We always hear one side of the story, but now we’re going to hear both.
Ask yourself, if your friend told you that she’s bleaching her skin or using products to make herself lighter, would you freak out? I know I would. Now if the same friend told you that she spent half an hour in the sun to bronze herself up, will you freak out? Probably not, because tanning is more commonly accepted in society, rather than skin bleaching or whitening.
The truth is, neither of these options should be accepted. Tanning and whitening both have the same concept. Changing your skin colour. Recently, celebrities such as Beyonce and Nicki Minaj have come under fire for bleaching their skin to achieve a paler look, but why doesn’t anyone snub Taylor Swift, who is naturally pale, when she comes out on the red carpet sporting a “gorgeous” tan? Why the double standard?
While bleaching is harmful to the skin, so is tanning. Burning skin cells shouldn’t be so common and while organisations such as the Cancer Council oppose sun tanning, tanning products should also be condemned as much as their fairness cream counterparts. No, I’m not saying that fairness creams are perfectly fine to use, and people who tan should be banished from the face of the earth. I’m saying, that neither of these two options are healthy and we need to learn to love the skin we’re in.
Two different countries. Two different cultures. Australia and India. According to BBC News, in 2010 India’s fairness cream market was worth $432 million and it grows by 18% per year. With so many different brands and varieties you will find something to suit everyone, which is kind of sick when you think about it. “You would be surprised that in India, every 5 minutes people buy whitening products,” says Bindiya Nirala, owner of Barkha Beauty Parlour. Bindiya conducts whitening facials in her salon and tells the Newsroom that it’s very popular with many customers coming in to the salon to experience it first hand.
Skin whitening is also very popular in Asian countries, such as China, Japan and the Philippines. “I have very dark skin naturally and growing up in an Indian family, my Mum would always try to use home remedies, or different products to make my skin lighter,” says Rani Patel* who has suffered from taunts and remarks throughout her life while on the journey to get paler skin. “I always used to hear ‘no one would marry you if you’re dark’ and my cousins, who are much lighter than me, used to make fun of me because I had darker skin.” If you Google home remedies to make your skin fairer, you will see websites giving you crazy suggestions, such as applying turmeric powder on your face to make your skin paler. “Every time I would go to school or the beach, my Mum would tell me to hide from the sun. Not because of skin cancer, but because the sun would make me darker,” says Rani, “Now that I’m 25, I’ve learnt to love the skin colour I was born with, but it was a tough time getting to that stage.”
While that was one side of the story, let’s look at the other. Tanning and darkening of the skin. While solariums are currently in the process of being banned here in Australia, it isn’t any better when we sit out in the sun for a long time, burning valuable skin cells. Actually, whether you tan in the sun or use tanning products, there is nothing cool about changing our skin colour. Whether it’s done safely – or if you like to live life on the edge, dangerously. “We get around a thousand or two thousand [clients per month] depending on what season it is,” says Jacci, manager and owner of Tan Temple, a Sydney based tanning salon. “Everyone says that they feel better with a tan. They feel skinnier, they feel healthier and they feel happier.”
With solariums being banned, tanning salons are more popular than ever. “Everyone is more aware of the damaging effects of the sun now and since solariums are being banned this year, I think everyone wants to be brown in the most healthy way possible,” says Jacci. While everyone is trying be “brown” in the most healthy way possible, there really isn’t anything healthy about wanting to be brown.
“I get regular tans simply because I hate being pale. I feel as if I look like a ghost, and I’ve heard it so many times from friends and family that I’m too ‘white’ and need some colour,” says Amy Henderson*, a 27 year old Australian woman. “I’ve actually been told from skin specialists that if I keep tanning then it’s likely that I’ll get skin cancer, but honestly after so many name calling in the past, I don’t have the courage to be seen without a tan.”
Can you see the similarities? Two girls from two different cultures, both bullied about their skin tone. So while skin bleaching is a horrifying concept, tanning isn’t exactly better, just more widely accepted. Stop being a chameleon, and be proud of the skin you’re in. Black, white, brown, green, blue, whatever your skin colour is, it’s time to stop the war. – Basmah Qazi
*Names have been changed.
Top photo from the Fair and Lovely website.