By Kai Braden
“White is the new tan,” right? I used to think being naturally tan was a blessing. Growing up in the States, especially in California, people spend trips to the beach to tan, go to tanning salons, and invest in tanning spray just to have that beautiful bronze glow. Living in LA, I’ve learned that the most genuine relationship is between a girl and the sun. Having a tan signifies status in physical appeal— I’m sure the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore would agree. While the Guidos on the East Coast beaches hold their heads up high on this belief, the modeling industry proves otherwise.
I’m guessing that ever since its inception, the modelling industry has continuously prized fair skin. Lighter shades of skin connote words like delicate, unworn, flawless, royal, status, and beauty. Portraiture among infamous artists around the world throughout history uplift this physical trait, only empowering the idea even further. But why is having lighter skin seen in this light? From what I have learned while working in Asia, it is culturally prized to keep one’s skin as white as possible. Darker skin shows others that one is of the working class, out in the sun doing manual labor, unable to have the luxury of financial freedom and free time.
Now some may think this is racist. How many darker-skinned African models are there walking the catwalk? Or darker-skinned Latin models? Or darker-skinned Asian models? About slim to none. And who is to say that dark skin is not beautiful? I honestly believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder— it’s subjective, just like fashion. It is a shallow social construct in which cultures worldwide associate dark skin with inferiority and unattractiveness.
But don’t worry, there is a solution to this “problem” of dark skin. To “fix the problem,” skin-bleaching products come in many cosmetic forms: soap, lotion, and exfoliants. While Asia prizes face lotion, Africa treasures clay facial masks. These “medications” may result in lighter skin but are truly dangerous because they kill skin pigment. So when my agent nags me to keep out of the sun and maintain a lighter complexion, there are ways I have discovered to avoid such chemical solutions. I can wear enough clothes to cover my entire body. Of course I am at the same time risking pit stains and heat exhaustion. I can also hide indoors, yet living in LA makes it difficult to avoid fashioning the “Hollywood farmer tan;” spending most of the day in the car driving in traffic causes only the left arm to darken at least three shades more than the right.
Yet I prefer to drown myself in SPF 100 sunscreen because I cannot be bothered to wear a jacket every time I get into a car, nor will I walk on the sidewalk with an umbrella when there’s no rain cloud in sight just to avoid the sun. I have yet to see a male model do so, but I have seen a few female models work it with those ugly five dollar Chinatown umbrellas they sell in New York. Remember, half of fashion is c!onfidence. Whatever models wear, they wear it with confidence.
Kai Braden, author of “Picture (Not) Perfect: A Male Model Memoir” (https://kaibraden.com/ author/), is currently based in Los Angeles. He is pursuing an acting career in Hollywood while simultaneously traveling back-and-forth to Asia for modeling jobs. Keep tabs on what he is doing on social media!
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