Before I watched ‘Skin‘, the trailblazing new Netflix documentary by Beverly Naya, I’d been somewhat aware of the issues surrounding skin color complexion among Nigerian women. I remember how, during my high school days, most of my peers would chat excitedly about new skin-lightening creams that worked like magic and could “make you look half-caste”.
Growing up, I noticed that the most sought after girls at school were the ones with light skin and that the beauty pageant winners were always the fairest of them all.
Watch the trailer below
Having light skin was almost seen as a thing of prestige, something to desire and yearn for. I never thought about it too deeply, perhaps because it never affected me personally as much as it did other people.
There was never a point where I’d considered bleaching my skin to be more acceptable, but if the available data is to be believed I am well within the minority. A study shared in the documentary revealed that in the late 1960s, 60% of urban African women reported using skin-lightening formulas, which made it the 4th most used household product, after soap, tinned milk, and tea.
Colorism is one of the most enduring vestiges of colonialism, and people everywhere continue to internalize the harmful idea that whiter skin is superior to darker skin. White has come to be associated with purity and righteousness, while black is seen as devilish, slavish, and derogatory. After watching Beverly Naya’s film which tackles issues such as colorism, skin bleaching, and self-acceptance, I feel as though I now have a better understanding of how deeply rooted these issues go. I have a deeper understanding of the politics of skin.
The documentary begins as Beverly shares her inspirations behind the project, citing being terribly bullied in school for her skin and teeth as a major driving force: “I had crooked teeth and I had really bad eczema. And even though I fixed my teeth and my skin cleared over time, the damage had already been done to my mental state and how I saw myself. So, as I got older, I realized that I just didn’t feel beautiful.”
The film progresses to interviews with various people, ranging from dermatologists and cosmeticians to contemporary artists, TV presenters, actors, musicians, and even buyers and sellers of popular skin bleaching products. A lot of these interviews exposed how integral fair skin is to a lot of people’s underlying perception of beauty. This documentary exposes, quite plainly the prejudices people have towards women with lighter skin, as well as the ways this can influence industries such as marketing, tourism, and entertainment.
Beverly interviewed Eku Edewor, Teniola A’isha Kashaam, Leslie Okoye, Hilder Dokubo, Eryca Freemantle, as well as popular social media star Bobrisky (Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju), who all shared their own individual experiences in their careers, relationships and friendships.
Actor Diana Yekinni shared the challenges she faced being in the entertainment and film industry as a woman with dark skin, how she was constantly told women with light skin were better to look at onscreen, how the camera and lights were built for them and it was hard finding lighting that suited dark skin.
Despite the hardships and the challenges, the film ends on a positive note as Beverly returns to her village of origin, ultimately coming to the realization that self-love and self-acceptance ultimately comes from within. Skin by Beverly Naya and produced Daniel Etim Effiong is a story well told.