Monday, April 5, 2010

The best skin color in the world - tanning, whitening, or what?

In Germany and many western countries a healthy tan (not the overdone "coin-mallorca" one) is regarded as quite attractive. I guess the reason is that it means you have the money to go on holiday to a nice and sunny destination. Historically, being tanned was often not regarded attractive because it signified that you belonged to a lower class. Only farmers and street merchants had to work outside where their skin would get darker from the sun. To appear more "noble", people even practised skin whitening by applying (often lead-based) powders.
Today, on the other hand, there is a whole tanning industry at work providing us with a more or less fake tan. Tanning spray, self-tanning lotion, showers, tanning beds... I know there are also people out there who tan for health reasons and I'm not talking about that.

The text under "self tan" says "wonderfully even tan without sun".
When I was in India, the situation was absurdly reversed. Darker people were regarded much less attractive. My pretty bland skin color over here was suddenly regarded very nice. This shows also when you look at posters of Bollywood stars: with some you can hardly tell they are not white.
There is no difference for Indian men or women. I was quite surprised when I heard that Sharukh Khan was promoting skin whitening cream for guys. The mechanism is simple but effective: dark = unpopular and stupid, fair = popular and smart. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad, have a look:

So, cappucino/very light brown is the answer for everybody? Nope, that'd be too easy. Here's an ad for snow white. Not as funny, but interesting:

It might have been a coincidence but on my tour through the north of India my driver was of a very dark shade, his sister with a university degree as a teacher on the other hand was a lot lighter. My driver and I had trouble communicating as he barely spoke English and I almost no Hindi. I understood, however, that he repeatedly talked apologetically about his own dark complexion and told me about his pretty sister.
I wonder how much of that is coming naturally as a desire for what is rare or has a certain luxury connotation (being able to afford holidays or belonging to the ruling class) and how much is industry, getting us to feel bad so we buy stuff we wouldn't otherwise.
After all this I enjoyed hearing about the operation beautiful campaign where you leave affirmative messages in public. I found one of the handwritten "you are beautiful" notes once and it really made my day. Have a try; I will start taking some post-it notes with me from now on, so I can add a touch of feel-good here and there (as a teacher having post-its is always handy anyway).
I also like this charity project that helps young black girls explore beauty through photography. I think there needs to be a bigger effort to counteract the influence of advertising.
My reader "Onelovelygurl" was so kind as to remind me of the Dove campaign to show more natural women in advertising. Of course, these were also digitally manipulated, but it is a step in the right direction.
One of our most famous women magazines, BRIGITTE, now only uses "real people" as models. Many of them are still almost as thin as models, but it looks a bit more healthy on the whole. Some people complained that no one wanted to see "ugly" people showing off fashion (they were still really pretty and had makeup and all, they were just not skinny size). What do you think?

Do you know about any campaigns that make a change by supporting inner beauty ?


Anonymous said...

Over here minorities are accepted easier if they are lighter. Even among African Americans some look down on people with darker shades. I've seen in Jamaica that skin whitening creams are being used. Over here Dove is trying to change the image of what is beautifulthrough their Campaign for Real Beauty.

Great topic.

Charlotte said...

Oh, I forgot about the dove campaign, it is the same over here. I'll add it, thanks so much. Oh, and when I look at your pic you look absolutely stunning and many German girls would love to have your hue :-) It all depends, huh?!

Jessica said...

They would love me I'm as white as they come. My husband actually tell me that I really need to get a tan. Honestly, I really don't pay that much attention to the color of skin. To me it's really not all that important. But, I know for some people it is. I used to work with an African American women a few years ago. I was very suprised when she told me that some other African American look at her differently because she was lighter shade.

Charlotte said...

Yeah, it is amazing. Imagine how much happier everybody could be if skin color wouldn't be such a big issue. Even if you leave out interracial problems discrimination due to skin color also happens withing one group. As if we didn't have better things to do.

Ambrosia Jefferson said...

I wish skin color was not an issue. I am naturaly Irish Pale. if I am in the sun to long I get very dark tan...everyone should be happy with what they are. and everyone should accept.

Fi said...

What an interesting post!
I once dated a man who was adopted from India. I was so amazed about peoples reactions on him. For me he was just as much Belgian as me since he lived in Belgium his entire childhood, he didnt even had memories about India. But just his dark skin made people think it was ok to call him names or even worse start to fight with him. All this hurt him so much and made that he always had the feeling he didnt fit in.

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Irit said...

This just goes to show that beauty is a completely cultural issue. I find it sad that the Whiter Is Better concept has infiltrated India and other countries where many people have darker skin.
I feel the same way whenever I hear of Asians who want to have eyelid surgery, to make their eyes more Caucasian - I wish I could do the exact opposite...

Jen said...

This is a really interesting post, I was scandalised recently when I discovered major cosmetic brands produce skin whitening products that they sell in other countries.

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