Senegal: ‘Completely White’ Whitening Cream Stirs Outrage

[All links forward to French text unless otherwise stated]

Lightening the skin is a common practice in Africa where the sale of skin lightening products is legal in many countries. However, the use of these creams is not safe: stretch marks, pimples, hair, hypertension and diabetes are all risks user take.

In Senegal, a whitening product named “Khess Petch” is creating controversy on the web.

Kiné Fatim Diop explains in ‘A whiter skin in 15 days‘:

“Toute blanche”, c’est la traduction de l’expression en Wolof« Khess Petch », du nom d’une toute nouvelle crème aux vertus prétendument éclaircissantes.

“Completely white”, is how one translates the Wolof expression “Khess Petch”, the name of a new cream supposedly with skin whitening qualities.

Amadou Bakhaw DIAW on the site Ndarinfo, writes in ‘The  “Khess Petch” campaign,  an insult to our identity‘:

Depuis une vingtaine de jours environ, un nouveau produit le « Khess Petch » a fait son apparition dans l’agglomération dakaroise, sur plus de 100 panneaux publicitaires de 12 m2.

 Twenty days ago, a new product called “Khess Petch” appeared in the Dakar greater area, on more than 100 billboards of 12 square meters each.

With her blog post, ‘A very clear skin at any cost: Understanding the phenomena in Africa‘, Carole Ouédraogo on the website NextAfrique explains that this phenomenon is common in many African countries:

Les chercheurs estiment que 25 % des femmes à Bamako au Mali utilisent des produits éclaircissants … en Afrique du Sud 35 % … au Sénégal 52 % …

The researchers estimate that roughly  25 % of women in Bamako, Mali use the skin lightening products… in South Africa 35%  …  in Senegal 52% …

And she adds:

Les femmes au Sénégal associent la peau claire avec la beauté, l’élégance et un statut social élevé. Une étude menée en Tanzanie a révélé que nombre de Tanzaniens ont embrassé les idéaux de beautés eurocentriques.

Women in Senegal associate light skin with beauty, elegance and high social status. One study in Tanzania has revealed that many Tanzanians have also embraced Eurocentric ideals of beauty.

This video [in French] outlines the risks of skin lightening, uploaded to YouTube by myskreen:

On the blog A Toubab [the word “toubab” means a westerner in West Africa] in Dakar, a blog post entitled ‘The Xessalisation a.k.a the stupid quest for whiteness‘ tries to answer the question  “Why whiten your skin?”:

Certaines pensent que les Sénégalais aiment la chair claire, elles se dépigmentent alors pour leur plaire . D’autres parlent de “complexes” …

Some believe that Senegalese man love clear skin, so somewomen whiten their skin to please them. Other talk of an”inferiority complex” …

Blogger Fatou on Blackbeautybag goes further in his post ‘Skin Whitening: Practices, Challenges and Accoutability‘:

Il y a les séquelles de l'esclavage et la colonisation. D'un point de vue psychologique, ce passé a laissé des séquelles chez beaucoup de personnes. Ce sentiment d'infériorité n'a pas totalement été éradiqué malheureusement [..] Il y'a des filles qui ne sont pas complexées à la base, mais à force de railleries venant de leurs proches, elles sautent le pas. Les remarques comme: TU ES NOIRE COMME LA NUIT, SI TU ES TROP NOIRE AUCUN HOMME NE VOUDRA DE TOI, et j'en passe des meilleures …

These issues are related to sequels from slavery and colonialism. From a psychological point of view, the past has left its mark on many people. The complex of inferiority has not been totally eradicated unfortunately […] There are girls who aren't feeling inferior to start with, but by dint of taunts coming from the family they take the leap. Remarks like: YOU ARE BLACK AS THE NIGHT, IF YOU ARE TOO BLACK, NO MAN WILL WANT YOU, and the list goes on and on…

On the feeling of inferiority, blogger Mama Sarate writes a post to generate controversy: ‘From Black to White ↗ RACIAL ASCENSION‘.

What can bloggers do to raise this issue and counter the trend ? Historically in Senegal, a decree has prohibited skin de-pigmentation among students in elementary, primary and secondary school since 1979. In Jamaica, the question is also identified as a public health issue. In the United States last year, the documentary Dark Girls (see preview below) illustrated and debated prejudices against women with dark skin. In Kenya the top model Ajuma Nasenyana launched a campaign against skin whitening products.

One of the first counters from the blogger community is explained by Kiné Fatim Diop:

Très rapidement, une mobilisation citoyenne dénonçant les risques de cette lotion [Khess Petch] est née sur les réseaux sociaux. Lancée sur Internet le 8 septembre, une pétition en ligne appelant le ministère de la Santé à mettre fin à cette campagne publicitaire a recueilli plus de 1.000 signatures en quatre jours.

Rapidly, a citizen awareness project exposing the risks of the cream [Khess Petch] grew on social networks. Launched online on the 8 September, a petition calling for the Ministry of Health to put a halt to the advertising campaign, gathered more than 1,000 signatures in four days.

@K_Sociial on Twitter mused:

@K_Sociaal:  Je vais bientôt créer : “Nioul kouk” [toute noire] vous allez voir. Les filles deviendront bleues ! …

@K_Sociaal: I will soon create : “Nioul kouk” [all black] you will see. The girls will become blue! …

Bloggers and infographics designers took the idea to task and organized a counter-campaign: “We see your Khess Petch (completely white) campaign and we raise its counter: Nioul Kouk (completely black in wolof)”.

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