When dark skin becomes 'fashionable'

Woman having spray tan

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. 

43 comments

  • Spray tanning is no more bizzare than Indian or African gals who put on lightening treatments/makeup. My wife is Indian and I hear about it through her. People changing their appearance causes no harm to anyone, Im not sure this article is worth that many words at all. Each to their own, surely.

    Commenter
    jg
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    January 24, 2013, 8:21AM
    • So putting bleach on your face is considered safe?

      Commenter
      Miffy
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 9:31AM
    • Paying for spray tanning and whitening creams is no more bizarre than buying an SUV when you live in the city and have two kids, buying a purple dress this season because the red one you bought last season is out of fashion, buying an iPhone 5 when your iPhone 4 still works. Our economy is based on people buying things they don't necessarily need. The beauty industry is just like every other industry, it convinces you that what you have isn't good enough. Unfortunately, when the beauty industry tells people "what you have isn't good enough" they are not talking about possessions, they are talking about human beings.

      Commenter
      Judy
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 9:46AM
    • @Judy, well pointed out. it is so very true!!!

      Commenter
      deni
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 12:19PM
  • In Asia, the whiter a woman's skin the more beautiful she is considered to be. The concept of tanning is crazy to most Asian women.

    In short, fashion and beauty the whole world over is all about making women feeling insecure about what they haven't got.

    Commenter
    cjs
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    January 24, 2013, 8:25AM
    • That's it, I'm moving to Asia! I have very pale skin, green eyes, strawberry blonde hair. I have never tanned, always worn blockout, and at 45 look at least 10 years younger than I am. My pale friends who tanned when younger are now getting cancers cut off regularly & look sadly splotchy and old. Spray tans look silly to me, embrace how rare your paleness is, I tell my daughter, who is blue-eyed & practically translucent. Most of the world has darker skin, brown eyes & dark hair, why pay to be ordinary? But if you must tan,fake is the way to do it.

      Commenter
      Molly
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 12:44PM
    • @Molly
      I'm from Asia and you would love it for there for those reasons.
      Over there, people don't describe skin as "pale". They call it "fair".

      Commenter
      burke
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 2:27PM
    • I have my hair done by women from Asian backgrounds (Indonesian and Korean) and they nearly always comment on how nice my fair skin is and how they wish they were pale like me. It makes me feel a little exotic - much better than people asking if I feel OK because I look pale. I'M ALWAYS PALE!

      Commenter
      JEM
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 3:11PM
  • I've always assumed that the spray tan industry will eventually reveal itself to be just as harmful as standard tanning. Coating that much of your skin with that many chemicals just can't be healthy.

    Regarding loving the skin you're in hopefully that's something more people (regardless of gender) will come to embrace. Unfortunately we're a fairly shallow society and looking a certain way is usually important for a variety of reasons including finding a mate and good employment.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    January 24, 2013, 8:28AM
    • In India women buy graded creams ( called Uptons) to LIGHTEN THEIR SKIN.
      They also have been known to indulge in perianal bleaching to OBTAIN THE ELUSIVE RING OF CONFIDENCE.
      In Asia, brown skin is the skin of the peasant. Creamy skin is much valued.
      The whities want to get brown
      The brownies want to get white.
      Such is life.

      Commenter
      Louis Cypher
      Location
      hades. missouri. land of the free
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 8:30AM

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