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“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” “Beauty without virtue is like a rose without scent.” “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with another.” The bread and lily one is, supposedly, a Chinese import of wisdom. Chinese or not, it prompts me to ask myself and other women a simple question: what would you spend your penny on? Assuming that you will go for bread and beauty like most of us, simple females, it all depends on your culture and…hmmm… race. To make your choices easier there are instructions on achieving beauty carefully crafted for YOU. I grew up in Europe, in the 70’s when the tanning craze was in full swing. My city was fairly close to the Black Sea, so almost every summer my mom her girlfriends and I would go to the seaside resorts to enjoy the beauty of the beach. I was only a few years old. To most kids, yoghurt is their yummy morning snack that sometimes contains fruit. To me it was the white cold stuff we put on our wounds when we got sunburns. I did not get life-threatening sunburns until I was a teenager. But as a child I watched the ladies around me sitting in the sun for hours hoping to get “that sexy tan.” None of them ever entered the water; perhaps they needed a respite from that horrendous sun. They were there on a mission: to get as dark as they could. Some of them would remove their tops, too. On those rare occasions when we couldn’t make to the resorts, these brave women would climb on the hot roof of our home and burn their skin on there, slowly and steadily. My grandfather – may he rest in peace! – used to mumble while he sat under the cherry tree and watched them climb the burning-as-hell metal ladder: “Eh, if medieval torture designers only could see this!” And then he would start name various punishments our forefathers endured at the hand of the landowners, none of them even close to that extreme sunbathing. Long live the local yoghurt makers! The tanning craze began in the 60’s with Brigitte Bardot. If you want to see the consequences of a life-long tan, look up some of her pictures after she hit forty. Until the beautiful actress started this trend, tanned skin was perceived as a sign of social inferiority, since only peasants had to work in the field while upper class would enjoy reading and tea drinking in the shade trying to preserve their “whiteness.” Back then we did not have tanning salons, so the number of people getting melanoma was significantly lower, although I must say they tried very hard. They still do, and if you don’t believe me, visit Europe in summer time. Many years later after I moved to the United States, I noticed tanning salons everywhere, even in the smallest cities. It struck me that they were so popular even in a country where race continues to be an issue. I even spotted one in a small farmers’ town where people get naturally tanned from the work in the field anyway. I did not laugh. It scared me, and confused me at the same time. Then I learned that in the United States alone indoor tanning is a nearly $5 billion per year industry. Billion, not million, not hundreds, not pennies. Wow. And apparently twenty-something million people go tanning every year. That’s a lot of people. All this while we have studies showing the direct connections between tanning and cancer, and pretty strong campaigns against it worldwide. Interesting. Let’s forget about the tanning frenzy for a second, and take a trip to Africa. Nigeria, to be more precise. A few years ago a friend from that part of the world introduced me to afro-jazz and the beautiful music of Fela Kuti. To most people his music is just cool rhythms, but if you listen to the lyrics as I do, you are in for a surprise. I sure was when I listened to “Yellow fever” and I found out that it took place in the 70’s. Right when every female I knew as a child was acquiring at least a thousand wrinkles daily if not more from sun exposure. Kuti did not spare anything and anyone, so in his song he lays about the skin bleaching practiced by Nigerian women. He perceived it as a cultural inferiority syndrome. I did my homework on skin bleaching products, too. Many skin-bleaching products can contain highly toxic agents, such as hydroquinone, mercury and corticosteroids. They are also popular in India. I remember watching a commercial where one fair-skinned man tells a darker one that the reason why he cannot get a hot date is the color of his skin. One would think, too bad there’s nothing he can do about it. Oh, but there are options. There is this “magic” lotion that will whiten his face. The commercial ends with the dark-turn-white man riding away on a bike with a hot woman. If it wasn’t for the cruelty embedded in the ad, I would advise the young man to invest in a Mercedes rather than in lotions and cancer treatments. Then I read my friend Quentin’s article in which he talks about Eurocentrism and how some try to convince black women here that their race is ugly. What are we talking about on here? Hmmm… business. We’re talking about mass programs that tell me that I should PAY to get my cancer-guaranteed tan, while at the same time in some other part of the world, a dark-skinned woman applies equally life-threatening methods only to become whiter. The greed for money is sure sprinkled with some sadism, self-hatred and depending on historical and geographical location, a twist of racism. This is a greater work of… bullshit. Sorry, I am from Eastern Europe we are simple folk; you can fool us until we get it, and then expect us to react and some. A scientist at heart, I have never perceived the differences between races more than physical adaptations to the environment. I apply all the rules I have learned while working in the animal field. After all, before being the most “intelligent” and self-destructive species, we are mammals. We should be grateful for every mutation our race has suffered because thanks to them mutations we adapt and survive. This is why I cannot believe that thousands of years of “beneficial mutations” can or should be reversed. Actually, I think any attempt not only is futile but it can be very detrimental. Going back to the ancient wisdoms…When I have only two pennies left in the world, I will buy a loaf of bread with one, and a book about self-hatred and brainwash with another. Meows! © by Oana 2012 For more information on tanning, skin bleaching and other “medieval” beautifying techniques see below: To read Fela Kuti’s lyrics from Yellow Fever click here To read Quentin’s article click here

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