It is a truth universally acknowledged that my skin and the sun don’t mix, a fact I fully ignored during my youth. On a summer holiday with my parents when I was a child, I refused to sit in the shade while we ate lunch and my chest turned a deep scarlet red. A few years later, I failed to apply enough SPF before embarking on an afternoon bike ride. I subsequently burnt my forearms so badly that I was forced to sleep on top of my bedsheets, even the softest cotton fabric scratching my red raw skin. Unfortunately, these were not isolated incidents. Having inherited my pale skin from my grandma, who was a redhead in her younger years, my brushes with UV damage were plenty during my childhood. However, it wasn’t until my teenage years that my fairness became an obstacle to self-acceptance. Quite literally, I struggled to love the skin I’m in.
As I entered the godforsaken mess that is puberty, the paleness of my skin became a source of embarrassment and inconvenience. I remember testing the lightest colour of Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse on the back of my hand and it being at least three shades too dark. I bought it anyway, thinking it gave me a nice summer glow. On another occasion, I was sat on the school field with friends when one of them made a comment about a girl who walked passed us. “Look at Georgina’s legs. They’re like milk bottles. Georgina’s got milk bottle legs.” I looked up and saw a pair of legs so fair they almost glowed under the harsh light of the midday sun. But, when I looked down at the slither of bare skin between the hem of my skirt and my socks, I noticed mine were just as pale.
There’s always been somewhat of a preference in Western society for tanned skin. The golden tones of Caucasian skin after a long summer signify good health and having had a good time. And, summer trends just seem to look better with tanned skin. White cotton sundresses, neon bright swimwear, denim cutoffs; I could list them off for hours. This preference for tanned skin was never more prevalent than when I was a teenager. It was a time when even legs stained by orange fake tan were more acceptable than being pale. And, as a result, my already teetering self-confidence was sent even further into disarray. I experimented with fake tan. It was always a little patchy (my skin is as dry as it is pale), but never entered disaster territory. The gradual tan my mother insisted on never made a noticeable enough difference for it to do so. But, with the slight increase in pigment, came an increase in me feeling pretty, confident and worthy.
But, why? Why did being that tiniest bit more tanned make me feel like a better person? I can only guess it was my teenage insecurity telling me to blend in with the orange-tinted crowd. Because it’s certainly not something I feel now. Maybe I simply grew out of it. Maybe it’s the fact that more makeup companies now cater to paler skin tones. Or, maybe my love of high fashion exposes me to fair skin being seen as beautiful on such a regular basis that I’ve started to believe it. I’m not sure. But, I’ve definitely started to embrace the skin I’m in. Don’t get me wrong. I still get a little nervous before stepping out on the beach in a bikini. And yeah, seeing girls with long tanned legs in white sundresses and tennis skirts gives me the urge to raid the fake tan shelf of Boots. However, I no longer consider being pale as a disappointment or something I need to change.
Learning to embrace the skin we are in is one of the toughest challenges we face growing up. But, as said by Alice Wignall, talking about her relationship with her pale skin in the August 2020 issue of Elle, “ultimately, it’s less hassle to change your mindset than your colour every five to seven days.”