FRANCOISE’S MSG STORY
What is your personal story?
My passion is to see every Black and Brown Girl see self-love and self-admiration in the Skin they Are In! Here is my WHY.
I was born in a family with various skin shades. A patriarchy society, where women and girls had no voice. I was just another girl my mother had given birth to. One out of 7girls and 3 brothers. A humble beginning as some call it. Truth is, I was born poor.
It was a hot afternoon. I was sitting with a few of my cousins in the shade of a giant tree. We were in the courtyard of my uncle’s home in Uganda, where I was being schooled, away from the displacements of Rwandans families in the camps of Uganda where my parents went to seek refuge and fleeing the genocide of 1960s. I was aimlessly wiggling my toes in the dark red soil when I heard one of my cousin’s gasp. I lifted my head. I squinted to see what caused her reaction. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. Another of my cousins had just emerged from the showering room and into the warm afternoon light. Her hair was still dripping as she strode, barefoot across the grass towards us in her yellow shorts and blue top. It was her legs and arms we were staring at. As she approached, we could see they were raw and bleeding. In her hand was a palm-sized stone. It, too, seemed to glow the color of her now skinless limbs.
“What has happened?” her Brother shrieked.
I sat transfixed, blinking. An hour ago, we were playing in the woods and she was fine. Now my 10-year-old cousin looked like she’d been in a bike accident. Her skin scoured off from skidding across pavement. I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing . . . What she said next has been with me for over 30 years now.
“I just want to look like Rose,” she said, sobbing, her limbs glistening red-amber in the late afternoon sun. “So I used this rock to scrape off my skin, because I don’t want to be my color anymore,” she confessed.
My heart throbbed. My head raced. How could I make sense of her words? Rose was my oldest sister. Everyone loved and looked up to Rose both for her kindness and her beauty. She was the lightest skinned member of our two families. Yet, even surrounded by a world calibrated to the virtues of white and light skin, I had no context for understanding this moment. My tears flowed with confusion, sadness, pain.
As a young 9yr old girl, I was naïve about why anyone would want to alter the color of their natural skin, let alone with a rock! Still, I felt my cousin’s anguish both physically and emotionally. All my life we had heard in school, “If it’s white, it’s all right.” But was this somehow related? It didn’t make sense. I was still unaware of the deeply ingrained messaging and perceived benefits of what lighter skin could bring: everything from greater cultural acceptance to improved social and economic opportunities.
This was my gut-wrenching introduction to skin lightening or skin bleaching – the common practice among women and girls of color, melanin-pigmented skin (the natural protection against equatorial sun), of trying to look “whiter” by attempting to lighten their skin.
The image of my little cousin, standing, raw limbed, stone in hand that afternoon, my sisters Judith who was born in a darker and share similar experience as every dark skinned girl around the world has become the inspiration for my life’s work. I started My Skin Global to raise awareness about the insidious practice of skin lightening and its impacts on the lives of millions of Black and Brown girls. Every day, in the United States and across the globe, people of color, of multiple ethnic and racial origins and of all genders, endanger their health, their families, and their local environments in the pursuit of lighter skin.
What most users don’t know, is that the creams and lotions they use (and frequently apply to their babies and children) often contain harmful or toxic ingredients, including mercury, hydroquinone and steroids. While these compounds are rarely listed on product labels, they are often present in lightning preparations. More troublingly, their link to serious illness including organ diseases, heart, and brain dysfunction, permanent skin damage and cancers are well known.
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a health alert in September 2022 warning U.S. consumers of the harms of skin lightening products containing these chemicals being sold in the United States. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/skin-facts-what-you-need know-about-skin-lightening-products/skin-product-safety
This alert, aimed particularly at protecting communities of color, highlights to dangers and need for greater awareness about the health dangers these products pose to both users and other household members.
In addition to skin lightening products potentially causing “skin rashes and discoloration; scarring; nervous, digestive and immune system damage, as well as anxiety and depression,” to the user, the World Health Organization (WHO), issued a statement on February 14 (2023) also warning they can adversely impact children and local environments. “Skin lightening products don’t just pose a risk to the user – children can be exposed through breastmilk, and food chains can become contaminated when cosmetics are washed off into wastewater . . . accumulating in the earth, water, and soil.” The report further cautions that demand for skin lightening products is rising and projected to become an $11.8B industry by 2026. They note the use of these products has become a global health issue.
While the immediate health and environmental concerns related to skin lightening require swift action, My Skin Global is committed to ensuring that every Black and Brown girl see self-love and self-admiration in the skin they are in. We are focused on developing educational curriculum and interventions aimed at addressing the lingering impacts of colonialism, the dysphoria of colorism, and the emotional harm being perpetuated both internally and externally targeting BIPOC youth.
I was fortunate. My passion for education led me to a degree in international business in Nairobi -Kenya at United States International University (USIU) eventually a Master’s in Women’s Studies at Arizona State University. It was there a middle-aged woman spotted me and made it her mission to support me in being a model. I accepted a few jobs to help me pay for school, but my real passion was to share my story and my education about the harms of skin lightening here in Colorado – and eventually across the globe.