* Fashion week founder bans models using skin bleaching
* Up to 60 pct of Senegalese women may use products
* Dermatologist warns of health complications
By Elise Knutsen
DAKAR, June 24 Backstage at Dakar Fashion Week a
group of young women squeeze into impossibly high heels while
others sit still as make-up artists paint their eyelids a
shining emerald colour.
All legs and cheekbones, the models are subject to the same
pressures as their counterparts walking runways in London,
Paris, and New York. And perhaps more.
Like many women from the streets of Senegal, some fashion
models in West Africa have bleached their skin, seeking to
achieve a "café au lait" colour regarded by some as the
This year, however, Senegal's marquee fashion event is
making a stand against the damaging practice.
"I am against it," said Adama Ndiaye, better known as Adama
Paris, who started the annual fashion fete in 2002.
Ndiaye announced at the opening of Dakar Fashion Week that
she had banned any models using skin depigmentation cream from
participating in the six-day event.
A local newspaper, Sud Quotidian, claimed more than 60
percent of Senegalese women use skin bleaching products for
Women of all classes and education levels use these often
unregulated skin creams. Well-heeled and unshod women across
Senegal bare the tell-tale signs of long-term bleaching -
blotches of discoloured skin on their arms and faces.
"I'm trying to teach them to like themselves," said Ndiaye
of the natural-toned models selected for this year's show.
Self-esteem is not the only issue at stake, according to
dermatologist Fatoumata Ly.
"In my practice, I see a huge number of women with
complications from this practice," Ly said.
Women often use prescription-strength corticosteroid creams
to lighten their skin, she said.
"When absorbed into the blood stream, corticosteroids pose
serious risks, particularly for the heart," she said. Skin
cancer is also a potential side effect.
This year's collections emphasised sleek minimalist designs,
in forceful primary colours and jet blacks, with designs
targeting international women. Models strutted in towering
Louboutin platform pumps down a runway inside a luxurious
The African designers showcasing their talents hailed
Ndiaye's public stance at the event, which ended on Sunday.
Sophie Nzinga Sy, a couturier educated at the prestigious
Parsons School of Design in New York, was infuriated when she
saw huge billboards promoting skin lightening products springing
up around Dakar.
"It was ridiculous," she said of the blanched face used in
the advertising campaign. "Our skin is something that we should
Sidling nervously between hair and make-up stations, models
also expressed their support for Ndiaye's initiative. "I think
it's a great idea," said Dorinex Mboumba. "It will discourage
others from the practice."
"We don't need to change the colour of our skin to be
For Ndiaye herself, the stand against skin bleaching largely
boils down to aesthetics.
"It's not even pretty," she said. "For me, it's just a turn
(Editing by Daniel Flynn and Paul Casciato)