From a very young age, I’ve been told, “You’re so pretty … for a dark-skinned girl.” I am a Nigerian woman, born in London and raised in Atlanta. I’ve grown up very aware of society’s opinion that dark-skinned people, especially women, would look better if our skin were lighter.
I know that the beauty industry has fueled this opinion with its long history of presenting lighter, mixed-race or white models as the beauty standard. Historically, and in many countries still today, darker models are even used to demonstrate a product’s skin-lightening qualities to help women reach this standard.
This repressive narrative is one I have seen affect women from many different communities I’ve been a part of. And this is why, when Dove offered me the chance to be the face of a new body wash campaign, I jumped.
Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued.
Then one morning, I woke up to a message from a friend asking if the woman in a post he’d seen was really me. I went online and discovered I had become the unwitting poster child for racist advertising. No lie.
If you Google “racist ad” right now, a picture of my face is the first result. I had been excited to be a part of the commercial and promote the strength and beauty of my race, so for it to be met with widespread outrage was upsetting.
Calls were being made to boycott Dove products, and friends from all over the world were checking on me to see if I was OK. I was overwhelmed by just how controversial the ad had become.
If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior, or as the “before” in a before and after shot, I would have been the first to say an emphatic “no”. I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for.
However, the experience I had with the Dove team was positive. I had an amazing time on set. All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.
I remember all of us being excited at the idea of wearing nude T-shirts and turning into one another. We weren’t sure how the final edit was going to look, nor which of us would actually be featured in it, but everyone seemed to be in great spirits during filming, including me.
Then the first Facebook ad was released: a 13-second video clip featuring me, a white woman, and an Asian woman removing our nude tops and changing into each other. I loved it. My friends and family loved it. People congratulated me for …