Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SPC: Imperfection, Week 4 - Too White (and a little clumsy)

Another week, another flaw. That's the story of the Self-Portrait Challenge in October. So what's the flaw I'm sharing this week? I'm white. Oh, I'm not white like snow, or styrofoam cups, or albino bunnies. But I'm way toward the pale end of that peachy-beige sort of color commonly known as "white" when used to describe skintones. What, you don't think there's anything inherently wrong with being white? Yeah, that's what I think too, but it turns out that in the eyes of modern society a person can be "too white." Most of my ancestors came from the cool, misty northern regions of Europe where there wasn't a lot of reason for genetics to favor the production of melanin. In other words, I was born to be pale and to not have a lot of tanning capacity. But still, I can't tell you how many times people have taken one look at me in the summer sun and exclaimed, "You're so WHITE!" I've heard references to cave dwellers, vampires, fish bellies, ghosts, and things that glow in the dark. Ironically, as recently as a few decades ago milk-pale skin was considered fashionable and highly prized in most Western cultures. Women who had it guarded it carefully, while those who tanned easily covered up in the sun and used lemon juice (or even more caustic substances) to try to bleach out unwanted color and look more like their paler sisters. But somewhere along the way, lifestyles and fashions changed. Creamy-white was Out and Coppertone-tan was In. For years, I was certain this was a "flaw" I could overcome. As a teenager, I spent hours in the sun, coated in baby oil, in the quest for the golden-brown shade society considered perfect. And I burned. And peeled. And burned again. And peeled again. I shudder to think now of all the damage I did to my skin trying for something I could never really achieve. And then there were the tanning beds I tried in my early twenties. Because yeah, THAT'S a good idea for an extremely pale woman - strip down to your skivvies and lay in a coffin-shaped box while allowing yourself to be bombarded with ultraviolet radiation. If they'd offered barium-laced cocktails on the side it could've been almost like a post-apocalyptic spa day. After that I tried some tan in a bottle stuff and, while I wasn't happy with the results, at least that's not permanently damaging (as far as we know...ahem). I consider it to be akin to coloring my hair or trying colored contact lenses - temporary and fairly benign. But still, eventually I wondered why I was even bothering with that. Why was I letting other people tell me that a darker skin tone is prettier, or healthier-looking, or automatically "better" than the skin I was born with? It makes no more sense to me than the futile practice of generations of women trying to bleach out darker skin. Isn't it more important for my skin to be healthy and to look good with my hair and eye color? That's what I ultimately decided anyway. So now if someone decides to point out my dreadful flaw by saying to me "omigosh, you're so WHITE" I just smile and say "thank you." Oh yeah, and here's a little bonus flaw. See the boo-boo on my leg? I have no idea how I got that. I'm so used to bumping into things that I seldom even pay attention when it happens. I absent-mindedly say "ow" and go on with whatever I'm doing, and then later I see a scratch or bruise and think "Wow, that looks like it must've hurt. Wonder when/where/how I did it." Heh. "Too White (and a little clumsy)" (Clickable if you want to see it larger in a new window)