Woman having spray tan Photo: Peter Cade
The other day I received a text message from a beauty therapist whom I've never visited. Or if I have then I don't remember doing so. Within the body of the text, the business was flogging $35 spray tans. Now the fact that a beauty therapist would think advertising to me in the first place would bring in the biscuits is rather laughable, but flogging spray tans? Whilst I would actually be interested to hear whether $35 is a good price to pay for the privilege of coating yourself head-to-toe in gunk designed to give you a golden glow, I couldn't help but ponder the number of assumptions contained within that short text message. Firstly, they were assuming that I am a woman. Secondly, they were assuming that having a darker visage would be an attractive proposition to me. Thirdly, they were expecting me to do a whoop whoop dance over their bargain price. Needless to say, it failed to spin my wheels.
As a non-white person, I can't help but think that spray tanning is bizarre. I know that this phenomenon has arisen as an allegedly healthier alternative to baking oneself to a crisp in the harsh sun rays risking burning and melanoma, but I don't really understand why people feel the need to do that either. Perhaps I'm being sullied here by my childhood traumas, but when one of the first things I learnt at school was that having brown skin was not good, followed by other people reinforcing it to me that being different was a good thing, these beauty routines geared around darkening one's skin tone really aren't going to make much sense to me. I really don't get why women feel more beautiful when faking a darker hue.
Then again, I suppose a lifetime of hearing about "exoticness" and "brown skin shining in the sun" (damn you 80s music) can't make me too ignorant about why there's an entire industry geared around women achieving this phenomenon. Apparently darker people don't "age" as rapidly either, and as aging is allegedly a bad thing, perhaps I can draw some understanding from that. But then it all becomes rather hypocritical to me, because whilst it was being reinforced to me that despite any negative (or positive, yet objectifying and othering) attention my skin colour may attract I needed to learn to love the skin I was in, the same idea doesn't seem to occur in reverse. See, it's desirable to be "white" in Australia because you're part of a socially-privileged majority, but then with that whiteness, and particularly if you're a woman, you should make some attempt to be brown because being ‘white-white’ is not beautiful and it makes you look older. Or something. Is anyone else thinking more messages about loving the "skin you're in" are needed?
There are entire industries out there that profiteer by reinforcing some arbitrary beauty paradigm to women, and I find that a lot of the time these industries sell their wares by pointing out supposed flaws that women have. Whether women are white, or hairy, or short, or their labia are too long (don't even start me on the articles on the rise of labiaplasty in this country that I have been absorbing of late!), there always seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the way women are and it can be fixed, for a price. Where does it end? When a woman becomes the ultimate picture of constructed womanly beauty, does she become perfect and is no longer targeted by such campaigns to change stuff? Reckon the answer to that is "no", for some reason.
Incidentally, despite its claim as a healthier alternative to sun, fake tan has come under scrutiny by health researchers. Concern has been raised, for example, about DNA-altering chemicals contained within it that could also lead to cancer. Not that this is much different to the host of other chemicals women are supposed to smear all over their skins on a daily basis to achieve desirability, mind. But considering the relatively short time fake tans (particularly of the spray variety) have been on the market, I think it's rather premature to claim their "safety".
Some people might be reading this and thinking "well, it's all very well that she says this. She doesn't have to worry about getting a tan". I urge them to go back and read my post about an Insight programme last year, particularly the part about their nifty camera work. If anything, it should tell you that you can't win no matter what your hue, and basting yourself in marinade will not solve things. As someone who has seen a lot of stage shows in her time, I can acknowledge the benefits of matting one's appearance when standing under excruciatingly bright and hot lights. But as part of some routine to enhance desirability? Not so much.
Tanning is bizarre. Fake tanning is bizarre. Forking over your hard-earned to be hit with a spray gun is bizarre. And it all makes zero sense to me at all as a non-white feminist.
This post originally appeared on blackfeministranter.blogspot.com.au. Republished with permission.