Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Fear of The Tan.

I wrote this a few months ago when I first ventured into Vietnam. It has been sitting on my desktop, gathering dust so I thought - HEY, why not put it up for the world to read..

By, ME.

Good-morning Vietnam! Weary eyed, I stumble to the bathroom, switch on the light and meet the sensational gaze of an early-riser. Feeling super awesome after a 15-hour journey from Christchurch, I gaze at the collection of Vietnamese toiletries I purchased yesterday – all used to enhance the beauty that is the post-flight shower. Something just does not look right this morning, however. Could it possibly be that I happen to be about 3-shades whiter than I was late last night? Yes, I am going to say that is what it is. I grab the moisturizer and stare at the foreign language intently. Who am I kidding? High-school French didn’t go my way and I sure as hell don’t think some impromptu Vietnamese is going to swing either. Off to Google I go! Tap, Type, Push – yes, this is whitening cream, not moisturizer. Damn you Johnsons and the international trust I place in you!

After deciding to embrace the moon-like glow I seemed to have been sporting, I hoped in the car and drove into the city. Anyone who has been to Vietnam before would know that the scooter is the prime mode of transport. When it’s sunny, the Vietnamese scoot. When it’s raining, the Vietnamese scoot. Helmets are the fashion craze and wet-weather gear is designed to cover your bike, body, bag and baby. Put one of us on those scooters in the pissing rain and we’ll be calling home crying about our frizzy hair and wet socks. Not the Vietnamese though. The women have got this down pat. Driving home from work, heels and all, oh they got this! Seeing as South-East Asia is the prime place for people watching, my attention drew to the fact that these women were dressed up. Dressed up in the sense that one would think ‘Girl, you be cray wearing jeans in this weather.’ As I sat there struggling to breathe in the sweltering heat, it dawned on me that my whitening disaster is a small insight into a wider cultural discovery – the fear of the tan.

Photo taken by J. Henriques. 

The part of me, which had invested so much time, effort and money in supporting the fake tan industry over my adolescent years, simply could not comprehend this complex issue of a need to be pale.  However, thankfully, the more mature ‘it’s winter for Pete’s sake, you don’t need to be unevenly orange’ was far more rationale. It got me pondering – why does beauty arise from a tan? Big question here kids. Classical history would tell us that being pale has historically been a common trait of feminism and beauty. Think about the works of art that have been conceptualized to portray beauty. Botticelli’s Venus was not sun-kissed now was she? What do you think Mona Lisa was smiling about? The fact that she won’t be getting skin cancer? I know, I know – time and place! Tanorexia is becoming a problem though my friends. And it’s time we get to the bottom of it all.

Photo from Google Images. 

We live in New Zealand, and with that comes the power of the U.V. I understand that for some, a glowing ‘end of summer tan’ is a symbol of hard jobs done on the farm. The rowing tan-lines signify the pain and effort placed into a sober New Years at training camp while your peers bask in the rays, partying their inhibitions away. For some, a tan is unavoidable. Fair enough! But why do we mock those who are pale? For some, it’s genetic and for some it’s a mere sensitivity to the sun. But for a large group of people, it’s also exactly what it means to be beautiful. The Chinese ‘face-kini’ is on the up and rise as the women of China pioneer another way to shield their delicate features from the sun. Regardless of heat, just as we are naively negligent to skin cancer, Asian women defend their post to the title of beauty.

Photo from Google Images. 

To be driving around in Vietnam in 30+ degree weather, dressed as if about to step into an igloo, is definitely crazy in my wee Western eyes but then again, so is basking in the sun with oil dripping off my skin. Neither ideal is ever going win, lets face it. A facet of beauty should be to accept the beauty of ‘the other.’ I am not going to lie, looking back on it, I am a little bit ashamed at the panic I had when I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to purchase fake tan in South-East Asia. I guess the only thing to draw on is that – when in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do! 

- C. 

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