I would have sworn the light skin debate belongs in 1983.
Dead and buried together with culottes and Kenya Uniform long and wrinkled skirts or Irene Lipstick, a cheap favorite way back when it was fashionable to wear lipstick only on the lower lip.
Make that a lipstick that was green and turned red on application.
I would have safely assumed that skin lightening is dead. Buried 6 feet under together with words like Cutex, ‘don’t touch my toes’ or tinga tinga, which was village speak for ‘Tractor’.
The #bleachedbeauty tirade of tweets and blogs recently perked a desire to rethink values. The good old values that taught us how to be girls, ladies then women.
When the debate was at its peak, I sent out a tweet that said “change your values,not the color of your skin”.
If you think this blog is about Vera Sidika exit stage left.
But since I have already mentioned her, I will let you know like her spunk.
It takes a gutsy woman to be confident in the fact that she is not answerable to anyone but herself. She took street cred to a new level and caused Kenyans to rave and rant about her. Making me a statistic too.
The unfortunate thing about the lady whose posterior reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking pots is that the image she has created of herself blocks us all from seeing beneath the lightened veneer. Pun intended. I digress.
As a young girl, I wanted to be like the women on Ebony magazine.
They were beautiful. They were successful. They had beautiful men for husbands and eye candy for boyfriends. They were American, and I was the scrawny girl from Kitale still struggling to balance on 2 inch high heels after years of wearing rubber shoes from Bata Kenya.
You see, the pressure to look and be like Janet Jackson or Jada Pinket was an internal war I fought with my heart and brain.
I closely watched Aaliyah and purchased tank tops to show off my dashboard like flat tummy.
I shopped at Mtindwa with my cousin June armed with a mental image of the clothes that were on the Channel O divas . Girl group SWV was a huge influence back then in how we dressed and talked.
I also wanted to be Kelly Rowland of Destiny Child.
I began to tweeze my eyebrows, the first experience left me with tears and a swollen brow. But I was patient, kept at it and even bought my own tweezers.
Voila! One say, as I walked down the road from South C water training college I came across Ponds.
Let me educate the younglings.
Back then, every colored face powder was called ponds. There was Luron, which was my first brand and then Island Beauty which was slightly costlier. I now realise both brands still exist but have redesigned their look and feel to something sexier. Luron took me a step closer to JLO’s flawless skin. In close chase we discovered lipgloss, eyeshadow and mascara which were stocked by the Ebrahims store on Moi Avenue. We were upwardly mobile baby!
With time, we realized that the fairer you were the better you ranked on the boys priority hit list.Then skin color became a discussion. It was clear the boys preferred the lighter skinned maidens.
With that the ladies learnt that in the beauty stores, there was anything for everything (you know, like ‘there’s an app for that’). There was Cleartone, and some preferred the more efficient ‘Mediven’ an over the counter cream that was supposed to treat eczema and psoriasis.
Girls did that. My mother would have however killed me if I tried to, so I watched from a healthy distance while she made yucky mixes of sour milk, honey and maize meal for us to apply on our pimply adolescent faces.
So, listening to Kenyans vilify Vera created mixed feelings for me. I do not in any wsy support skin lightening but on one hand I remembered the journey every woman goes through as she seeks to find herself.
That journey comes with boys, menses, pimples, light skin and self esteem. Or lack of thereof.
The discussion therefore that we should be having now is, who will ensure that our children are comfortable in their own skin in this day and age where there’s an app for everything?
Who will step into the shoes of our mothers and bring up daughters who will brave the journey of womanhood without wanting to be divas and socialites when they grow up, instead of actuarial scientists and entrepreneurs?
Fact, we wanted to be teachers when we were growing up. Today they want to be video vixens. (I’m still dealing with my 8 year old Imani who still wants to be a clown when she grows up.)
We live in times that requires girls to know that beauty is what happens beneath their skin.
We need to redefine our scope for beauty and assert that our black is beautiful.
It’s now up to us to change our value system and not the color of our skin.