My name is Aissatu Diop and I am a Senegalese American currently residing in Washington, D.C. Fighting colorism and ending global skin lightening practices has quickly become a passion of mine over the past two years.
When I realized Skin Lightening was a Prevalent Issue
During the summer of 2015, I went to Senegal to visit my family for the first time in six years, and I was struck by a new observation. Bumps, patches, wrinkles, and hives were ubiquitous on the faces of Senegalese women as I walked through a market in Dakar. I asked my cousin, “Why does her skin look so damaged?” and she simply responded with, “Skin lightening products did that to her skin.”
Minutes later, I noticed another woman with similar skin problems…then another…and another. I was not only shocked but also saddened that many Senegalese women, including a few of my relatives, were using lightening products despite their known side effects. Naturally, as many people from the west are, I was perplexed by this lightening phenomenon and asked myself, “what would drive these beautiful women to destroy their skin in hopes of obtaining lighter skin?” But like most Americans I was unaware of the answer, so again I turned to my cousins who simply shrugged and said, “That’s just what people think is beautiful here.” But how could they truly believe this while living in a country comprised of mostly dark skin people?
Investigating the Issue
Upon my return back to the states, I began researching skin lightening practices and to my surprise, I found estimates stating that over 50% of Senegalese women use these products and I recently learned that Senegal is ranked second in skin lightening usage within Africa. I also learned that numerous factors contribute to this issue ranging from European colonization to colorism to marketing! While visiting Senegal this past summer I took note of the ads plastered and as I watched Senegalese shows I observed the subtle ways they perpetuated colorism. The reasons why this practice continues to flourish is right in front of our eyes yet many of us fail to take note. For example, did you know that both Nivea and Vaseline (Big brands in the USA) sell skin lightening products abroad?
Skin lightening is a difficult practice to understand if you were not raised in a country where the practice is already prevalent. However, we can all take action to end skin lightening and colorism in our communities.
After conducting research, revisiting Senegal in 2017 and having multiple conversations with my relatives including some who skin lighten, I noted 3 major factors that came up repeatedly:
- The media continues to idolize people of lighter skin tones which in turn reinforces colorism within society.
- People especially men favor women of lighter skin tones and label very dark girls as “ugly” much to often as I have even heard a man compare a woman’s skin to charcoal!
- Young girls grow up surrounded by relatives/Neighbors who skin lighten while also having the products readily available to them dueto large companies targeting them without proper knowledge of their detrimental
Through my research I learned that unfortunately, banning skin lightening products is not enough to end the practice as in many cases people will attain lightening products illegally or utilize even more dangerous products to lighten their skin. However, I strongly believe that as friends, relatives and neighbors we can all make a difference by taking a strong stance against the practice. I recently launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #theskinimin / #theskinimincampaign which is dedicated to discouraging the use of skin lightening products, all while uplifting women of color and educating people on ways they can help fight the practice. If you want to help end colorism and skin lightening please commit by signing the Pledge To Fight Colorism and End Skin Lightening and for updates on my campaign and to learn ways you can make an impact follow @TheSkinImInCampaign on Instagram and @TheSkinImInCampaign on Facebook.