When I started this blog I promised myself not to use it as a platform to rant. If this post violates that promise I apologize, but this struck me as something I wanted to say. After a week in the sun in Mexico we have returned to Calgary, where shirts are definitely required both for etiquette and for survival. Not so in these hotter climes, and this doffing of clothing in worship of the sun gods got me thinking.
While sitting around a pool at a resort hotel you see all kinds of interactions, or lack thereof with the sun.
Caucasians remove shirts, spend large sums of money and risk pain, cancer and other hazards just to be tanned or darker.
African-Americans in general avoid the sun, presumably because being cool is more pleasant, and the sun won’t have much effect on skin colour either.
Just adding any old colour to our white skin won’t do. Red is bad and perhaps indicates a lack of common sense or recklessness. Too brown and we seem vain, lazy or perhaps foolhardy in the damage we do to ourselves. No … we are after that perfect, uniform, golden-brown suntan that screams … “Look at me! I’ve been south! I must be pretty prosperous to take time off in the winter just to get a tan!”. In short, in our western society the perfect tan is a form of a status symbol.
It hasn’t always been so, however. In feudal China and Japan, the paler the skin tone the more prosperous the individual, as it implied that the owner of the pearly white hide was wealthy enough not to have to toil in the sun on a daily basis. When they ventured outdoors, it would be with a parasol (umbrella) to shield their delicate skin from the darkening rays.
Tim, a friend of mine from the Caribbean, points out to me that a similar phenomenon exists in the Afro-American community … a desire for lighter skin. We are all familiar with the most famous of these cases being Michael Jackson, but it may be more common than the Caucasian community knows. Tim had the following to say about this …
“The Afro-Caribbean voice is simply…look at these crazy white folks who kill themselves in the sun to have skin more like mine but treat me like I am less than human because of the colour of my skin. The flip side however is that within the Black communities, people with longer/straighter hair and lighter skin are seen as more desirable and are treated better.”
So what is my point through this? When seen as described above, this pursuit of the perfect skin tone sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it? Haven’t we humans been making judgements about the merits of others solely on the colour of their skin for centuries? Hasn’t darker skin generally been something that society has discriminated against? And yet we seek it for ourselves? Does this make sense?
Can we just get over this petty differentiation and consider it possible for people to connect with anyone, be given an opportunity to grow to their fullest capacity and allowed to contribute to our global society based purely on the gifts they were given and skills they have developed, without creating expectations based on the colour and tone of their skin?
12 thoughts on “Shirts and Skins”
I love the sun and water and yeah it darkens my skin but that’s not the point!
People always want, and find attractive, that which they don’t have. I have blond hair and blue eyes and as a younger woman I wished for dark hair and green or brown eyes…
Thank you for the comment Diana. I do agree that we do want what we don’t have (see “What Do You Need?” post from several weeks ago). To quote Cheryl Crow “It’s not having what you want, its wanting what you’ve got.” Do you think this is all there is to our desire to change skin colour? Or is there an additional conveyance of status implied as well? I don’t mean in a discriminatory way, but more how a tan in the winter implies financial means.
Perhaps for some people. We are all different aren’t we? Often we misinterpret another’s actions based on our own perceptions of what would motivate us to do the same thing. I love travelling and by no means consider myself wealthy (although 97% of the world would say I am) I live well within, perhaps even below my means so that I can do a yearly southern trip in the sun and be rocked in the arms of the beautiful ocean!
Oh the irony and lengths of our incongruence. It sometimes feels like the summation of all human needs can be found in one statement. Regardless of their skin tone people only want one thing. Rich or poor, Just one thing. In all of life there’s only one thing I want. Yes, just one! What I don’t have.
Great observation this morning Ian. Is it curious to anyone else that historically the mark of a less civilized society (at least according to National Geographic pictures) has been the absence of clothes, the abundance of adornment (jewelry like), piercing and tattoos and yet modern western civilization is heading more towards this style
It’s an interesting existence we have. We take things from the dirt and fashion them into things we for the most part don’t need. Create a system of marketing to convince you theyre needed. Work 50% of our waking hours to acquire them, and then every 3 months take a trip to the landfill to place our old stuff back in the dirt.
It sounds a little funny and it’s not meant to be discouraging, but to encourage us to all just live a little more essentially
What a great extension of this discussion!! You are absolutely right that we have gone much beyond simply using the sun to change our looks and we now resort to jewelry, piercings and tattoos as well. And although this isn’t new, we also extend this need for enhancement to our homes, our cars, etc. by constantly striving to add something of beauty or value to our surroundings. Is there an implication here that we think this makes us more complete? A better person?
Um — In ancient cultures, it was the women who were more desirable if skin tones were white…. men could get away with anything — as long as they had money 🙂 which spoke to power and control – when you speak of straighter hair — you are speaking again mostly of women. it is always about power.
I think this is a really deep subject that speaks to cultural mores, and values. it speaks to power and control. It speaks to inequality, and a whole lot more.
I like how Andrew drew the circle full circle — I think though that so much of the idea of civilization that he mentions is based on the puritan beliefs of Christianity.
Thanks for your thoughts Louise! I love the richness of the commentary today. It is indeed a complex issue, and I’m hopeful that as a society we are moving beyond both or feudal and tribal roots.
I live in Australia and your post descibes the world of my youth. These days the message “slip, slop, slap, seek and slide” is spread wide and clear by cancer groups, so a tan is going out of vogue..
Like your interpretation that we should be happy with ourselves as we are, and we should be tolerant of others and accept them – just as they are.
Thanks for the perspective Elizabeth! I agree that the world is changing, both with respect to the health aspect of sun tanning but in a more hopeful way with respect to the diversity of our culture as well!!
Yes “and red is bad” – ha! That very line made me laugh.
Elizabeth gives you the Australian perspective (I’m Oz too), so that only leaves me to say: is that REALLY YOUR VIEW FROM THE POOL EDGE????? My gosh, such envy… My boss is eating my soul at the moment, so truly, I mean envy.
Now, but how to change my life…
Yes those were my toes! And remember … Bosses can only eat your soul if you put it on their plate!
Haha – on their plate. That SO speaks to me today. Thank you 🙂