Growing up with mixed religious and ethnic backgrounds has helped me analyse the differences in the beauty standards of Northern and southern Nigeria. These two regions, different in many ways, are similar in beauty standards for women.
The issue of colourism is a major problem in Nigeria and many other African countries, light skin is considered more attractive than dark skin. Millions of Nigerian women use skin-lightening lotions and soaps to get despite the trends on social media appreciating dark skin with common phrases like “melanin-popping” and “brown skin girl” which are popularised by black Americans and Beyonce’s song, the skin lightening industry continues to boom.
Although in Northern Nigeria, this beauty standard is further solidified with the Arabian and Indian influences on Hausa culture. This preference for light skin was confirmed in a book written by Smith in 1965, the author tells of a preference for light skin or reddish skin.
Fatphobia exists today in many cultures whether it is due to western influence or not is unsure. In the 18th century, European paintings depicted an appreciation for curvier women, today, fat women are described as ”ugly and unhealthy. “
“Fat” is now synonymous with “ugly” and not a standard of health and beauty. Constant bullying and verbal abuse are meted out on women who are not slim enough.
In a Muslim majority region, one would assume that these would be irrelevant because Muslim Women are taught to cover up so as not to be objectified or ridiculed.
Body shaming doesn’t move far away from modesty. As a fat Muslim woman, I can attest to the fact that loose-fitting clothes and the Islamic instruction to lower one’s gaze and watch the words said to other people do nothing to prevent the body-shaming they endured.
A woman once complained to the owner of a popular Northern Nigerian blog on Instagram about the emotional abuse she suffered in her marriage because of her weight. She mentioned how her husband no longer wanted to have sex with her and had pushed her children to also body shame. This woman said this emotional abuse was not something she was new to. Her Father had also body-shamed her and made her feel ugly.
Sadly, this woman’s story is one in hundreds of Fat and dark-skinned northern Nigerian women battling with self-esteem issues. In a world where the physical appearance of women is considered a priority.
Women spend millions on skincare products and weight loss plans because we are socialized to consider our beauty before anything else. Beauty is not to be admired by ourselves but for others most especially men. We are groomed to believe that beauty is what we should aspire to, it is the one thing that we are constantly judged on and characterised.
This necessity or obsession with beauty standards and attaining certain levels of “pretty” continually create the perfect environment for colourism and fatphobia.