Anyone who follows the Kardashians is not unfamiliar with their technique of capitalising on social faux pas to gain popularity and money. Kim Kardashian-West, herself, had started out with monetising the shocking effect of her infamous sex tape, and has continued to exploit the societal lines around bodies and Black American, and even African culture.
Now, Instagram model and reality TV star Blac Chyna who has a child for now-ex-fiancé Rob Kardashian and clearly shares the family’s penchant for notoriety-stretching endorsements, is in the news for an unsurprising take on Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. This time, she harps on Nigeria’s colourism issues to unveil her new skin lightening product in collaboration with Whitelicious, a move that further perpetuates the idea that lighter skin is more desirable and better in a region where the regular use of skin-lightening products is already significantly high.
Skin-bleaching practices, such as using skin-lightening creams and soaps to achieve a lighter skin tone or to “whiten” skin, are common among non-White populations throughout the world, triggered by deep historical, economic, sociocultural, and psychosocial roots, and the beauty industry, especially, has fueled this opinion with its long history of presenting lighter, mixed-race or white models as the beauty standard.
The global skin lightening products market is expected to reach a valuation of over $24 billion by the end of 2027 – Future Market Insights
In an already comment-disabled Instagram post promoting her visit to Lagos, Nigeria on 25 November, Blac Chyna, whose real name is ironically Angela White, invites her 14 million followers for the launch of her latest business venture, which retails her ‘whitening’ cream for $250 per 100g jar. Described as an “illuminating cream” that provides “radiant protection”, it is being marketed to men and women of all skin-types to “help with hyperpigmentation.” The 30-year-old is currently facing backlash similar to that faced by founder of Whitenicious, Cameroonian pop musician and beauty entrepreneur Dencia, whose controversial viral images showing a noticeable change in her complexion served as the springboard for the brand.
According to an assessment by the World Health Organisation in 2011, nearly 77 percent of Nigerian women, the highest proportion in the world, use skin-lightening products regularly. That number is likely to have dropped with the promotion of black skin and black hair as ‘beautiful’ and ‘professional’ in the last few years, which makes Blac Chyna’s decision even more outrageous to social media users.
With claims of being dermatologically safe, Chyna’s product may fall under the category of the whitening creams like Fair & Lovely, the largest skin whitening cream on the market, which promises to lighten or whiten the skin with long-term use. For years, ads for creams like Fair & Lovely have linked whiter skin to beauty, romance, and even career success. At best, these continue to perpetuate entrenched racist and colourist views which put people of lighter complexion and mixed races, popularly called “yellow pawpaw” and “half-caste” in situations where they stand to benefit more from society while at worst the majority, most for whom skin lightening creams are just another part of their daily skincare routines, may fall victim to creams which end up damaging the skin. Even companies which do not offer strictly skin lightening products, often carry these racist/colorist stances in ads such as that of Nivea that saw a black man discarding an Afro in 2011, with the tagline “re-civilize yourself.”
Exposure to chemicals in the bleaching products—notably, mercury, hydroquinone, and steroids—has been associated with a variety of adverse health effects. According to the WHO, the main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage, but the chemical may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration, and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. Other effects include anxiety, depression, psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy.
A representative for Chyna told TMZ that she has been using the brand for years to help manage hyper-pigmentation and took the deal with the intent of helping other black women who have similar “skin issues.”
While the exact prevalence of this practice among different population groups across different geographic areas is not known, the existing estimates most likely still constitute a significant number. It is this phenomenon that viral Nigerian sensation and cross-dresser, Okuneye Idris Olarenwaju, popularly known as Bobrisky has also benefited from, generating massive sales from selling whitening creams on his Snapchat. Maybe the morals are wrong, but the underlying business opportunity still remains, and most of whom will end up becoming Blac Chyna’s target audience.