I’m not sure if there is an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) of the female persuasion who hasn’t heard some form of the above statement crowed to them by some over-bearing and judgement-filled “Auntie”, or worse, “Mother”. If such a person does exist I’m sure they’re tucked away somewhere with their 50+ SPF sunscreen with skin like silken tofu and feeling proud that they dodged one of the many self-esteem puncturing bullets that seem to be the repertoire of spiteful middle-aged women. Being of Asian-Persuasion and having very many people who would classify as “Aunties”, I have been told this many times over. Sadly, these words aren’t limited to those of the older age class – I clearly remember being told that I was “much too dark” to be attractive by my peers.
As an avid endorser of hanging about outdoors like the tiny child-thug that I was (and I could claim, still am), I have had a tan since, well, being borned. My mother would regularly send us outside to explore our jungle-like backyard but would not provide us with sunscreen nor any warning about the future woes of “not being able to find a mate due to the flawed cultural bias against darkened skin in our Asiatic society”. Clearly a major fault in her parenting.
I maintained this lightly-toasted healthy glow through my teenage years due to my willingness to play sportsball (badly) at my cut-throat public high school, which also failed to espouse sun-safe education, provide ridiculously wide-brimmed hats nor undercover basketball courts. And to be honest, the fact that I was of-darker-skin did bother me. I would regularly see the porcelain-skinned visages of my favourite Japanese models and actresses and think to myself darkly (haha) that I would never be in the same boat. My glumness was not overlooked. In fact, I was told by a number of my older compatriots at the time that I shouldn’t worry, I would eventually “fade” in my university years due to general inactivity and an increasing lack of interest in team-sports.
News alert, I did not.
I think every teenager (or you know, adulthood in general, really) goes through crippling bouts of self-doubt – where your opinion of your self worth is sculpted and scored by others opinions of you. We all have weaknesses – and worse, self-perceived weaknesses. The thought that if you don’t fit in, don’t fit that status quo makes you somehow less of a person – but what’s the point of aspiring to look the same as anyone else? Globally, it is important for all people to love and be proud of who they are and there shouldn’t be a single standard of beauty. I say all this boldly as a thirty-year-old woman, who has decided not to give a rats ass anymore – but I can understand all that I’ve written is easier said (? typed) then done.
The thought that whiteness is equivalent to beauty is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we rarely question it – in fact it was only really brought to my attention while shopping in Asia– where the market is definitely not Eurocentric yet the models were mostly white – and even in the cases where Asiatic models were utilised they were photoshopped to the tee – with paler skin, larger eyes, long, styled, hair and heavy makeup.
I was lucky enough to be born to parents who never thought being dark was a problem – to be honest, they were more concerned with my Disney-crone bad posture and asthmatic-horse-snaffling-down-peanut-butter laughter noises. They definitely thought those would subtract points in the marriageable-stakes. Well, I showed them all, turns out having a terrifying tendency to laugh at oneself, leniency towards obsessive fishing-habits, and 1/2 of a sociable personality will also get you married. Hooray!
So, in a world filled to brimming with skin “whitening” apps, scarily-photoshopped pre-wedding photos, aisles of skin-bleaching products and goggle-eyed, and arrow-faced Kpop stars, it’s important to note that this concept of “darkness” as a negative is not restricted to people of my background and is reflected in people of all origins around the world. It’s something that is so disturbingly ingrained in so many cultures that I can understand why so many people have an issue with accepting who they are and what they look like. I mean, we’ve all been at the place of self-doubt (or are still wallowing in it) – the truth is that there’s nothing wrong with your skin colour; your self-worth is not exclusively tied to your appearance.
Present your best self, folks, not your creepily altered one.