Influencers With Tribal Marks Share The Beauty Of Their Scars

Photo: Courtesy of Shade.
Scars can tell a story: about where we’ve been and our past experiences. In some cases, scars can reveal our identity; tribal markings, in particular, are indications of these. Tribal marks are specific identification and beautification marks designed on the face or body of the Yoruba people from western Nigeria. In Yoruba culture, tribal marks are inscribed on the body by burning or cutting the skin during infancy. The marks may be etched on the arm, chest, or stomach, but they are usually on the face. These marks serve primarily as a sign of beauty and a means of identifying a person's tribe, family, or patrilineal heritage. 
Though the practice of inscribing marks on people in early childhood became a vital feature after the end of the slave trade as a means of tracing your roots, it is fast fading out in contemporary Nigerian culture. Since it’s no longer a common practice, those left with the marks can easily be discriminated against and mocked. Nonetheless, some are learning to love and accept their unique appearance. On TikTok, the hashtag #tribalmarks has accumulated a total of 15.3M views as more people are becoming comfortable in showing off their marks and telling the stories of how they came to be while also sharing their meaning and significance.
In Western culture, having “flawless skin” is a pursuit we are conditioned to believe we should aspire towards. However, the very reality is that flawlessness is impossible. People should be inspired and supported to accept themselves — flaws and all. In order to support clearly distinctive and alternative appearances in the fashion and beauty sector, the inclusion of people with tribal marks in initiatives and campaigns is necessary.
Many people on social media are leading the charge and have been showing off their tribal marks to celebrate their culture and share their stories. Unbothered spoke to three women – a beauty creator, a model, and a Tiktok creator – living in Nigeria with the tribal marks they got from childhood about how it impacts their lives.

Shade, 24, is a skincare and beauty content creator

Photo: Courtesy of Shade.
All I wanted to do when I created my Instagram page was to be able to track and keep a record of my skincare journey. However, the support I received was outstanding and continues so that after six months of starting, I hit 10k followers, and it motivated me to keep creating content that people will love.
Most of what I know about tribal marks is what my mother told me. [Tribal marks] are a tradition in Idimarun, where I come from. All nine of my paternal uncles and aunties are marked as a way of identifying people in the family. Although when I was born, my mother pleaded against it. Unfortunately, traditionally, the Yoruba culture disregards a woman’s opinions in the family, so my father, the head of the family, saw nothing wrong and approved of it. After that, the practice in my immediate family ended with me. The other children except the firsts were the only ones marked – and I am the first child of my mother.
When I was old enough, my father sent me to a boarding school far from home, and my experience at this school wasn’t pleasant. I met with kids who had no knowledge about tribal marks and had never seen it before, so they were mean and rude to me. I was bullied, insulted, and called ‘local’ several times. I also had no friends because nobody wanted to associate with me. Since my cousins attended the same school, we just used to hang around each other.

I know there are surgical procedures to remove the marks if I wanted to, but I will never remove mine because I see them as a part of me.

My childhood was a nightmare because of my tribal marks, so I hated having them. For the longest time, I struggled with my self-esteem. I doubted myself and called myself ugly, and when people would see me and ask, “who did this to you” I’d feel shitty all over and wish I never had it because scarifications like this should not be done to anyone without their consent.
I know there are surgical procedures to remove the marks if I wanted to, but I will never remove mine because I see them as a part of me. In addition, I am now used to people staring in public and asking questions. Adding to society’s beauty standards which I find insanely unrealistic, my face is not typical, making me feel incredibly beautiful. 
Buying into skincare renewed my self-confidence. My main skin issue is hyperpigmentation, so using products like Faded by Tropicals really helps improve the look of my skin. Currently, the products I incorporate into my routine to get my desired skin goals are Juice beauty Prebiotix 20% Vitamin C serum for antioxidation, Bondi sands Hydra Sunscreen for sun protection, Naturium Mandelic Acid serum for gentle face exfoliation, Hada Labo hydrating essence for hydration, Cosrx all in one cream to help with moisturization and Slather by Topicals to gently exfoliate my body for soft and smooth skin. 
I am proud to show off my marks because my skin makes it glow.

Adetutu, 34, is from Oyo state. She is a face model, a beading artist, and an indigenous jewellery designer

Photo: Courtesy of Adetutu.
I love taking pictures, although I was a shy kid. I admired the models I used to see on magazine cover pages and aspired to be one. I got my first gig in 2017 as a face model for African Fashion Week Nigeria (AFWN), and since then, I’ve gone on to brand myself as that face model with tribal marks. The following year, I got interviewed by BBC after Rihanna followed me on Instagram, which led me to start the #tribalmarkchallenge campaign. The journey has not been rosy; though people I worked with were fascinated by my markings during my modelling career, I am happy to put my face out there and inspire others like me with tribal marks.
Though it is now a criminal offence in Nigeria to make scarifications like tattoos or tribal marks on anyone under the age of 18, a lot of people are unaware and still mark babies and children. My father’s family actively practised the Yoruba religion, Ifa, so getting tribal marks at the time was common for facial beautification and identification of families. It was also touted that only the rich had the marks, but as the years passed, people found tribal marks weird. 
However, the practice has faded in my family since my siblings and I, who have the marks, complained to our father about how we didn’t like them. So all my siblings except three who were born in the late 2000s have our faces scarred.

I consider my tribal marks a trademark because that’s how people remember me.

In school, I was the shy girl who would hide under lockers out of shame from bullies. I hated myself deeply and my friends at the time were aware. One even advised me to use sandpaper to erase the marks, which I did but only further scarred myself.
My self-esteem tanked so bad I refused to go to university. I once even joked with my friends about my father not being my birth father; he wouldn’t take a knife or whatever was used to my face. Now, the memories hurt, and I regret paying attention to the bullies though I’ve moved on from any feeling of resentment I harboured. Social media allowed me to connect with people (now my friends) who would tell me to ignore trolls and to advocate for people like me.
I don’t really take it to heart when I’m being trolled for my tribal marks. I sometimes forget I have them and go with the flow. I consider my tribal marks a trademark because that’s how people remember me. For society and its beauty standards, I don’t let it pressure me at all. I think everyone should do what works for them.
As a single mother of two children, I believe children need to grow up and decide whether or not they want to be ‘beautified’ this way. Children giving their consent to things like this is important.

Abiola, 26, content creator

Photo: Courtesy of Abiola.
I was motivated to become a Tiktok creator because of my tribal marks so I could be visible since I knew people would be intrigued by my marks and would want to know me.
Facial tribal marks have been a part of my culture. They make me outstanding and different. When people see me with my marks, they instantly recognise that I am a Yoruba girl. As I was told, my father’s auntie gave me the marks with the help of a tribal mark writer because I appeared to look like someone that already lived in the family, so the mark was a means to differentiate me. 

Living with an obvious marking on my face may be bizarre to some people... but has made me love and accept myself.

Growing up with the mark wasn’t troubling for me. I grew up in my hometown, Imeko in Ogun state, where everyone was aware of the culture and embraced it wholeheartedly. So my peers never mocked or shamed me for my marks.
Living with an obvious marking on my face may be bizarre to some people who do not know what it means, but has made me love and accept myself and my peculiarities. Loving myself has also helped me navigate situations where I may be treated unfairly.
I would never remove my marks. They have become my brand. They have earned me recognition and love from strangers, and people even send me gifts to appreciate my culture because they have seen my markings. Removing these marks would be like taking away the reason behind the love and appreciation, and I do not want to do that. I don’t consider myself a fashionista and love being my natural self, so society’s beauty standards do not faze me.

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