Nice Tan Lines

If an imaginary line was drawn down a map of the world through Turkey I believe it would be Earth’s Tan Line.

It seems to me that people left of that line, commonly known as The West, want to be browner than their natural skin tone and look forward to every opportunity to sunbathe whether in the park or on holiday, even in the lead up to a holiday, or slap on the fake tan and bronzer throughout the year. People to the right of that imaginary line, The East, want to be whiter than white bleaching their skin to pale, clean and superior perfection.

As I shop for toiletries in London or Delhi I always notice the range of customised products on offer by the multinational brand names. The same brands offer the same moisturising lotions with tan accelerator in London and skin whitener in Delhi. Name the brand and I will show you the similar but opposing promises of beauty perfection: Johnson & Johnson, Vaseline, Olay, L’Oreal….on and on.

I know that these companies are profit maximisers simply meeting customer needs and demands but this is such a loaded area of the beauty world that I can’t help but feel annoyed by the whitening products. I know that I should feel the same about the tanning products but I don’t – how irrational is that?

Is it because skin whiteners fuel an inferiority complex that have historical connotations that go deeper than simple beauty treatments but people tan to look healthier or for that holiday glow?


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11 Responses to “Nice Tan Lines”

  1. bubbly,

    i have often heard and read similar comments about how skin colour is perceived in the east and west but i have also experienced it. i was born in the uk to parents of pakistani origin and have dark skin. ive always been confident with myself and the colour of my skin was never something that i had thought much about. well….until i visited pakistan for the first time at the age of 16.

  2. ooops…cont from above…

    i realised fairly quickly that people had a problem with my skin. i didnt assume this, i was told that having dark skin was not pretty. i noticed that all the marketing symbolised that having fair skin was perceived as being pretty and if you dark skin then you where the ugly duckling. forteen years on this continues and if anything is encouraged with the increasing number of miracle whitening and bleaching creams on the market aimed at males and females.

    im happy and confident with my skin colour. i would happily sit in the sun
    rather than apply a cream to have fairer skin. i wasnt influenced by the marketing but it certainly made an impact and made me concious of the colourof my skin.

    skin colour in the west is also dictated in the west by fashion trends and marketing. hiwever unlike the east it is not suggested that being the opposite of the ‘in’ trend makes you not as pretty as the trend followers.


  3. Bubbly, how true your article is! Much to my mother’s dismay, I use tanning products to give my skin an extra sun-kissed glow.

    Has anyone noticed that there is not much pressure on Asian men to use bleaching products? I know plenty women that have used bleaching products – at a recent visit to my mosque on Eid, I remember thinking everyone looked different and then realised that a lot of women looked decidedly paler-skinned. However, I don’t know a single man that has, or would, use bleaching products.

    Women are nuts!

    And don’t think that because I have fair skin that I don’t obsess about things – I spend my time being dismayed at my crooked nose, and I’ve recently become convinced that my chin is resembling a bum – this is not helped by my sister saying that I should be able to use the ridge in my chin to guide a cue and play snooker more effectively.

  4. I’ve never understood this whole light/dark thing. But people are obsessive about it.

    The nutiest thing I ever saw was in Vietnam where women go about wearing balaklavas and gloves in 40 degree heat so that they don’t get a tan. I remember having a tour guide dressing like that. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because of the cloth over her mouth, so I asked her to remove it (she was wearing a huge hat anyway so her face would have been shaded regardless). Instead of removing and it carrying on with the tour, she ended it midway and shouted at me for trying to make her as dark as me!

  5. Hi you’ll find that the paler you are in Asian countries the more ‘appealing’ you are to aunties. It will be said she is fair. If you are darker it would always be commented on! Anytime I’ve been on holiday I’ve always tried to get a tan so that it gives me a healthier glow but in Pak I was told ‘don’t sit in the sun you’ll tan!’ why do they think we paid so much to go over obviously to enjoy the sun! X

  6. The pressure is not on men to be white/fair for marriage. As women, do we make life harder for ourselves by perpetuating these preferences?

  7. A very late addition but I would say that your article is simplistic. The issue of tanning vs fairness creams has subtle race connotations. The ideal for westerners is to look more Mediterranean or Brazilian. No white person ever ran out and got a large curly wig and a pair of dark brown contact lenses after a spray tan. They DO often go blonde and get fake blue contacts. Contrast this with the people whitening themselves who often idolize blonde hair and blue or green eyes that are not natural or at least highly uncommon to their own ethnicity. While both phenomena go against the idea of natural beauty they seem to have different drivers.

  8. Namo, bubbly’s article is not simplistic, it is fun. She is hardly writing a thesis and aren’t you saying very similar things? Namely, that asians go for whitening treatments in order to look white (hence the contact lenses and bleached hair) and westerners like the holiday glow (which you describe as wanting to look Brazilian, but without the afro hair). So you are both concluding there are different drivers, both of which do not promote natural beauty.

  9. Hi Namo

    I think we’re saying the same point. I don’t think connotations are subtle at all in, for example, India where they are obviously racist and imperialistic in their quest for white skin for both men and women. White skin is to be worshipped at all times.

    My article was meant to be a light-hearted but I think we will re-visit this issue many times on this blog as we are reminded on a daily basis that white skin is apparently better.

    I live in Delhi for most of the year and while I completely detest Bollywood I cannot escape daily images from it. The fact that there is an influx of generic looking Brazilian women in movies over there is a pretty mean and blatant indication of what image women are to aspire to and what men should find attractive. And this is from a country that pops out a brown skinned Miss World and Miss Universe almost annually. The sad fact is that the rest of the world finds any shade of brown Indian women very attractive – even perfect – but Indians totally do not.


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