‘De-colonizing Beauty’ by Congolese Documentary Photographer, Pamela Tulizo, focuses on both the physical and psychological effects of skin lightening products such as bleaching creams, skin lightening pills and injections, which are all used as an attempt to lighten the skin. Skin lightening practices date as far back as the 16th century and are popularly used by people from South Asia, East Asia and countries within Africa, but over the years, research has shown that such practices result in health problems such as cancer, brain damage, liver and kidney damage amongst a range of other health risks. Through her project, Pamela delves into deep-rooted issues such as colonisation, colourism and the effects that these two factors have on many black women today.
“In Congo—like in so many other countries, especially in Africa—light-skinned women are more ‘valued’ by society and are favoured over those with darker skin. This colourism and discrimination against people with darker complexions drive women to use harmful skin-lightening products to gain social and economic status. Skin bleaching is the process by which soaps, creams, pills, and injectables are used to reduce melanin concentration in the skin.” Explained Pamela. The harsh contrasting tones of the blacks and whites put an emphasis on the model's skin tone, forcing the viewer to not only acknowledge it but accept her skin colour as worthy to be photographed and highlighted.
“I exaggerated the blackness of the model’s skin to show the beauty of it. At the same time, she is trying to pull it out of her skin because her blackness is devalued and dismissed by others.” Pamela goes on to state that, “The project addresses one aspect of our collective post-colonial psychology. There’s this mentality that whiteness or lightness means ‘better’—more intelligent, more beautiful, more evolved. It’s a kind of an inferiority complex. On TV and on billboards, you see all these models with light skin and straight hair and they look so happy and confident. My images are the exact opposite of that. They critique the social pressure for us to bleach our skin, to wear wigs or weaves, or to straighten our hair. I used to straighten my hair because I thought it was prettier. Then I realized I was colonizing myself.” There is a theatrical aspect to Pamela’s images, almost like an immersive performance drawing the viewer into the anguish of the model.
“My interpretation is about a return to authenticity and to nature. Chemically lightened skin, wigs, and weaves have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is when we assert ourselves and are natural and comfortable within our own skin.” Pamela Tulizo
The series De-colonizing beauty was published as part of “Congo in Conversation”, a collaborative online chronicle presented by the Carmignac Photojournalism Award and Finbarr O’Reilly, laureate of its 11th edition, and produced in close cooperation with Congolese journalists and photographers. The project addresses the human, social and ecological challenges that the Congo faces today, within the context of this new health crisis.
Pamela Tulizo is a Documentary Photographer and artist based in Goma. Her work focuses on social issues and the image of women in her community. She is motivated and inspired by her personal story where her family and community did not accept her as a photographer as they believed it was a man’s job. To view more of her work visit Congo In Conversation.