Published in Nasty Girl, 2018
For those of you in the Northern hemisphere, I sincerely apologize for what may ring as an obnoxious slight against your current weather experience but I happen to live in Australia and I am tanning while the getting is good over here. For Sydney, January is a long month of searing sun, sweat, and slick legs browning on the sand. I wear enough gooey sunscreen every day that I could likely be biologically categorized as a mollusk but still, every time I pass a mirror, I’m satisfied by the brown glow across my nose and cheeks. My sister and I press our forearms against one another to compare the coffee melanin flush. I like getting dark — really, really dark — and my South East Asian skin will rarely burn, I’m proud for that fact.
Only, I have to reflect upon my pride as a naturally tan-skinned woman as a bizarrely recent development in my adult life; I wasn’t always so proud of my skin and there is a huge amount of cultural influence that has drawn me closer and closer to the notion that being ethnic – being brown – is not only okay but desirable, particularly over the past five years.
Hitting adolescence in the early 2000s as an ethnic girl was not an excellent time; blonde girls happily assumed the top of every social hierarchy, hair straighteners were draining the majority of every household’s electricity, and big asses had scarcely entered the cultural milieu beyond J-Lo (and let’s admit it, that butt may be 2006 big but it is not 2018 big). Brown skin fared no better in the aesthetic of counter cultures, with the lens still heavily focused on a pallid goth-to-emo style that heralded the porcelain skin of your average basement-dwelling teenager as the ideal hue. Myspace in 2007 was a cruel joke for girls like me, where young girls would saturate photo filters over their faces until the shade of their skin resembled less that of a human and more a deep-sea fish that has never known the pleasure of gazing into the sun.
I really, really hated my skin color as a teenager. I would buy ivory pressed powder and attempt to blend it into the tan tone in my neck (I must have looked really rather deranged), I considered the possibility of a full-body skin bleach, and treated my skin precisely as white friends would treat theirs (unfortunately ignoring the concept that fake tan on already-dark skin will produce a fluorescent haze that looks conspicuously abnormal from two miles away). Beauty regimes just weren’t there for dark girls – and that’s because all indications suggested that dark girls simply weren’t that beautiful.