In a world of tanning beds, skin lightening creams, fake tan, tablets that can make you browner, oils that make you shinier, cosmetic surgeries to literally bleach your skin and diverse range of opinions on what makes skin beautiful – I started thinking……..why does the world still care?
When I first visited Thailand almost 10 years ago at the height of its “backpacker trail” boom, I wasn’t seen as much of an object of interest, but my blonde, tall, pale best friend was harassed almost everywhere she went. I was going through a grungy stage, and along with my rats tail-style fake hair extensions which has pretty much been glued in with a Black and Decker, I don’t think that I was standing out as someone that Thai girls aspired to look like! My friend was considered to be somewhat of a Grecian Goddess and had people pretty much running around after her wherever she went. At times, this was useful, but mostly I think she found it irritating. This was the first time we had traveled internationally and during that time, I think we were simply amused by the attention and didn’t really understand the obsession with “pale is beautiful”,
As we traveled further around the world, into Oz and NZ, the favoured look changed and we spent hours at the beach trying to get the “surfer chick” look with a golden tan and wavy hair. Much to our dismay, neither of us tans and we ended up with horrendous burns which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a horror movie. We were determined that we were not going back to the UK without brown skin and we even invested in the best fake tan we could find, which was a stretch as we were skint by this point and working in youth hostels in exchange for beds!
Upon my return to the UK I settled in the North-East for a few years. Anyone who has been to this part of the world knows that it is almost mandatory to have a perfect solarium bed tan and when I look back at my photos I am amazed at how well I replicated the Barbie look. If you were anything less that a shade of tangerine, you were considered white as a ghost, and in no way attractive. I began tanning obsessively, despite the well known risks of skin cancer that sun beds have.
2 years later I moved to Dubai and was so uncomfortable with all the stares I got, I promptly died my hair black. If you have worked in Dubai you will know that when you live here, the weekends lounging by the pool or beach rarely happen….and so my perma tan faded into a distant memory, and as 70 hour weeks took over, my skin paled back to its “Maybelline shade 01 Ivory” natural tone.
Nowadays I face a whole different set of problems regarding my looks and I am questioned often – “How can you be English and wearing a Hijab?” “Yes, you’re English but where are your family from” “How come you’re so white but your husband is so dark” and my personal favourite when passing through Border Control recently “There’s no way you’re really from the UK, you’re too dark”
Despite all the “looks” that I have had, I still appreciate the beauty of all types of people and I don’t consider one race or nationality to be particularly more beautiful. My question is, what defines beauty, and in particular skin colour, in different parts of the world, and how does this affect the mentality of the women living there? More next time……