Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Who’s the Tannest of Them All?

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In recent years, tanning has become increasingly popular. Having treatments done or using products for darker skin is so normalized that people don’t understand why doing so is harmful. 

There is a tremendous amount of research that shows how tanning beds as well as natural tanning in which one is directly exposed to UV rays, are major causes of skin cancer. However, the naturally sufficient levels of melanin in people of color, the very thing that gives the beautiful tan color to our skin, serves the purpose of protecting us from the sun’s extremely dangerous rays. If the fear of skin cancer is not sufficient enough in deterring one from such methods, tanning is also a major example of racial hypocrisy. 

Historically, European colonizers stole Africans in order to be sold as slaves in the New World during the transatlantic slave trade and also furthered their imperialistic agenda, invading five continents all of which have indigenous people that are not white. White people, who at one point stole the land of these individuals through rape, violence, and theft, and ridiculed them for their darker skin are now the same ones who are thriving off of that era’s capital gain and have a desire to replicate the skin color of the oppressed. 

However, the colorist mentality instilled in individuals for many years that favored those with lighter complexions and gave rise to the concept of Eurocentric superiority, has bullied many of the oppressed individuals to pass down self-deprecating views.

Today, people of color continue to work hard to overcome such prejudice and feel more comfortable in their own skin, but now, being tan is glorified because white people are taking part in it whereas before when it wasn’t “trendy”, POC were discriminated against. 

Even now, society has proven to pass less judgement on white individuals in comparison to their non-white counterparts. For example, in many Asian countries, there are lightening creams such as Fair & Lovely that have been heavily criticized due to the colorist implication that to be lovely, one has to be fair. Meanwhile, self tanning companies become more popular by the day and instead of being scrutinized for their lack of sensitivity towards hundreds of years of racism people of color have had to endure, they are praised for their “lightweight and buildable” products for a “flawless look”. So, why wasn’t tan flawless when only BIPOC had it? Why is it only beautiful now that white people are chasing the melanin-rich look? Tanning ultimately ignores the years of black face and mockery of people of color and devalues the experiences of the entire community in exchange for having darker skin, except with the privilege that people of color are not given. Considering how prevalent racism is, the shift in the attitude towards tanning is a paradox. 

This is what modern day imperialism looks like. You may have learned it as stealing jewels, profiting from stolen land, and enslaving natives, but now, it’s replicating hair, style, clothing, and skin color through cultural appropriation. One would think that the theft would have ended by now. Our ancestors had enough stolen from them. My land was not the only thing stolen, my skin color was too.