Self-hate or peer pressure for Zambian Girls?

It is almost illegal to have a dark face and natural hair in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. They come in all shapes, colours, sizes, texture and length. These are the weaves worn by majority of Zambian female city dwellers who prefer to call them hair extensions. It was my third visit to Zambia and during the previous two trips, I had observed an interesting phenomenon of women bleaching only their faces. This last trip however revealed something new, that the bleached faces came with artificial ‘hair extensions’. There were moments when I totally looked out of place with my short natural hair and dark skin complexion.


It bothered me so much that the bleaching is so widespread and even more that it cuts a cross; from the cooperate woman to the one selling food downtown Matebeto. I needed an explanation to this, but I could not risk asking a woman, especially one who had bleached. So I called up an old time friend and work colleague, who I told that I was in Lusaka and asked if we could meet for a cup of tea. He was excited to hear about my presence in his City and in a few minutes was at my hotel to pick me up. Let’s call him Greg.

After the exchanging a few pleasantries, I started the conversation as we drove into town along Olympian extension.

Me: I have noticed that many Zambian women bleach a lot and wear weaves. In every 10 women I see atleast 9 have bleached and have either a weave or a wig on their heads.

G:  Oh is it? (As he takes time to observe women passing by). Hmm, that’s interesting, it has only made sense now that you talked about it. I see the truth in everything you are saying.

Me: You mean you have never noticed this trend?

G: No, it is very normal here. Infact you looked weird when I first saw you with natural short hair

Me: Oh did I? how weird?

G: [Loud laughter] As a matter of fact, I have not seen my wife’s hair for the past two years because she always has a weave on

Me: Did you say your wife or Girl friend?

G: [Laughs] My wife! But talking about hair is equivalent to starting a world war 3, so I shut up and act dump.

Me: So you have acted dumb for over two years over fake hair?

G: Yes, and we are peaceful.

Greg represents a whole lot of men who continue to silently suffer from foul odour brought about by fake hair worn by women. He says that it’s not about their ‘hair’ if that’s what women want, but the real problem is women who keep the fake hair for months on their heads. Women must have mercy on the men they share beds with, he continued lamenting. Why don’t you tell that to your wife, I said. He simply gave me one silent look that sent both of us into prolonged laughter.

I finally got the opportunity and  courage to talk to one lady who had bleached and wore a weave. She seemed open minded and willing to share. I asked why she bleached and she was quick to say “to look pretty”. But you are already pretty. I assured her. “Not good enough”. She responded without a second thought. Why then did you bleach only your face? Because it’s what people see (She could have added “Helloooooooo” if we were close). So you did it for others and not yourself? I asked with concern.  Yes my sister, she went on, You will not understand why we bleach unless you live in Lusaka, no one will notice a dark face like yours, especially men (my Jaw drops). Now you tell me if any man here in Lusaka has tried to show interest in you, She said this while looking at me and giggling. How would I know? I asked, she said they would have walked up to you if you were lighter. (Jaw drops again)…

Do you know the implication of bleaching? I went on. Many girls know the side effects of bleaching. We have been warned about skin cancer and all those side effects but we still do it anyway. The truth is that we shall all die one day and these bodies will all rot. Bleached or not. She concluded as she excused herself  . I thanked her and wished her well.

After that exchange, I couldn’t help agree with a good Zambian friend of mine in the diaspora who said

“The bleaching pandemic is outright gross, and tricky to navigate. While a huge population is just light, there are some who have invested too much money in self hate.”

Those brief conversations confirmed two things to me. That talking about bleaching in Zambia is a very tricky issue and so the men choose to stay silent about it. But again, that most women bleach, not because they like to, but because of the peer pressure and fear of being rejected by men who prefer girls with  fairer faces. Whatever the reason is, bleaching in Zambia has become a pandemic and has to stop.

  • That’s my origin and the times I’m there, my sister calls them cocktails .

  • It’s indeed a cocktail. The color shades vary but the funniest bit is how dark the legs can be. it breaks my heart to see Africans insult our Africaness.