My friend Janet has a beautiful 2 year old daughter, Ari, who is quite the diva! You know those little girls who are already aware from a tender age that they are pretty and act thus? Ari is the president of that association! Janet also has an older son and recently we were discussing motherhood (don’t ask me what i contributed to the discussion seeing I have zero experience yet). She told me she would like to have one more child, hopefully another boy. I asked why and she responded simply; “What if I have another girl and she isn’t as pretty as Ari? I wouldn’t like people comparing my daughters”
I forgot all about my conversation with Janet till this afternoon. I read a post on someone’s social media handle, was it FB or my preferred stalkers’ hub IG? I don’t remember. Anyway, it was an SOS cry from an artificially light-skinned lady (a.k.a skin-bleacher) asking a dermatologist for a remedy for her exposed green veins. I would usually skip such a post after the first two lines, but for some reason I took out some time to read her plea. The lady’s story is sad. She was the dark-skinned one amidst three sisters, and began bleaching her skin at a tender age to look like her sisters’ because she was always referred to as the ‘ugly one’.
Hers is the story of many Nigerian ladies. My friend Funmi visited for a few days, and everywhere we went to she would turn to me and say “IG it looks like we are the only dark-skinned ladies in this town.” On one of our outings during her visit, we ran into a school-mate we haven’t seen in several years. Amidst the hugs and exchange of pleasantries, Funmi blurts out “you grew fairer too”. I almost fainted in embarrassment. My friend’s mouth has zero-filter!
This compelling need to alter one’s God-given looks is an issue I think of often. It goes without saying that at the crux of this matter lies deep-seated insecurities, a quest for some sort of acceptance and the need to meet up with society’s definition of beautiful. In Secondary School we had a slang for these insecurities, IC, short for inferiority complex. There were the cool kids and then there were those with IC. I guess there was a third category of students like me, who were on neither side of the divide, simply refusing to conform. I certainly wasn’t a cool kid neither did I aspire to be one, but heaven forbid that I be found acting like one of those weirdos with IC that we always teased, even on the days when I had my fair share of insecurities. I remember how my fellow nonconformists and I would laugh whenever there was some silly display of IC- the occasional suicide attempts (I don’t know how anyone would think an overdose of paracetamol was potent enough to kill you. Try Valium), someone refusing to eat because she was told she’s not pretty or someone sobbing away in the bathroom because she wasn’t allowed to hang with the ‘it’ group. Maybe our laughter was a part of the problem, but I refuse to feel guilty.
It’s been several years after Secondary School, and I have continued to see displays of IC in several forms. It’s in the bottles of bleaching cream sitting on Amaka’s dressing table because she is surrounded by light-skinned friends who seem to get more attention from the men than she does. It’s in the millions of naira Yemi borrows yearly to travel, because her Instagram posts have to reflect her ‘Lagos big girl’ status. Heaven forbid that her social media page shows ‘checked into Ikorodu’ when her mates are checking into (insert exotic location). It’s in the abusive relationships Amina continues to endure because her sense of worth comes from being with a man. It is in the lies Cynthia told her dad about the alcoholic of a suitor she brought home because the much-coveted Mrs title will finally fill that inexplicable void in her heart. It’s in the edited photos Jackie continues to post on Instagram where her waist appears perfectly cinched, despite her flabby belly, because she has to keep up with the hashtags #momofthree and #slaying. It’s in the layers and layers of Bobrisky-ish makeup Adeola continues to slather on because she has to stay pretty.
Like I always ask, who defines beautiful? Is there an S.I unit for pretty? Is it in a particular skin tone, or a particular hairstyle? Is it in a cinched waist and a certain shape of nose? Why do we keep comparing ourselves with each other when truly God made each of us one of a kind. There was no mass-production at creation, Heaven isn’t China. What defines a woman’s sense of worth, who defines beautiful? Truly I think you’re as beautiful as you think you are!