In the age of Donald Trump, I can’t help but think about fake tan. Why is it that a man so clearly racist, wants a skin colour unnatural to his own race? Why is it that people regularly presume I fake tan – because apparently, everybody does – instead of realising that my pale complexion turns to olive in the summer due to my middle-eastern heritage.
These days, it’s seen as more attractive to be tanned. People pay very good money to avoid being pale, because they feel naked, ghostly, without a tan. Having a golden tan is seen to give an element of exotic beauty, and this comes down to the fetishisation of people of mixed races. This was made hilariously clear in this year’s Love Island (sorry) when many of the female contestants declared that their type was “mixed race boys”. Is that not just a little bit broad – since when did mixed race become such a sweeping category?
It’s since the mainstream media decided what is ethnic enough, but not too ethnic. This was also clear in the hero-worshipping of Kaz – a Thai mix – whose beauty was regularly pointed out, compared to Samira Mighty, the only black girl in the villa, who was constantly side-lined, seemingly never getting any actual romance. Rachel Christie, a former contestant, summed this up perfectly: “mixed race is their black and that is enough”, as though they tick their boxes by having someone of mixed heritage, who is fair enough to meet western beauty standards, but dark enough to bring something ‘exotic’ to the table.
This boils down to the inherent racism within western culture – black women (more so than men, think Idris Elba 5th sexiest man alive, Anthony Joshua 3rd, though no black women in their running until Beyonce at 9th) are seen as ‘too dark’ to be conventionally attractive, due to lack of representation in the mainstream media, despite the fact that being tanned is highly valued when it comes to ‘attractiveness’.
It interests me that society picks and chooses components such as tans, big lips, big hair, to appropriate – in a sense – and take on as their own beauty standards, whilst simultaneously diminishing the beauty of people with exaggerated versions of such characteristics. Of course, this is just the perfect colonial aftermath, isn’t it? Take the bits that suit, demonise that which is left behind.
Am I saying you’re racist for fake-tanning? Obviously not. But what I am saying is that, when we use golden girls with golden legs but no bodily hair in adverts for beauty products, on catwalks, in films, we’re erasing the reality that olive legs belong to dark women, they have dark hairs on them and they come alongside Asian features, African features, sideburns, hair on the upper-lips, and so on and so on. By picking and choosing these features and spraying them, melting them, cutting them, onto and into the bodies of white, western women, we regress our ‘beauty’ standards to levels that those who inspired them will never be able to reach. So maybe next time you tell yourself you look better with a tan, or compliment the tan of someone far lighter than you, have a think about why it is that you’re allowing yourself to feel so unsatisfied in your own skin.