Highlights and shades: Skin lightening in Uganda


(CNN) – When she lived in Uganda in 2013, she did the German photographer Ann Ackerman I couldn’t ignore seeing that light-skinned women have obviously dark feet, elbows and joints.

As someone who regularly documents topics of beauty, identity, and femininity, Ackerman’s natural curiosity led her to Mama Lususo.

Mama Lususu, which translates as “beautiful-skinned mother,” owns popular beauty salons all over Central Kampala and is known for helping women whiten and lighten their skin tone. It also helps repair damaged skin due to the inappropriate use of chemical bleaches or even homemade stain removers.

Skin discoloration, a common practice in Uganda, is something that few women acknowledge despite their willingness to be photographed by Ackerman at Lususo Salon. Some of Ackerman’s subjects even tried to tell him that they were born with lighter complexion.

Photographer Ann Ackerman.

“There seems to be a strong desire to have darker or lighter complexion,” Ackerman said. However, at the same time, shame and appreciation are also associated with this.

Ackerman says the ideal skin tone in Uganda is caramel. One customer told her, “Women of darker colors shine more on dark nights.” Women are willing to apply harsh chemicals and carcinogens to lighten their skin, which surprised Ackerman because the process is also very harmful.

“I know there appears to be strong pressure on women to accommodate the dominant stereotypes of beauty in a society based on the belief that the lightest are associated with beauty and wealth,” she said.

In addition to the images for his ongoing series, the experience in Lususu has also provided Ackerman with new memories and a unique perspective on Kampala.

“Just hanging around the small stalls of the Mama Lusu Lounge in the hustle and bustle of central Kampala – the atmosphere is full of chemicals, watching and chatting with the women performing there who come from all walks of life. It was a great experience after trying to get there for a long time.”

Ackerman says her project is far from finished, and she wants to continue documenting this process while expanding the scope to include other topics related to beauty and identity. It also launched another series on aesthetics and plastic surgery, which is new to the region.

Ackerman has previously documented the topics of body and identity. His 2009 series “Plástica” followed women after plastic surgery in Brazil.

Now she is on a quest to find other projects that are surprising and positive stories in Uganda. Moreover, she hopes her photos will make people think about the background of an identity.

“I think it’s all about creating anxiety rather than finding all the answers,” she said. “If I can get people to pause their routines for a moment, look at pictures, pause and be surprised, I think that’s a lot.”

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