When is white TOO white?

July 24, 2008 at 10:10 am 1 comment

Kim Photo -- Perky Orange

Seems I need to go away more often! I have had more readers since being away than when I am doing regular posts, go figure. A quick stop for a coffee at this internet cafe and a quick update. Still in Portimao, Portugal and despite the heat, loving it. And so to today’s musings – when is white TOO white?

I’ll give you some context first so you can then ponder this profound question(!). For those who haven’t met me, you could say that I have the typical Anglo-Saxon skin colour – pale, pale, pale. I don’t bother going out into the sun or baking myself like a lobster on the beach for a variety of reasons:

* I hate the beach, yes really. Can’t stand the feeling of gritty sand in between my toes or flies buzzing around me. Can’t be bothered wasting my time frying myself, in the company of others, coating myself with sunscreen, listening to screaming kids, having sand flung in my face as people rush on by to throw themselves into the ocean. And I can’t tolerate the sun on my skin.

* Because of my porcelain coloured skin (a´la Nicole Kidman), there is simply no way I can even get a tan. I go red, then redder, then suffer from heatstroke or blistered skin, then peel. Ugly!  So I realise I just am not able to tan.

* living in Australia, with its harsh sun, I simply don´t wish to run the risk of getting skin cancer.

* I don´t want to end up looking like some old leathery lizard with crinkled skin thanks to hours in the sun.

* when I was growing up back in the Dark Ages, white was in. Sure kids went off to the beach, armed with olive oil (ughh!!) for a good fry up but there was no obsession to get that Donatella Versace-like tan.

Well, seems I am now a victim of my own paleness because here in Portugal, tanned, bronzed and baked is THE look. Portimao is in the Algarve, which is known for its wonderful summer weather and its….beaches. Beaches everywhere. Magnificent to look at. Aqua-coloured, sparkling water. Azure-tinged skies. And….bronzed bodies packing every inch of sand.

So I stand out for a couple of reasons: deathly pale skin and red hair. Mostly, Portuguese women have dark hair. You see the occasional highlighted hair-do passing by but generally it’s dark hair.

I get stared at and a number of people (family members, otherwise I’d flatten the person for being so rude!) have commented that my paleness is really not very nice, why don’t I go out and get some sun? These very same family members go to the beach for hours per day, use no sunscreen and are obsessed with being tanned because white is not a good look they say.

I have lectured them about the dangers of skin cancer. They say that´s not a problem. I´ve lectured them about how the sun ages the skin. The reply is that “English speaking people” age faster than Europeans. Say what?

So what´s going on here I ask? Does Europe really have less skin cancer problems than Australia what with all these people frying themselves on beaches? Is the sun different in Europe, more skin friendly? Clearly, the “use plenty of sunscreen” message has not reached the Europeans as it has the Australians!

And what´s with the obsession with looking like leathery old lizards? What´s wrong with being pale and white? The 19th Century was full of voluptuous ladies using parasols to keep their skin out of the sun in order to preserve the milky, creamy complexion. Peaches and cream was THE look. When did the baked lizard look take over?

So dear reader, I have been suffering a form of discrimination! I´ve found it a very interesting experience actually. I´ve been looked on with sadness and I can hear them think to themselves – poor thing, so pale, but ah…she´s from an Anglo-Saxon background, so what can one expect!  I also can´t speak French or Portuguese (other than muttering a few words like yes, no, cat, dog) and so I´ve been told that English is a “harsh language” and I would be better off learning a European language (my Russian doesn´t really help me here!). I laugh at this because the Portuguese language, to my ear anyway, is quite harsh.

Well, dear reader, I am refusing to go to the beach here and join all the lobsters. So I´ve been in Monchique, about 20 mins out of Portimao – a beautiful area in the mountains, where I can enjoy forests and a less bronzed way of life. Here you find old men on donkeys; not bronzed women with too much lip liner on or shiny gold sandals, which require you to don sunglasses because they are so reflective! Here you find the older Portuguese style of life – men wearing traditional black hats and sitting in the shade talking to each other. People tilling the terraced fields. Much more my style!

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Gemma  |  October 22, 2008 at 9:05 am

    I went to a beach in Spain and I will never forget a man there that had obviously been sitting upright in his chair and roasting in the sun for weeks – he looked like a wrinkled piece of mahogany! It was horrible :-/ It’s funny because I have always had really pale skin and been frustrated at never tanning, but when I go on holiday and I see people’s skin go like that, I appreciate my paleness more 🙂

    Reply

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