This is not a drill – Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, the country’s most prestigious pageant, have officially sold out.

Skin-bleaching brand Fair & White has been announced as a major sponsor of the long-running pageant’s 2019 edition. MBGN have long faced criticism for adhering to Western beauty standards, but partnering with a brand that equates whitening with beauty is shameful. Fair & White use the netural term ‘lightening’ to push their product, but the prolonged use disasters have been well-documented. Yet millions of users worldwide ignore the warning signs, risking their lives in the pursuit of lighter skin.

Is the 2019 winner contractually obligated to endorse Fair & White during her one-year tenure? This move could send the wrong message to a society that believes image is everything. What message does this send to thousands of dark-skinned girls who loath the skin they live in but look up to the reigning queen as a role model? By using her as a spokesperson for their brand, are Silverbird and Fair & White declaring “Beauty is yours, but only if you reach for that hydroquinone jar”?

Much has changed since 1987 when Stella Okoye faced boos from the enraged crowd the night she won Miss Nigeria. 2019’s MBGN winner is expected to compete at international level where Western beauty takes centre stage, but should we sell our birthright for the allure of a crown? Dark-skinned women have ruled the pageant world internationally since the mid-70’s (Janelle Commissiong, Miss Universe 1977, and most recently Leila Lopes, Miss Universe 2011). Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is adored by millions despite having no dark-skinned mentors as a kid. The current Miss America is popping with melanin. Even British TV soap Coronation Street is currently working with the British Skin Foundation on a skin-bleaching storyline.

Skin is skin, whatever the colour, whatever the shade. Why should the media force us to believe we’re not acceptable if we don’t copy L’il Kim and Sammy Sosa?

Critics may argue that beauty pageants where artificial enhancements are the norm aren’t a huge deal, but they miss the point. The stage lights switch off, and contestants are restored to their natural selves. Extensions come down. Makeup washes off. Even breast implants are removed albeit with a surgeon’s help. Severe skin damage never disappears.

Africa may have shed her ‘dark continent’ image, but despite our development we still live in a land where black isn’t beautiful, and MBGN promotes this sentiment. Sad.

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