Many Asian people, Black people and people of colour (POC) accede to feelings of alienation and otherness growing up, especially those who have been raised in majority-white environments. All children and young adults feel the need to fit in and will often change their clothes and haircuts. But unlike clothes and haircuts, people of colour cannot change their race to fit in and be accepted. This lose-lose situation fans the flames of self-hatred, lack of self-esteem, internalised racism and creates an intrinsic inferiority complex so profound it debilitates and traumatises young children.
Within the white psyche there is an uncontrollable urge to pin down the racial identities of people of colour, even if these identities are unpinnable. This attempt to violently label people of colour as “other”, “marginalised” and “not normal” serves to soothe the white psyche. White entitlement demands to know the racial identities of POC so that racist stereotypes can be placed onto them. White entitlement wants to understand those deemed indistinguishable. Many women of colour (WOC) can remember being told they are, “pretty for *insert non-white ethnicity/race*” and have been criticised for not conforming to the expectations of how people from their racial background are believed to act. They are forced to conform to the white male gaze.
The Eurocentric ideal has been engrained in our generation through the 90s heroin chic look.
Flat stomachs and non-extruding bums were the beauty ideals and anything remotely reticent of fat was deemed ugly. On the surface, this may seem like fatphobia but the racialisation of fat bodies has existed for over 300 years. “Curvy” wasn’t a term until recently and anything non-thin was fat and deemed unhealthy.
White supremacy adapts to the times it exists in, further gaslighting WOC. We see very few ethnic features in the media. The rise of extreme tanning, bottle tans and sunbeds are widely accepted as a means of beauty enhancement for white women. Some would argue that bleaching and skin lightening are no different, and indeed just as bad as tanning.
Historically race was formulated to justify the subjugation and dehumanising treatment of people of colour who weren’t considered human. European identity was created as being in opposition to the non-European “other”. Comparing skin lightening to tanning is a logical fallacy used to discredit tanning. One is a recent beauty practice and the other is rooted in the systematic erasure of any beauty standard that isn’t Eurocentric. Skin lightening is rooted in colonial pressures and the deeming of anything non-European as “savage” and “improper”. In communities where POC must be light to be respected, for social mobility and to be perceived as attractive, many feel heavy pressure to lighten their skin. Tanning is a comparatively recent practice and no white woman is tanning to escape dehumanisation.
In POC communities there are parallels between the treatment of those with curly hair which is deemed “unfeminine” and the pressure to lighten darker skin tones with Fairy and Lovely skin lightening creams in South Asia. There’s no comparable pressure on people to tan, especially with societal structures of white privilege ever-present. There has been a recent surge in the fashionability of stereotypically Black features, such as larger lips and darker more-tanned skin.
However, these features are only acceptable on white women and have been popularised by white women.
There has been a popularisation of a new-age spirituality that borders cultural appropriation with its gentrification of ancient Hindu cultural and Indian religious practices coupled with an appropriation of South Asian clothing, jewellery and features. There has also been a problematic obsession with East Asian women, called “yellow fever”, that labels East Asian women as submissive while white women troublingly attempt to recreate East Asian features such as cat eyes. An obsession with racial ambiguity extends to an obsession with mixed-race children, seeing children as accessories for social capital rather than whole human beings.
On Instagram many people have been exposed for “Black fishing”, revealing fetishisation and a desire to be exotic. There has been a rise in people having lip fillers, bum lifts, melanin injections and other procedures designed to emulate the features of people of colour. The over-sexualisation of WOC can be seen when Black women slaves were forced to cover their natural hair in order not to “tempt” plantation owners. There are many other examples such as the sexual abuse suffered by Indian women during the reign of the British Empire and the sexual abuse of Aboriginal women during colonial times. So, is it valid for white women to claim tanning solely for confidence purposes?
For the most part, women of colour in Western countries do not lighten their skin, but they still feel the same unbearable pressures of Eurocentrism that their ancestors did. Only recently have we started seeing POC representation in the media for young children. It is essential for children to feel comfortable in their own skin growing up thus representation is essential. Many people my age never had that representation and grew up feeling underrepresented and abnormal.
As someone of Asian descent, members of my own community have faced colourism and the favouring of lighter skin tones. As a result, women of colour have to learn to love their skin colour and features. White women choose to darken their skin whereas women of colour are often forced to whether by society or themselves.
White women can take off their tan and dissolve their fillers but they haven’t faced the struggle of being judged for their natural features. White women must recognise that historical contexts must be taken into account before they paint themselves a colour that isn’t theirs.
Image source: Pixabay