‘ … I just have to accept how I am and how I look …‘
These are the words from Laura May McMullan after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma (skin cancer). Laura had spent many years using sunbeds only to be hit with this diagnosis some 12 years after she stopped using them.
The above words from Laura are very poignant. After spending years of trying to change herself, look different and be what she called ‘Mahogany’ in the end she’s had to accept her natural skin colour just as it is.
In this interview with the BBC (BBC News Magazine, 23rd February 2015) Laura shares how she did not feel like herself unless she had a tan.
It’s quite ironic that on one hand we have many people with fair skin perpetually seeking a tan; whilst elsewhere we have the other extreme of black and Asian people spending millions of dollars (The Guardian, 10th February 2014) on skin lightening creams – in the belief that they can never make it, be successful, or be accepted in society, until the colour of their skin is different – in this case lighter.
This highlights how globally it is common for us to NOT accept ourselves, including the colour of our skin, regardless of its shade.
This is an issue that affects men as well as women.
The Managing Director of Emami (A cosmetics company in India) stated to India’s Director of the Dark is Beautiful campaign that “There is a need in our society for fairness creams, so we are meeting that need.” (The Guardian, 10th February 2014)
Do sunbed manufacturers and their distributors say the same about people wanting to be brown?
And have we ever stopped to ask why the need to change the colour of our skin is so prevalent and where this need has come from?
Skin colour is determined by the amount of melanin in the top layer of skin.
Considering that skin colour is just the ‘top layer’, why would we put so much focus on the top surface of who we are, rather than what is inside of us?
We have neglected to get to know who we are inside, in our essence and therefore when we are not accepting of this aspect of ourselves we leave a gaping hole that needs to be filled and hence a market is created with the obsessive need for things that can make us feel better about ourselves, on a surface level, like skin lightening creams and sunbeds.
It strikes me that the need to change the colour of our skin is just another way that we are forever trying to change ourselves and avoid the discontentment of not feeling comfortable with who we are. From young, we are often seen for who we are on the surface only and so we can unconsciously begin to see that as our identity. For many, one’s identity often has its roots in our ethnic origin and how we see ourselves from that perspective, rather than who we are underneath it all.
If we treat children differently due to the colour of their skin, their hair, or their talents, giving praise or preference to some over others in the smallest of ways, we create children (and then adults) who grow up thinking that they are only good and valuable for what they can do and how they look. If a child is not celebrated for their natural qualities i.e. how joyous, confident, thoughtful, caring, sweet, playful and loving they are, they will grow up focusing on what they can do to please another to gain some form of attention or praise. This leaves a person empty, forever seeking to find who they are, rather than one standing confidently knowing who they are.
Laura May McMullan’s closing statement, ‘… I just have to accept how I am and how I look …‘ hits home when reading her story. It is an opening reminder that in the end no matter how much we try to change ourselves we will ALWAYS have to come back to the immutable truth that in our essence there is absolutely no-thing that needs changing.
Ultimately it is about accepting who we are – both on the inside and outside.
by Shevon Simon, London, UK
BBC News Magazine, ‘Why I regret my years as a tanning addict’, 23rd February 2015
The Guardian, ‘Skin-whitening creams reveal the dark side of the beauty industry’, Tansy Hoskins, 10th February 2014