We need to get over our complexion complex
It’s about time we show our true colours. Thanks to Coco Chanel, dark, brown skin that used to be only associated with the working class was redefined as “sun-kissed”.
Since then, the Western world has regarded bronzed skin as the symbol of chic and affluent jetsetters who can afford to travel all year round. Celebrities and models compete for the best tan. Many aspire to perfect the St Tropez look.
In fact the St Tropez look is so highly sought after that a whole range of fake tan product is named St Tropez – a town where its seaside resorts are frequented by rich guests in the summer. Things work somewhat differently in Asia though.
In Asia, where most people have darker skin compared to Caucasians, skin care and cosmetic product companies constantly remind Asians through their celebrity ambassadors and advertisement campaigns that alabaster skin is the way to go.
The Chinese even has the saying “a white skin color is the best disguise to ugliness”. To Asians, skin whitening is a lifelong vocation, be it through slapping on whitening skin care products or going as far as getting medical injections to bleach their skin.
So why is there such a difference in the perception of beauty in the West and the East when it comes to skin colour? Is it due to the desire to have what we do not possess? The quest for the perfect skin color is so important to females (and in recent years, males too) that we are willing to ignore the blatant health risks.
In Australia, our love of the sun has made us the skin cancer capital of the world; two in every three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70 and at last count, more than 1850 deaths a year.
Nevertheless, the statistics have not deterred us from tanning. So much so that between 1996 and 2006, there had been a 400% increase in the number of solariums advertised in the Yellow Pages business directories for Australia’s capital cities. We visit tanning salons to top up our tans notwithstanding the fact that sunbeds carry with them an increased risk of cancer.
More alarmingly, many young Australians agree that a tan looks healthy, despite knowing it is in fact “skin cells in trauma”.
Cancer Council Australia has been carrying out campaigns aimed at educating youngsters about the hazards of UV light exposure, such is its annual creative competition aimed at high school students (See www.cancer.org.au/originalskin for details).
It is shocking the way we give up our health willingly in pursuit of beauty. And it is such a curious thing too, beauty. The perception of beauty changes across cultures and through time.
Some skeptical fashion editors have noticed a subtle change in the extreme tanning trend; it may be fading away with some of its avid fans, such as Victoria Beckham, announcing that they are opting for a more natural skin tone.
This may not come as a surprise as more pale-skinned stars are being praised for their beauty.
Perhaps this gradual reversion in the skin color trend may have a positive influence in the prevention of skin cancer as UV radiation, emitted from the sun or tanning beds in solariums, is harmful to the skin.
Nonetheless, we must try to prevent the pendulum from swinging too far to the other side. Skin lightening is not in any sense more preferable as it often involves the use of toxic to bleach the skin.
If only we can learn to love our own skin and be content with who we are. If only we can celebrate individuality instead of trying to be like everybody else. If only we can each be a trend-setter, not a follower.
After all, the perfect skin tone is not really worth dying for.
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