Reader Submission: I Love Being Caramel

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I want to start off by saying that I found this blog today on a Yahoo News article, so thank you for creating a blog like this.
I’m half Taiwanese and half Egyptian, growing up I never really cared about my body image because when you’re younger, you don’t particularly think about that, but it wasn’t until I got to middle school and high school where my thoughts have changed.

I went to an almost all-Asian school, where most of the students, especially the girls, were all slim. It didn’t help that when I looked in the mirror, I looked chubby and dark, and I looked younger than I actually am due to my baby fat. In 7th grade, I had PE class outside during the afternoon, which has given me a somewhat permanent tan on my arms. Then as I got older, my baby fat went away but my skin was still somehow dark and never a nice milky, pale white color that Asians, or rather the Taiwanese/Chinese community so thoroughly wanted. Because of my skin color and the way I look, I’ve always been called “Filipino”, “Thai”, “Hispanic”, and even “Indian”, further discrediting me and my Taiwanese/Egyptian self.

There have been times in high school where I’ve refused to go outside unless it was the late afternoon or evening because I didn’t want to get even darker than I actually am. I didn’t want the Taiwanese/Chinese community that I’ve encountered to mistaken me for a different race.

Fast forward to this year and I was in my third year of college, I went to Taiwan to study abroad. It was a norm to see women carry around umbrellas, put on copious amounts of sun screen, wear gloves that go all the way up to your upper arms, and sun visors just to preserve their pale skin. Even if the sky was cloudy with little to no sun, there were still women who carried around umbrellas.

Due to this, I’ve become self-conscious about my own skin.
For years, I’ve thought nothing about my light caramel tan, I have tried to fix it, but eventually I’ve accepted that being tanned is a part of who I am. However, when living in a place where the people grasp the idea of “you NEED to be light and pale or else you’ll be ugly” in contrast to my idea of “being tan is okay, being tanned is also healthy and beautiful”, your mind and your ideals are thrown into a battle of fighting the norm or blending in with the norm.

I knew for sure that I would be fighting the norm right away due to the way I looked. I am not as petite as an average Taiwanese woman, my eye shape is already different, and my skin is not light. The insecure part of me is always telling myself that the people around me were looking at me, judging me, and ignoring me just for the way I look, this of course might not be the case, but there was always this anxiety gnawing at me that never seems to be quiet.

Towards the end of my stay, my cousin and his family took me out on an outing and the first thing he commented which I’ll forever remember was,
“Mei! (Little sister) You got darker haven’t you?”
I was shocked, I didn’t know that my cousin would care about my skin color, right away I replied, “Gege (Older brother), there’s nothing wrong with being dark. In fact, I think it makes me look healthier.” To which my cousin laughed it off and went on to the next conversation.

What can I say about all of this is that, I wish that Asians didn’t place a huge importance on having light skin. I wish there was more representation of all different kinds of skin tones in the Asian community to help give inspiration for girls like me that are not “blessed” with a light skin color. I hope that one day Asians will finally realize that being tan is not a bad thing. I do hope that one day, these attitudes about the standardization of girls’ bodies will change. I hope that one day I’ll finally be happy and at peace with my skin color, because I for one, think it’s a lovely shade of caramel.

Halah Elsahhar | California | U.S.A.

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