“There should be confidence in our individuality. Only then can we preach self love.”
- Blackprowriter ’19.
It was very important for me to do this because I have had an interest in exploring the societal prejudice towards skin tones/skin complexions. In Nigeria we are arguably all blacks; by black I mean the term that has been adopted as a racial construct. When compared to South Africa, there is little or no racial blend within the thirty six states of Nigeria. Africans for a very long time has come in different shades and tones. Think of it as a scale of colour – you can be ‘’Segun Arinze dark’’ or ‘’Adesua Etomi light’’ and still be regarded as an African. I came up with these names because they were the first two people who dropped on my mind as I type this; which means there is an open argument about people who are even darker or lighter than these two people above.
Growing up, there was always a preference for light skinned people. One of my earliest memories of this fact was in primary school. I was among those selected for an end-of-the-year rehearsal; it was basically about the two sides of everything. You know, rich/poor, young/old, gentle/troublesome, beautiful/ugly and many others that I cannot even remember at this point. For the beautiful/ugly category, the teacher in charge chose a light skinned girl as beautiful and dark skinned girl as ugly. There was not an argument over this back then because we were kids and the light skinned girl was actually beautiful, and so was the dark skinned girl. And so we did not see this as an abnormal observation. I think the teacher was trying to appease to what the audience would agree with – light skin people are more beautiful.
But the gag was the day of the recital; I remember the shock on everyone’s face when the two girls came in wearing beautiful dresses looking really dope. No one could believe their eyes when they saw the dark skin girl; she was so beautiful that the rest of us begged the teacher to switch the girls because the audience might not agree with the narrative.
Of course he did not agree because he did not want to change the dynamics of our rehearsals but that memory has stuck in my brain of societal assumption of who are what is accepted and otherwise. It just made sense to use the darkest girl in the class as the ugly girl and we were all supposed to go with it. Subtle things like this are what irk me because nobody talks about this.
I have a light skinned mother and a grandmother, so you can imagine the ‘’shock’’ when people see me and they just wonder why I do not resemble her. Seriously, it is a thing and I think I tweeted about this once. Someone actually went over the limit to tell me ‘’don’t grow too fat ehn, you can see how your mother still looks youthful and beautiful’’
Since when was that a compliment, Aunty Sade? I am not my mum, my mum is not me. For a fact, I think my mum is the most beautiful woman I have ever met but that should not mean I NEED to be exactly the way she is.
This is how we pit women against one another; to compete for the attention of others. Why? Can’t we all just be happy with our diversity? I thought this was mild issue until I came to university and I realized there is a bias amongst our generation. It is reflected in the media industry, the beauty industry (bleaching creams are selling in their thousands daily in Nigeria)and even in places you did not think mattered. I am not going to sit here and say ‘’everything is okay’’ and agree with this bias.
I think we need to know better to do better, which was why I came up with this photo series to debunk stereotype by showcasing a dark skinned lady and a light skinned lady and to listen to them discuss their experiences and also their thoughts about skin color prejudice.
I remember her correcting someone on their perspective of beauty. She said she disliked comments about skin from people who says she is only beautiful because of her skin complexion. (Again people, we need to do better!)
Beautiful and intelligent, Tolu Onaolapo was the first person that came to mind when I began nursing this idea last year and she agreed to be a part of it. She is a final year student of LAUTECH Ogbomoso studying anatomy. One of the very first things that catch your attention about her is her eyes, and then maybe her curly short hair. She is far up on that color scale I mentioned earlier but there is more to her than her skin tone. With her words, she was able to share her thoughts about the light skin privileges and the expectation that comes with being who she is.
Listen to her words here —
A final year student of LAUTECH Ogbomoso studying Animal Nutrition and Biotechnology, her full name is Temidayo Popoola. She is a singer, songwriter who goes by the name Yarz. Her realness drips through every image I take of her.
I met Yarz few months ago when I was starting out as a photographer. She was one of the first few people that agreed to let me shoot them. Beautiful and fiercely confident about her body, she handles body shaming comments with a level of grace and sass that I can only hope to reach. When I posted about my interest in using a dark skin model, she was the first person that asked to be a part of this project. I really did not need to explain much to her, she just got it. As women, we understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of critics. We are told to swallow these negative comments but never to react in public lest we are termed ‘’girly’’. Not anymore. We are creating our narrative and speaking up when need be, we are showcasing our beauty and reclaiming our scars.
Listen to her words here —
I hope this creates a conversation online and offline, but I also hope it inspires you to see how beautiful everyone by being themselves.
MUSE// Temidayo Popoola & Tolulope Onaolapo
CINEMATOGRAPHY// Loni Abiodun, Jopelo Ojo
CREATIVE DIRECTOR// Blackprowriter
PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT // Yemi Ajayi