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12 Apr Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

The Joys and Pains of Womanhood

One is actually sensitive about the embarrassing press that has trailed Nigerian women lately. First the Kim Kardashian Twitter hoax, and then the World Health Organisation report declaring us the top coveter of Caucasian skin. The report puts the number of women in Nigeria who use skin-lightening products at over 77 percent, that is approximately eight out of ten, the highest in the world. But the population of dark-skinned women out there is evidence that the figure is exaggerated― except the products patronised are fake.

Whatever, with such scandalising information gone viral, it is inevitable that later, someone somewhere unaware that Kim has debunked the offending tweet would make an awkward connection, ‘no wonder they look like apes, with all that bleaching’. There is also the possibility that in the future it would be normal for a guy to ask a lady he is on a date with if her colour is real or toned. It never ends. Men will get together and have conversations about our latest investment in vanity, another reason to sneer at our frivolities.

We may indeed be guilty of vanity, and as in most admission to a crime, there is an excuse, an innocent beginning. There is an explanation for the artificial hairs, padded bras and breast implants, contact lenses, and what more? A woman’s life is on display all day long. She is looked upon and judged primarily on appearance, like an on-going pageant. It is a lifestyle that is sustained and reinvented at some personal discomfort. No one knows better about enduring the process to enjoy the result. The result is gratifying except on a few occasions when something goes wrong, then the result, too, is endured. (There is a kind of depression that follows if a hairdo, for instance, differs slightly from what one had in mind. The sorrow is minor but palpable, and cannot be assuaged by flattering comments.)

Once one level of curiosity is satisfied, there is a craving for the next level. It is all fantasy, not real life. The real woman manifests at night when cosmetic and costume is wiped and stripped. It is the accumulation of fantasy that inadvertently leads to vanity. There seems to be an invisible fashion goddess who decides what is in vogue or not. After the charm of age wears off and we are called to attach extra butt, hips, or any body part, we would gladly abide by the rules like members of a hypnotised cult.

No respite in sight. Those who were initially opposed to the idea of artificial eyelashes have come around quickly; it doesn’t matter how long your natural lashes are, the expectation is that you fix it and learn to cope with the rapid eye movement. Men ought always to sympathise, and not scorn. One takes it personal when they laugh at a woman knocking her head silly in public. If only these men knew the number of micro-organism under the weeks-old extension braids or extension. A lot goes into running this elaborate show.

But it isn’t about the vanity all the time: some common sense consideration sometimes goes into the choices we make. If the texture of your hair is so tough that any comb that goes into it comes out broken and so it is impossible to manage without first stretching, why should you endure the torture of wearing your hair natural? If you had two hours on a weekend to make your hair, you will definitely go for extensions, not braids, the more conservative, African style being favoured by intellectuals.

That we have been found guilty of vanity does not mean we are remorseful. The proceeding against us is unfair if you think of it. If wearing straight hair extensions is the result of racial inferiority complex, it means wearing jeans and suits and all western-style clothing is a symptom of the same psychological pathology.

Dog