Who knew that skin said so much about the culture we come from?  Now I don’t mean ethnicity.  Each of us are endowed by birth with a DNA code denoting a certain shade of melanin, and that is a given.  What I’m more interested in here is the way we regulate our skin color based on our cultural perspective.  Allow me to illustrate.


When I go to the beach, my Polynesian friends and friends with African heritage might wear a little bit of sunscreen if they’re going to be out for a while.  But since their skin is usually of a darker shade to begin with, they have some natural protection.  Being brown is worn with a measure of cultural pride on the islands.  Friends and family may comment, “You don’t look healthy,” of you haven’t gotten a lot of sun.  Brown is beautiful.

In contrast, my Asian friends, with natural yellow undertones, want to remain as light-skinned as possible.  They wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeves, and 125 SPF (yes, it exists!) if it’s worth the trouble, or they just don’t go out at all.  In many East Asian cultures, having lighter-skin is considered beautiful and some even use cosmetics and chemicals to whiten it beyond it’s natural lightness.  Even more, light skin is considered a sign of affluence as it implies that one works in an office and has a good, steady job.  Dark skin, in contrast, is associated with laborers whose lives are more economically uncertain.  Add to this a fascination with American culture and light-skinned celebrities, and the desire to stay light is cemented.  So light skin is associated with beauty, affluence, and popular American celebrities. White is beautiful.

As for me, I am an American with European heritage and have naturally light skin.  I suppose in the range of tones (or the makeup isle), I fall somewhere in between ivory and tan.  Folks in my cultural community are striving to attain a darker skin-tone, even to the point of unhealthy UV exposure in tanning salons.  There is an industry around tanning lotions, bronzers, and spas.  We all want to be darker.  It’s the opposite of my friends from China and Japan.  For us, being tan shows that we have time to lay out during the sun’s peak hours.  Our affluence is reflected in our ability to take time off work to soak in the rays, pay a membership to a tanning salon, or buy tanning products.  Tan is to beautiful.  

Something that bothers me about this whole business is the way many of us are constantly striving to be what we are not.  We go out of our way to attain some cultural standard of beauty that requires time, money, attention, and can be detrimental to our health (skin cancer?).  I think there is a place of acceptance and gratitude we can come to as we learn to appreciate the way God made us, the skin pigment we were given, and the natural beauty with which we are endowed.  Ladies, the next time we consider a beauty treatment to change our pigment, let’s consider what true beauty is to the Lord and how we can embrace all of who we are and the way we reflect His glory!

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