Saturday, March 14, 2009

Let's Be Color Blind

I have some thoughts about skin color but it is not racist.

Singapore is smacked right on the equator. For the fussy-and-everything-must-be-accurate people out there, it is 1°17′North of the equator. If you don't know what that means, just take it as VERY CLOSE.

My point is that we get a generous amount of sun all year round. Some people in the chilly part of the world may feel envious but I am not too sure if I really like to live in an oven toaster on some of the days. With an average of about 30°C, my sanctuary is in the air-conditioned room. (I know I sound wimpish but I am not).

I was driving on the road the other day and the sun was scorching. I was being cooked in the car and my air-conditioner was blowing so hard that I thought it was half way to hell. Out there was really glaring and my shades were of no help. I cannot understand why anyone would call that a 'perfect weather'?

Just when I was having so much disagreement with the weather, a convertible coupe zipped pass. The driver was driving topless, err, I mean with the car roof retracted. It was like a moment of insanity, I thought.

Unmistakably, the driver was a Caucasian, as people from his part of the world treasure sunny days much more than people here.

It is easy to understand why they like our sunny weather given that their days can get quite gloomy when the temperature plunges. Summer days are precious and these cheery days often suggest outdoor fun.

We have 12 months of summer. However most of us prefer to be sheltered within air-conditioned rooms. It can get quite ridiculous as some indoor areas are made so cold that people here are seen donning extra clothing to keep themselves warm.

My complexion is considerably fair and I used to hope that the sun could help me get a darker tone. Unfortunately, several attempts of tanning only left me feeling frustrated. After hours of baking, all I earned was a lobster appearance and patches of sore skin that sent me going 'ouch' each time someone tapped on my burnt shoulders. After a few days, the redness would go away but there would be no tan.

While tanning is not for me, many people love it.

If you like the idea of tanning, consider yourself privileged as not all animals gets a tan when exposed to sun light. Besides human, pigs and some species of sharks get their skins darkened in response to sunlight too.

Traditionally, fairer skin was preferred and the tanned-skin trend only started quite recently.

In the 1920s, the famous French fashion designer, Coco Chanel accidentally burnt herself due to an over exposure outdoor. Her followers began to adore her darker skin and they started to put on darker tones on themselves. The French women were seen as trendsetters and soon the rest of the world viewed tanned skin as fashionable, healthy and luxurious.

Getting a good and even tan is not easy unless you do it in your birthday suit.

Well, it is not always okay to get a tan in your choice of clothing, especially if yours is the birthday suit. However, there has been increasing pressure on government agencies to allow clothing-optional sun tanning in public places, particularly the beaches.

A clothing-optional beach is a beach where users are legally allowed to bathe in the sun without any clothing on. It is also known as a nude beach or a free breach. (Sorry guys, no pics here). In most parts of the world, clothing-free sun tanning in public places is not well tolerated socially and legally. In some places, doing the same in the privacy of own property may not necessarily mean that you will be free from trouble.

Singapore is an open economy but with a somewhat conservative culture. Nudity is accepted, at best, as an art form and beyond that, there is a lot less societal acceptance.

Two months back, a couple decided to treat open air diners to a 15-minute naked parade in Holland Village (above), a popular nightspot in Singapore. They triggered lots of wild applause but mostly embarrassment from the shocked crowd of about 200.

Such act is almost unheard of in Singapore and the police was definitely not amused. The couple, a Caucasian man and an ethnic Chinese woman, were arrested. If convicted under the Singapore law, such generous/disturbing (depending on how you see it) public display could potentially attract a maximum fine of S$2000, up to 3 months in jail, or both.

With that, it takes no effort to conclude that clothing-free sun tanning is a no no here.

Since the option of outdoor clothing-free tanning is often not available, indoor tanning industry grows to fill the gap. With the use of a sunbed (above), also known as a tanning bed, UV radiation is artificially emitted to produce a cosmetic tan. A sunbed is usually a simple bed which allows you to lie under some light fixtures to tan. In America and Europe, sunbeds are most popular when there is little sun.

The Asians do not seem to be very crazy about sun tanning. You do not need to be very observant to realise that there are hundreds of beauty products which claim to lighten skin color. Such products are usually well received by the fair-skin-obsessed Asians.

Scientists have issued many warnings against excessive exposure to the Sun as it may lead to skin cancer. The most serious type, melanoma, can be fatal if not discovered and treated quickly. In UK, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer with about 100,000 cases a year.

In the past, we were advised to use sunscreen to reduce the risk from the UV radiation. Such products are usually labeled with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) to indicate their rated effectiveness .

Generally, excessive exposure is frowned upon.

Now, some experts in melanoma research are saying that a safe tan from UV radiation is impossible, regardless of how it is done. They are calling for government to introduce legislation to regulate the indoor tanning industry and to restrict the younger adults from using sunbeds, as they are even more prone to getting skin cancer.

We often go a long way to get what we don't have and dismiss what is naturally given to us. So, the fair-skinned people go sun bathing while the dark-skinned ones slap whitening cream on their skin.

Nobody can say for sure whether dark or fair skin makes one look better. Usually, we are the ones who give the verdict for ourselves. Perhaps we shall just learn to accept how we are on the exterior and spend more time to beautify the inside instead.

For me, I am contented just having my skin color the way it is.

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