I have seen countless shaming of thin girls by girls of larger sizes. In their defence, some say thin girls don’t get ridiculed enough, or “but it used to be the other way around.” Shaming a person to recover your dignity is the basest form of glory that could exist. In the end, you’ll always see the other person, even more than you see yourself in the mirror.
Whenever someone calls anyone else Oyinbo, my subconscious winces for the corner of my identity that is chopped off. Even other light-skinned people call me Oyinbo, so the name has crept noisily and settled just between the Okrika and Greek names on my birth certificate. I love the colour of my skin. I adore how it catches the sun and reflects light in the same fiery fierceness. I love the way my freckles dance up and down my eyes, nose and lips, and I will not deny that I love the attention that the colour of my skin brings.
When Anna Banner and Iheoma Nnadi won the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria title in 2013 and 2014 respectively, the first reference of failure that people pointed out was that they looked “too chinko” to represent Nigeria in the Miss World contest and would definitely not win. In simple language, they were not African or Nigerian enough to show the world what it meant to be from here. I would obsessively read all the comments on their win and find that Nigeria had a subtle beef with anyone who wasn’t dark enough. You might disagree with me, but tell yourself the truth. Whenever you open any social media site, count the number of people who talk about “skin like caramel, like butter, black girl magic etc., etc.,” you know the way the trend goes. Light-skinned girls might be afraid to use these terms so that they do not get backlash. The fear has to end here. Tomorrow, when I put up a picture and glory in my skin, I will use whatever tag that I consider fit. I stopped using filters in my pictures some years ago. I didn’t want to seem darker or lighter than I already am. I wanted my skin to breathe through my pictures. To shine in all its glory and blackness and magic, for people to know what it means to be loved by the sun and to love it right back.
The first time a boy asked me to date him because I am light-skinned, I was furious. I already knew that there was nothing wrong with being darker and even though this was his preference, I did not think he had the right. I also wanted to be seen as more than the colour of my skin. After schooling him on what I thought should be important when considering a partner, I would go back to my room more awakened than angry. At one point or the other in our lives, we would be considered as colour. I would flit through friend groups and individuals over the years that would cement my belief that people are attracted to or drawn away from skin. How it gathers, where it gathers, or what colour it is. And for that boy, it was the colour of skin.
It would be ignorant for me to say that some people, many people, like this boy don’t prefer light-skinned women over dark-skinned women. It would also be ignorant to think, say, that there aren’t many people who prefer dark-skinned women and especially men as well. In fact, the “tall, dark and handsome,” preference announces more of the DARK than the other adjectives. This is because light-skinned guys are at the very bottom of the skin food chain. People who are not educated about albinism, genetics, and skin colouration have advised me to steer off light-skinned men if I don’t want children with albinism. The average Nigerian would see a light-skinned man as a womanizer, a mama’s boy, a woman wrapper, or effeminate. Think about it, you know it’s the truth.
In 2019, Beyoncé Knowles featured Wizkid in the Brown Skin Girl track. The lyrics of the song promised an atmosphere of union amongst brown-skinned girls everywhere, instead, colourism in Nigeria trumped the song’s message. People wrote about how light skinned women should not sing the song as it didn’t include them. And so I would see a tweet here or there, a WhatsApp status shading “bleached” African women and other African women that the “original” brown-skinned girls were not them. You would think that because the lead singer on the track does not have the skin colour that qualifies her to even breathe where the melanin on fleek gang reside, would make them reconsider who and what should be brown. I have never used the “melanin on fleek” line or all the other such clichés on my pictures and with good reason. Have I felt like using those words before? Yes, I have. However, the urge to prove that I am among a tribe of people who constantly remind me that I am more European than African died a long time ago. I am African, my melanocytes make melanin, just like every other human on the planet. And maybe I do not make the same amount of melanin as you, but we all have it.
Dear dark-skinned girls, it is very unfair that years of media colourism has meant you feel less beautiful than you are. We are stronger when we know that we are not in competition with you on who is more African. Just like you, I have also lost opportunities because of the colour of my skin, as I have gained — and that’s not to say it compares to the things you experience. I want you to know that I second guess myself maybe as many times as you do, about receiving something only because of my skin, even though I worked hard for it. I second guess myself because you go about saying that if I were dark-skinned I would not be beautiful, that I am only beautiful because I am light-skinned. You’d make a pretty bad light-skinned girl yourself and that’s the truth. We are each made in the colour that glorifies our beauty, I believe so. My younger sister is dark-skinned and looks a lot like me and she is amazingly beautiful. Her beauty does not detract from mine. I could argue that I already know how I would look if I were dark-skinned, because of my sister, but then, I am comfortable in the skin I was born with. Remember the phase that many black girls wanted to be light-skinned because the media taught us that lighter shade means more beautiful? The era of skin toning and bleaching left naturally light-skinned girls like me with a lot to deal with. If the colour of our skins weren’t shiny or supple-looking then you would accuse us of definitely bleaching it. However, lighter skin is not more beautiful skin! You are the right shade of beautiful! Dear light-skinned girl, it is okay to be light-skinned and have hyperpigmentation in places that people think you shouldn’t. Dark-skinned people experience this as well. Be comfortable in your skin. The diversity in our blackness is what makes us African, remember that we all fought with the sun and won! If you do not love the body or skin you live in, you might suffocate in it one day. ✚
Editor’s Note: This article was edited in April 2023 based on the writer’s suggestions.
Ibiwari-Ikiriko is a contributing writer to The Question Marker. She received a first class degree at the University of Port Harcourt for studying biology education and loves to explore educational systems around the world