Catfishing blackfishes: how far is too far?

Cultural appreciation or appropriation? Sophia Ayub delves into the history of tanning and it’s negative impact.

Sophia Ayub
19th October 2020
Being a woman of colour, I am no stranger to the odd comment of admiration in regards to my complexion, all of which I heartily appreciate. But unfortunately, more than often it triggers racist treatment and views from uneducated, ignorant individuals. So, it’s safe to say watching people actively toss and turn between skin tones doesn’t sit easily with me, and here’s why.

To begin with, it’s essential that I outline that I do believe in freedom of expression and that we reserve the right to do what we wish to our bodies. We’re all about love here. Yet, when I do see influencers as well as everyday individuals, express ignorance towards minority unsettlement over the topic of fake tan, I find it extremely frustrating. How did we get to this place?

Victorians did not stan’ with the tan 

Summer glows weren’t always a popping trend. Deeper tones were typically associated with lower-class individuals in western culture, whereas fair tones were symbolic of beauty and wealth. This just so happened to coincide with degrading societal views against ethnic minorities. Victorian ladies were known to intensify the paleness of their skin through cosmetics, even creating artificial blue veins. Caspar himself would be spooked.

Then along came Chanel

It was in 1923 that people began to appreciate the beauty of deep tones, thanks to French fashion icon Coco Chanel, who made a trend out of sunburn. All it took was a wealthy white woman’s accidental glow to open up admiration for tanned skin – this in itself is shocking. From this point forward, melatonin moguls were hitting the scene, transforming darker tones into a hallmark of wealth and privilege. After all, when living absent to the luxury of a hot climate, only those who could afford to be well-travelled could jet off to soak in the sun. That was all until bottled tan.

How much is too much?

Today, bottled tan provides a solution to the dangers of sun-tanning alongside skin cancer, and gives many a chance to replicate a natural glow. It has become immensely popular, with the market being worth millions of pounds in the UK, and over a billion globally.
However, there has been a recent uproar in the conversation surrounding ‘blackfishing’ – a term which describes individuals pretending to be black through makeup and over-tanning. This has resulted in a mass controversy over when tanning becomes excessive and has escalated to influencers receiving death threats on one side, and many individuals involved not taking responsibility for causing offence on the other.

We need to understand the delicacy of colour, how it's more than just a trend – it's people’s lives

Instagram: @brown.girl.illustrations

My two pence on the topic would be that, like with many conflicts, what we need is an encouragement of respect towards each other. We need to understand the delicacy of colour, how it's more than just a trend – it's people’s lives. To do this, we need to educate and support one another, celebrating our differences, whilst maintaining mutual respect.

Featured Image: @sttropeztan on Instagram
Illustration: brown.girl.illustrations on Instagram

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