There are a number of reasons why I’m addicted to Instagram, but a big part of why I love it is because it provides a platform and visibility for women of colour in a way that magazines and adverts in the Western world have never done.
When it comes to fitness and beauty, non-white women are still woefully under-represented in media – I’ve just flicked through July’s lot and it’s a bleak, tumbleweedy landscape.
As much as I would like to say it doesn’t matter – still not seeing yourself regularly represented either in magazines or adverts is disheartening.
But when it becomes unacceptable, is when there is a creepy sense of double standards – one that is becoming too hard to ignore on Instagram.
I was flicking through the ‘explore’ tab on the app and had to do a double-take. Right there in my feed were women with darker skin than me, except…they were white. On one of them, the caption was ‘dark tanning lotion’.
Over the next few weeks, I saw more of these photos. I felt deeply uncomfortable but didn’t quite know how to articulate it, until Kim Kardashian hit headlines for posting a picture of herself with an extremely deep tan, and some fans accused her of doing ‘blackface’.
Much earlier than this in March, Swedish fake tan producer Emmaatan was mentioned by the MailOnline because some commenters said the deepness of the tan was bordering on ‘blackface’ and that you can’t ‘wear a race for fashion’. The comments were defended by founder by Emma Patissier Alm who said “I love all skin types and that’s why I think people should be able to choose for what they feel good in, as long as you respect people around you.”
But extreme tanning is problematic, and unfortunately the above comment can only come from someone from a position of privilege who doesn’t understand that people in the non-white world cannot ‘choose the skin they are in’. In fact over the course of history, have been denied voting rights, classified, segregated, enslaved and indentured because of said skin.
And actually, as a consequence, for most of our lives since birth – unconsciously or otherwise – we have to adopt or strive towards whiteness to have our beauty or worth recognised – not just in the western world but depressingly within our communities.
A post shared by •Emmaatan• (@emmaatan_) on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:11am PDT
Before I get into it, I wanted to clarify that by extreme tanning – I don’t mean sitting out in the sun and getting a deep tan. I mean using a tanning lotion that gives you such an extreme colour than your body isn’t naturally capable of producing.
I can’t speak for the black community as we have inherently different historical and cultural contexts, but there are some areas in which other non-white communities share similar experiences. It was listening to blogger The Slum Flower that helped form the reason why I have a real problem with this.
Speaking to ITN, she said that the current issue – aside from colourism within the black community – is that black beauty is palatable in the mainstream in very specific types of ways, from the shade of skin to the texture of hair. Basically, the lighter the skin, the more beautiful you are considered to be, and the more likely you are to be used in campaigns.
The reason why extreme tanning is an affront is because it is door that white people can go back and forth through, without any risk to their perception of beauty. In fact, let’s get down to the nitty gritty: the more tanned you are, the more attractive you are perceived to be.
I understand why some people might not realise this is a problem, so here’s why it is for me.
For Asian women, skin colour – how light or dark you are – is something rammed down your throat from the time you are a child. Light skin is valued, considered more beautiful. Dark skin is not. On the Indian matrimonial site Shaadi.com, there is a box for your skin complexion, FFS.
My colour sits somewhere in the middle – I’m considered to be mid-level to dark, and the only reason I don’t get the same shit about my skin is because I have green eyes – because god forbid I should be a full, bonafide Indian.
For us, tanning is the bogeyman. It is not, and has never in our communities been considered a good thing. Even now, I hear and get comments from all and sundry in my community if I’ve gone darker in the sun. ‘Burned’, they call it.
The Indian film and fashion industries are notorious for presenting a very specific type of beauty – fair skin, with small noses and long, poker-straight hair. My people are from the South – we tend towards broader, flatter noses and curly hair.
Far from tanning, I know people who bleach the shit out of their skin. Fair and Lovely is one of the brands that enables this alongside messaging that you will be happier/bag a man/be more fulfilled- nowhere is it mentioned in the ads that it can turn your skin grey.
Hair is also a big deal. We straighten the shit out of our hair to look more like our Caucasian counterparts – I still can’t bear it if my hair isn’t straight because I think it looks more beautiful.
And why do we do all of this?
Because none of us really saw our beauty represented when we were younger. Because we have been told repeatedly – either directly in our own communities or indirectly through media and advertising – that our natural beauty isn’t worth anything. And how are we to know any better when there is such an absence of us in the mainstream world?
So skin colour isn’t a choice for us. Far from it.
In fact, it is the most bitter pill to swallow that bottles of ‘dark chocolate’ and ‘onyx’ tanning lotion exists, while our own skins that are the same colour, are consistently and repeatedly whitewashed for mainstream media.
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