Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cultural sensitivity and prejudice - skin color

What is beauty? What do we teach our children about true beauty if we are very focused on our "outsides"? Being a freckled mostly Finnish background female, I've had light skin and a lot of external pressure in my teen years to "be darker" - but with freckles, I really just burn. I tried the cancer beds a few times as a teen, but that phase didn't last long. I now realize the dangers of tanning beds and wouldn't touch one with a 50 foot pole! I also try to stay out of the sun, not to prevent darkening or even wrinkles, but for health. I try to get some sun for Vitamin D, but I use mostly barrier sunblocks rather than chemical ones for health reasons.

Skin tone and beauty

$3 for lighter skin?
On the other hand, we have people with dark skin who want to be lighter. It is a similar complex perhaps. For some with light skin, the quest to have a smooth tan is desired - hence the tanning beds, spray tans and creams available. In a search of the internet, I did not come across many of these specifically "designed" for teens, and in many states use of tanning beds for those under 18 without parental permission is forbidden.

At a recent stop by our local Asian market, I was appalled to find skin lightening cream specifically marketed for teenagers. What are we telling our young ones when we tell them that who they are naturally, something they have no control over, is not good enough? Who is buying this product? Like tanning products, do teens with darker skin (this was an Indian aisle) get the ideas from their friends and media? Do parents do the skin lightening so the children want it... but what... they are asked to wait until teens to begin the bleaching process? Not only are there the products shown in the picture I snapped, they also have one for men.

What are we teaching our kids regarding tolerance?

Why can't we be happy in our own skin, especially with things that we have no control over naturally? I may be able to control a good part of my weight, but my skin color is ME, it is who I am. It is in my DNA. Education level for those of us in the West is almost entirely "up to us" (with the right support for the most part, overcoming adversity is not easy, even in the good-ol' US of A), but our pigmentation is passed to us by those who most likely struggled, overcame and gave so that we could be who we are today. If we want to change something so basic as skin color, what does that say to our ancestors? At what point will we be able to get past the superficiality of this and look past whether someone is "wheathish" or not? The matrimonials in South Asian ads (both print and online) almost always discuss skin color. Since it is still not taboo entirely to discuss someone's caste (another thing that someone has no control over), it may be even longer for families to stop pressuring children and each other regarding their skin tone.

Hopefully one day, at least on that commune I hope to have (ha!), we can be comfortable with just who we are and not surround our children with undo pressure on something they are entirely born, created and MADE to be!

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