Monday, January 26, 2009
This Skin of Mine
Beep! Honk! Beep, beep!
Engulfing me in their ceaseless cacophony, the traffic noises of Dhaka where in full force last Friday morning. My rickshaw waller halted at a busy intersection, where a Bengali traffic cop was struggling to control the chaos. Two women beggars limped barefoot up to my rickshaw and I noticed three or four raggedy children peeping out of the brightly patterned saris wrapped around their thin bodies.
“Madam, baksheesh,” they implored of me, holding out their wrinkled hands for money. “Money for our babies.” The deep brown eyes of one lady searched my eyes pathetically.
Suddenly, her hand sprang out and she grabbed my arm, stroking my skin with her brown thumb. She began to speak intently to me, gazing all the while into my eyes. I struggled to translate her Bengali words into English, and when I did, shock hit me.
“Madam, your white skin is beautiful, very pale and beautiful,” basically she was saying. She rubbed her own chocolate colored skin and continued, “my skin is not good, it is dark.”
“No, no!” I vigorously shook my head. “Your skin is beautiful, your skin is lovely!” I said in Bangla.
She refused to listen to me and repeated herself over and over.
“I am not pretty, I am not pretty.”
Memories from my teenage years filled my mind, and mentally I flashed backwards in time and place to when I was in high school in Florida. Saturday afternoons my girlfriends and I would pile into my little green car and head for Cocoa Beach. Once at the beach I would head for the waves while my friends would slather themselves in tanning oil and position themselves directly under the burning sun. At the end of the day we’d head for the showers, where we’d peel off our swimsuits and exam our sun-baked bodies.
“Check out my tan!” my friends would yell exuberantly to each other. My fair skin, however, stubbornly refused to brown, preferring instead to turn a crispy shade of lobster red. My girlies would recommend different types of tanning oil- “try coconut” one would say, while another would advise “nah, try Banana Boat brand.” When none of those oils worked they gave me sunless tanning creams.
Still no luck.
Eventually I gave up, content to body surf and splash around in the ocean with my ghostly white arms and legs.
Now, here I was in Asia where pale is beautiful and brown is ugly. What a complete reverse of viewpoints. I’ve traveled through Bangladesh, India, China, and Thailand, all places where women spend gobs of money on bleaching and fairness cosmetics. I’ve also traveled around America and the United Kingdom, where girls spend loads of cash on tanning products.
“How heartbreaking,” I thought as I looked at the beggar, beautiful with her skin the color of brown sugar, “that girls can’t be satisfied with the looks they were born with. God created us to look just the way He wants us to look.”