I am white, middle class, Anglo female, and here I stand in front of the mirror lamenting my own skin.
The weather is warming and long-sleeves and jeans are swiftly being exchanged for singlet tops and shorts. Yes, that golden, celestial orb is bestowing her warmth and those of burnished skin are reveling in the strip-down. Us of “alabaster complexion”, as my mum fondly names it – we stand in front of mirrors lamenting that the change of season means baring these ghostly limbs, these legs like fluorescent tubes.
I reach for the cream, squeeze brown onto my palm and begin to rub fakeness into my pores. This year more than years past, I’m attuned to it. The farce of it. The travesty of altering my very skin colour.
It’s hard to say what’s changed. 32 years of life and a daughter who shares my skin tone might be a good place to start.
Still, I rub it in, from the tips of my toes to the tops of my thighs, rubbing at my counterfeit skin.
There was a time when white skin was a mark of beauty, when skin so fair you could see veins snaking blue beneath – that was sought after, and women shied from the sun, covered themselves in hats, scarves and long dresses. Which shows just how fickle this world is, that the definition of beauty can be altered in a few generations.
I put the lid on the tan-in-a-bottle and wash my hands, scrub them clean, before standing at the mirror once more. As I test the tension in my gut, a feeling I cannot name, the words of 1 Peter 3:3-4 come to mind:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes and fake tan. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (the Italicised words are mine!)
Women have a volatile relationship with skin beauty. How do we keep up when the definition is always changing, media is airbrushing and our bodies are ageing?
When I look at my 16-month-old daughter, I see full beauty. No cowlick or freckles, no crooked toe or birthmark, no developmental delay or disability could ever touch my understanding of her beauty. When she sits on my lap, leans into me, sucking that thumb with eyes meandering for new adventure, I am heartfull.
And I know: this is how God loves me. He adores me in the same language that wraps her close even when defiance boils.
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Isn’t that what we want for our kids too? Don’t we want them to understand that no amount of fake skin beauty can substitute true beauty – unfading, gentle and quiet of spirit. That’s the beauty we want them to seek; for themselves and in others.
So, I turn away from the mirror in my shorts and tank, limbs pale beneath this bronzed veneer. I turn away knowing the reason for my ache.
This ghost skin, sugar-dusted skin, so-white-you-could-light-a-room-with-it skin may be scorned, but this is my God skin, skin that lives, skin of love, skin of me.
To scorn my own skin is to say the same of my daughter’s, of the handiwork of my heavenly Father.
And He makes no mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of adornment. It’s a woman’s right-of-passage to throw on a pretty dress, a necklace and some makeup – and feel terrific!
But I’m uneasy when there’s more fake than authentic, when beauty is a word we use to describe the legs, the face, the hair, the body… rather than the heart.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 19, 2015.