There was a time when skin lightening creams were in vogue. Every woman who considered herself a lady had to use any of the brands available.
The creams were said to make those who wore them beautiful. Not only would they look beautiful after a few applications but they would look white. This was because the cream bleached the skin into turning pale thereby giving the user the effect of looking like a white person. This craze over lightening creams was not confined only to female folk. It cut across the gender divide and any man wishing to be considered a hunk had to stroll down to the nearest pharmacy to get himself a tube or two. Paging through the magazines of that time, one could understand why it was important to join the skin lightening bandwagon. All the people in the magazines were beautiful and looked very happy. They also had fair complexions, just like white people. The message was clear. If we wanted to look like all the beautiful and rich people in the magazines we had to use skin lightening creams and the hair products that came with them. It was as a package. The creams came in all sorts of exotic names. I remember a particular brand called American Me. It was loved by many folks. A few people I know tended to favour a brand called Seven Days. Then there was Ambi Special. Depending on how white you wanted to look you chose the moderate formula or went for the stronger version. I can say most people went for Ambi Special. It promised to do the job quickly. Of course, there was Ambi Extra. This was the killer version for instant results that could change any black woman into looking even whiter than Queen Elizabeth. It gave its users a complexion whiter than white. Back then, I was a kid and could only marvel at the grown ups who had the money to buy skin lightening creams. I told myself that upon growing up, and getting a good job as a miner, there were certain things I was going to buy with my first wage.
Topping the list, of course, was condensed milk. After several scoldings and beatings for siphoning condensed milk, I was going to buy myself a few cans so that on one good day I would appear, unannounced, on my mother’s doorstep, drawing from a tin of the choicest condensed milk. Condensed milk was for settling scores with my mother. But next to that I was going to buy myself a few tubes of skin lightening cream. I used to day dream, wondering which brand, on the occasion of my first pay day, I would ask for at the Indian pharmacy. It was an even contest. Should I go for American Me or should I go for Ambi Special? How about Seven Days or Ambi Extra? I think I eventually settled for American Me. The name just sounded so groovy. For the reason that many users of such products were men who had worked in the mines down south I, too were determined to be a miner. Being a migrant miner seemed like a good job that would enable me to buy the stuff that would make me beautiful, and white like all the people I saw in those magazines.
Again, in that era before clean shaven pates and dreadlocks, the way to go was a huge, shiny afro. To nourish it there were various products on the shelves. There was Inecto Super Black. It took some time to prepare the mixture. You had to read the instructions carefully. There was a version known as Go Black. It did not seem very popular. Day dreaming about the day I started earning a wage as a miner, I decided I would settle for Go Black. But because most people who used the stuff were illiterate, many had their scalps burnt. The hair products were not as bad as the skin lotions. At least most of the users managed to grow their hair back after some time. As for the skin lightening creams, though they promised users they would be white forever just like real white people that was never the case. This was only possible if the cream were applied every single day. Since most users were poor, in no time the side effects would start showing. Some unlucky souls would end up with hideous dark marks, light patches or even wrinkles. Every user had an uneven skin tone or severe acne. Notwithstanding the side effects, skin lightening lotions and hair products were all the rage.
It is easy to know why. The majority of black men prefer light skinned women. That is why every single black man dreams of sleeping with a white woman. If he cannot get hold of the real thing, well, he can get hold of a bleached version of it. As for black women, they used those products because they wanted to level the playing field against light complexioned rivals who took all the men. With respect to the men, I could never fathom why they wanted to use the products. The last time I heard white women were fleeing from white men to seek sanctuary in the beds of black men.
That said, it is a pity that this exciting range of products was banned just before I started working. I was not amused by the government’s decision. In a democracy, people have the right to choose their skin complexion and their hair style. But after all the side effects I just mentioned, the ban could be for a good cause. I am reminded of these cosmetic products for a simple reason. I am going home for Christmas. The festive season is upon us. And I am going to my home village. I will be so happy to see my poor relatives. Hungry and sad looking, just for one day they will be happy to see me unloading exotic foods from my car. But just how I wish I could reappear before my relatives and childhood friends looking white, and sporting a luxuriant, shiny afro. If only the government could lift the ban for one day. To allow us to apply Ambi, Inecto, Seven Days, American Me and Go Black, on Christmas day!