"My skin doesn't need to be any whiter, thanks."

Image: Supplied.

Sometimes, I feel like my skin is never the right colour. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many of my friends are on a constant quest to achieve a particular shade of epidermis. Whatever your race or situation, it’s often implied that there’s a “right” shade of skin to maintain, and it’s likely that you don’t have it.

How is it that something we’re supposed to be comfortable in has suddenly made us so self-conscious?

Related: The pregnancy skin (and hair) issue no one tells you about.  

In Australia, we’re definitely encouraged to maintain that bronzed, beach babe look. Two of our favourite celebrities – Jennifer Hawkins and Lara Bingle – have their own self-tanning ranges. Almost every bride I know has had a spray-tan before the big day, with many subjecting their bridesmaids to a similarly golden fate.

Lara Bingle models her self-tanning range. (Image: Instagram)

Although I already have a skin tone that you could describe as “golden”, I sometimes get obsessed with having the perfect, fake tan. I’ll dutifully use my gradual self-tanner, or I’ll use a stinky, heavy-duty formula that’s guaranteed to make my husband say, “What’s that smell?”

Related: The 7 best instant self-tanners for people who can never be bothered to fake tan. 

While on a trip to Indonesia a few years ago, I noticed that many of the women there had skin tones which seemed artificial and strange. I have family who are Chinese-born Indonesian, so I’ve visited Indonesia several times. The women’s skin was an odd, ashy colour, as though they were all wearing the wrong colour of foundation or something. It was a sickly pallor. They were ethnically Chinese, like me, and I couldn’t figure out why their skin colour was so different to mine.

One day during my Indonesian trip, I was at the supermarket and I found a whole lot of shelves dedicated to skin-whitening products. Suddenly, I had my answer. The women surrounding me were trying to whiten and lighten their skin, using artificial means. I realised that perhaps my skin was the "wrong" colour in Indonesia.

Similarly, on a visit to India two years ago, I was struck by the huge number of ads for skin whitening treatments. So many Bollywood stars appeared in ads for skin whitening creams and tablets.

There are several reasons why different cultures may desire lighter skin. While some may point to colonisiation, Asian culture has actually favoured white skin for centuries.

"The feminine ideal during the Han period [206BC – 220AD) for women of the court was almost unearthly white, white skin… light skin equals beauty," Anne Rose Kitagawa, Chief Curator of Collections and Asian Art, and Director of Academic Programs at the University of Oregon, told Global Post.


Related: As a woman of Asian ethnicity, let me tell you why Soo Joo Park’s signing to L’Oreal is meaningful to me.  

A painting depicting women from the Han period, with white skin.

Anecdotally, friends of Asian ethnicity have told me that pale skin is preferred, because it implies a life of indoor luxury. When you’re sitting in the back of a dark limo, or shopping in Chanel, there’s no way that UV rays can blemish your skin, right?

Although history lessons are fascinating, I hate the idea of my skin being the “wrong” colour. It sucks when our skin – the largest organ of our bodies – becomes yet another thing to worry about. The colour of our skin is so difficult to control.

Chantelle Winnie, a model with vitiglio. (Image: Instagram)

And it’s not like we are all one colour, all over our bodies. I have pigmentation patches on my face and body which are clearly different tones from the rest of me. Several people struggle with diseases like vitiligo, where areas of skin completely lose pigmentation. Being tan may be the furthest thing on their minds.

I mean, if you even have skin, you’re lucky. I think of burns victims who struggle and suffer to regrow their skin.

Whiter skin? No thanks. (Image: supplied)

At my local shopping mall, there’s a huge poster for an Asian makeup store. It usually makes me really happy to see images of Asian women, but this poster totally bums me out. It’s advertising a skin whitening product, and the slogan is, “the only way to keep my skin crystal white”. My skin doesn’t need to be any whiter, thanks. It’s fine just as it is.

One of our favourite models right now is Soo Joo Park, the first Asian "face" of L'Oreal. Check out our gallery of her Instagram!

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