The Complex(ion) Debate

When it comes to beauty as it relates to complexion, one may say there are two dominant schools of thought: Eastern and Western. Cultural implications of beauty are pronounced in every single culture. Time has seen significant shifts in the image of beauty and thusly, so has cultural behavior.

A quick flip through advertisements in magazines give strong visual cues to the prevailing ideology of beauty. In many Eastern magazines, one will notice the variety of skin lightening products complementing pale skinned beauties. The opposite goes for Western circulations which feature bronzed sun worshippers touting the latest and greatest in tanning technology.

Where is this all rooted? Simply put, centuries of cultural indoctrination. The strong agricultural history of Asian cultures made it so lower working classes were identified by an obvious tanned complexion. The delicate fair skin of nobility was prized above all because it was afforded through a leisurely lifestyle of affluence. Over in Japan, geisha paint their face with nightingale droppings to achieve an elegant pale appearance.

Similarly, women in early European culture revered pale skin, often going extreme lengths to obtain a near translucent look by applying dangerous lead based lightening powders. The Western ideology has its roots in classic Greek and Roman culture. This practice continued to be supported hundreds of years later by Queen Elizabeth I who heavily layered on white powder to make herself appear much whiter.

This all changed in the 20s when style icon Coco Chanel returned from her vacation in South of France with-gasp- a TAN. Thirty years after the bikini decidedly became the catalyst to a generation of tanners, the upswing of skin cancer patients and health-oriented awareness is resulting in another cultural shift. The CDC reports sharper and sharper increases in incidence of skin cancers with a six fold increase among young adults resulting in 8,500 estimated deaths occurring a year in the United States alone.

As a result of this awareness today, there is growing trend to promote acceptance of one’s natural complexion. The tanning trend is fading giving way to a healthier, more realistic standard of beauty- the standard of the natural self. Regardless of what trends our contemporaries are currently selling, genes will always dictate a majority of our physicality. So, how we as individuals decide to respond to these images of beauty will ultimately dictate the health of our future as well as the future of generations to come.