The “Yellow bone Factory” hits Wits

By Pheladi Sethusa and Nomatter Ndebele

Skin lightening treatments, reviled as part of an apartheid mindset pre-1994, have come back into fashion on campus .

YELLOW FEVER: Wits Vuvuzela journalist, Nomatter Ndebele, took one for the team to explore new frontiers of yellow-boneness in this photo illustration.      Image: Luca Kotton

YELLOW FEVER: Wits Vuvuzela journalist, Nomatter Ndebele, took one for the team to explore new frontiers of yellow-boneness in this photo illustration. Image: Luca Kotton

“Yellow-bone”, the hip-hop term for light-skinned black people, has become the latest unattainable beauty standard to meet – along with size 32 hips, a DD cup size and a bulbous bum.

Posters for a company, “The Yellow-bone Factory”, have recently appeared on campus offering skin-lightening treatments to students.

Wits Vuvuzela called the number on the poster. Company founder Neo Mobita said the reason for the demand was simple: “Students want to be yellow-bones.”

How does it work?

Mobita said three treatment options were available: “Skin renew” body and face creams, pills and injections.

These treatments range in cost but even the cheapest and mildest of the pills – vitamin C prep – comes in at between R150 for the smallest bottle, and R1300.

Kojic acid was “more responsive”, said Mobita, because it “stops melanin from making skin darker”. These pills range from R1000 to R2000, depending on the size of the bottle.

Be warned

General practitioner at the Execumed clinic in Killarney, Dr Safeera Kholvadia, warned against making use of any injectibles for “skin brightening” as they were “not regulated in South Africa”. People should be wary of products sold on posters and even online. Using unregulated dosages of any skin brightening treatment “could be deadly”.

“There is no cure for pigmentation, no matter what you use,” said Kholvadia. She explained that pigment cells dictated people’s colour. As soon as they stopped using the treatment, those pigment cells would override its effects. “Everyone is trying to tap into the market at the moment. Consumers should be very wary.”

Aside from being extremely expensive, skin lightening products – through making unnatural adjustments – were harmful not just to the skin but also to the mind and emotional states of users, Kholvadia said: “Usually there are deeper underlying issues for people who do this.”

What do Witsies say?

Although “The Yellow-bone Factory” targets students, the general sentiment among Witsies approached by Wits Vuvuzela was that skin lightening is unnecessary.  Students were bold in their criticisms. David Manabile, 2nd year Education, said skin lightening was a ridiculous concept.

“When women do it, it means that they aren’t proud of their skin colour and their roots. I would never do it, because I’m proud of who I am and where I come from. I was born this way, I don’t feel the need to change who I am, to be something or someone else.”

Liveni Ndlovu, 1st year BA, said because “yellow-bones are seen as hot”, darker people are left being very self-conscious and not very confident about their looks.

Engineering PhD student Ntando James said: “I understand why women want to do it, because of the misconception they have that light skin is what all men are attracted to… If someone I was dating, or knew, wanted to do it, I would discourage them. There are serious repercussions and side-effects.

“You can get skin cancer and have bad reactions to all those chemical treatments and lightening cream(s). People just don’t think about it, but they do it because of an identity crisis, to fit into a ‘fake’ society.”

[pullquote]“All women are or have the potential to be yellow-bones.”[/pullquote]

Amanda Dyandyi, 1st year Fine Arts, said skin lightening “puts people in a box. It’s like racism all over again but between black people.”

The official website of Mobita’s company contains a post that says: “All women are or have the potential to be yellow-bones.”

But the demand goes beyond gender and race, apparently. She said there were people who wanted to get darker too.  “The Yellow-bone Factory” was currently experimenting with “crossing racial lines,” she said. “We can make you whatever you want to be, white, coloured, whatever.”

SLICE OF LIFE: Still in the dark about beauty

Nomatter Ndebele

Nomatter Ndebele. Photo: TJ Lemon

WHO is this Lupita Nyong’o? Telling the world that it’s okay to be a dark-skinned girl?

How dare she stand there courageously, in her bold colours, night shade, firm in her conviction that dark-skinned girls are, in fact, beautiful?

Seriously Lupita, this is not the time for a colour revolution. The world has not accepted me yet. Until you came along, with your “revolution” glowing brightly from your dark skin, my life was going on as it should have. I’ve finally finished my degree, soon I will have a job and I will be able to afford all my planned bleaching treatments.

The dream was within reach, but no. Thanks to you and your bold blackness the world has supposedly decided that I belong here, at every turn people are holding mirrors up to me and saying “we see you, you are something to look at now”.

Now I’ll never be able to bleach myself because the whole world is watching and my simple explanation of “I just want to be lighter” will never be an acceptable reason for ridding myself of my burdensome, melanin-induced shade.You meant well, I know you did. None of this is your fault but look what you’ve done. What your personal victory has inadvertently done to me.

[pullquote] at every turn people are holding mirrors up to me and saying “we see you, you are something to look at now”.[/pullquote]

I wanted to be noticed. I wanted my beauty to be acknowledged, not fetishised. I didn’t want to be put on a global pedestal that I will never actually be on.  Now  the world not only sees me, it has me under a microscope and God forbid I find myself even half a shade lighter before that bleaching appointment.

While I admire your bold blackness, I don’t appreciate it.Because you have unwittingly drawn me into “the struggle”. You’ve made me one with all the other dark-skinned girls. Now I will never be able to represent myself without representing a whole.When I mention skin lightening the world will look at me and ask “Have you seen Lupita Nyong’o?”

Yes, I have but let’s face facts, I am NOT Lupita Nyong’o.

Where was Lupita Nyong’o when the makeup artist religiously caked my face with a foundation three shades lighter than I was because she “didn’t have make up for dark people”? Where was Lupita when the production assistant at work would whisk me away into the bathroom before we went live to try and “fix me” since the makeup artist was too busy perfecting the lighter skinned presenters’ makeup.

Lupita Nyong’o’s win is not a win for all of us. We haven’t won, we are not simply beautiful yet. We are exoticised, we are sold to the world as “black beauties”, we are fetishised. We are the boxes that need to be ticked, our compliments are an over compensation for the years of disregard.

[pullquote align=”right”]Yes, I have but let’s face facts, I am NOT Lupita Nyong’o.[/pullquote]

I went from hearing “I have no makeup for dark people” to “I love doing make up on your flawless skin, your almond eyes are great to work on”.When will dark girls be more than “pretty for a dark skinned girl”?

What happens if I never make it to the big Hollywood lights, cameras flashing and ebony skin reflecting the afterglow of success. I may never make it. Lupita did, I haven’t.

We “made it” and, until then, I’m not ready to liquidate my “bleaching fund” just yet.

SCIENCE INSIDE: Inside Joburg’s tremors

Johannesburg’s mild earth tremors and women who eat toxic clay to lighten their skin tone are two of the stories in this week’s The Science Inside.  The weekly science show on campus radio station VoWFM also looks at a community learning about the scientific impact of their lives on the their surroundings.

Listen to the podcast of the show presented and produced by Paul McNally and former #teamvuvu journalist Anina Mumm, here: