standard of beauty.
“Their leaflets are all about skin lightening, and they seem to be doing good business in Kenya. It just shocks me. It’s not OK for a Caucasian to tell us to lighten our skin,” she said.
Despite her beauty and that of women like her, Nasenyana is dismayed that while she is heralded abroad for her dark skin, at home she is seen as less than ideal.
“I have never attempted to change my skin. I am natural. People in Europe and America love my dark skin. But here in Kenya, in my home country, some consider it not attractive,” she lamented.
Instead of simply being disgusted with the growing contempt some have for their own skin, Nasenyana takes every opportunity she has to speak out against skin lightening and discrimination in the modeling world. She is also very critical of the Western media’s influence over Kenyans and concedes they are constantly being bombarded by magazines and advertisements that praise lighter skin.
“When you flip through fashion magazines like Vogue and only see white models, then you get the feeling on what is happening to black models. It is not fair,” she explained.
But Nasenyana, who has modeled for everyone from Victoria Secret to Carlos Mienes, isn’t just speaking out. The reining South African Fashion Week Model of the Year is also thinking of launching a line of cosmetics and natural skincare products for black women. Her hopes? That her products can inspire her peers to love their skin instead of bleach it.
Let’s hope it works.