So I'm really pale.
You know, the kind of pale that means when I pick a foundation I go straight for the lightest shade and it's still way too dark for me. The kind of pale where facial features such as my nose disappear when I take a photo in full daylight. The kind of pale where if I don't wear a full face of make-up people ask me if I'm 'okay' or if I am 'ill'. The one that bothers me most however, is that I'm so pale people often feel the need to comment (quite loudly) on how pale I am and I have been referred to as a vampire on more than once occasion.
I began using fake tan at the age of 11 and what started out as quite an innocent desire to get a 'natural glow' turned into the most ridiculous obsession. By the age of 19 I was fake tanning every single night without fail. Various life events happened which started me on my Body Positive journey (talked about in more detail here) and the bottle of fake tan got left behind with the 4 hour bike rides and obsessive calorie counting.
Fast forward 4 years and I can honestly say that I thought I had cracked the whole self-acceptance thing. I can say confidently that I really do love my body; my shape, my size and my clichéd 'perfect imperfections'. I thought that included my pale skin too, but alas I was wrong.
For reasons I struggle to understand, today I walked to the beauty salon in my village, went in and paid £3 for the pleasure of lying on a sunbed for 6 minutes. It was done in a haze, kind of like when I used to cram a handful of marshmallows in my mouth to numb the fact that I hated my body and to put off the inevitable guilt I knew I'd feel about ruining my diet (yet again). Lying on that sunbed today reeked not only of my burning flesh, but of the days where I would only eat a pack of sushi for the entirety of the day because somehow, somewhere, I had been led to believe that mantras like 'no pain no gain' and 'there's no beauty without pain' were truths.
I thought I'd quashed these ridiculous notions when I started my Body Positive journey. However, lying there on that scorching hot sun-bed and trying not to think about Final Destination 3, I realised the obvious. Body Positivity isn't just about weight, shape or size. It's about accepting every element of your physical and mental self and to be perfectly honest, it's bloody hard. I had to question my beliefs about why I think I look 'better' tanned. The top three flawed beliefs were as follows:
1. You look slimmer with a tan.
2. You look more attractive when you're tanned.
3. You look healthier when you have a tan.
There. Right there.
The three things women have drummed home to them every single day. Every time they watch television, open a magazine, see an advert on the bus. Women must be slim. Women must be attractive. Women must look healthy, regardless of whether or not they're putting their body through gruelling diet and exercise regimes or burning their skin on sunbeds to do so. As long as we look healthy doing it, that's all that matters.
Media and advertisement brainwashing aside, what do these three these things have in common?
They are all subjective.
None of these are facts, truths or realities. Not one.
They are beliefs; socially constructed ideas about what it is that makes a person attractive.
When you think about it though, I mean really think about it, it's absolutely nuts. We go to the lengths of actually changing our skin colour because society sends out messages that this is what must be done to be sexually attractive. Frankly, it's absolute madness.
Perspective is important however. Am I saying that when I go on holiday I will smother myself in SPF 50 and hide from the sun at all costs? Or that I will never wear fake tan again? No. I like to compare this situation to the outlook I have on food and exercise nowadays. Deciding not to go on that walk you said you would go on, just because you're feeling a bit lazy, isn't going to do any harm in the grand scheme of things. Just like eating a slice of birthday cake at someone's party, when you're not particularly hungry, isn't. I believe wearing fake tan to get a bit of a glow for a special occasion is A-OK if that's what you like. As is sunbathing sensibly on holiday. What concerns me however, is that there are young women out there taking it to the extremes, as I once did. Fake tanning every single night or doing permanent and serious damage to your skin on sun-beds is where I draw the line. That's because I believe that such extreme behaviour comes from a deep belief that because you are not tanned/thin/pretty enough, you are not good enough.
So many women think they're 'ugly' because they do not conform to the harsh expectations demanded of them by society, but I know now that it is society that's ugly.
So thank you to the two girls last week that said I was so pale I looked like a vampire. Thanks to that annoying relative that said I always look pasty. Thanks to all those adverts that tell women they can only be considered attractive if they have a certain skin tone and that being attractive is the be all and end all of existing in this world. Thank you truly for your concern, but I think I'll stick with the colour my skin was meant to be, even if half my face does do a disappearing act on snapchat...