If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Queer Eye, you’ll immediately recognize Tan France. The fashion and personal style expert has helped many a hero from the show feel more confident in their own bodies, but according to reporting by Refinery29, Tan France bleached his skin when he was just 10 years old. The style star is talking openly about the experience in his new memoir Naturally Tan.
According to Refinery29, France opens up about the experience of waking up every day and "wanting to be white" in his new memoir. He tells the story of stealing skin bleaching agents from his sister when he was only 10 years old. He writes, "I’d only use it at night, before bed, when no one else was going to catch me. Let me tell you, that shit hurt." France even goes on to explain that he hadn’t even told his sister that he’d done it due to the shame of "succumbing to the pressure."
France bleaching his skin stemmed from ideals of beauty being exclusively white. He writes in Naturally Tan, "I had been so conditioned to think that if you were white, you were automatically more attractive." France’s experiences aren’t just anecdotal, though. They’re reinforced by research as well.
In 2017, a report co-written by Dr. Ami Zota and reported on by Rosie Narasaki explained that cosmetic chemical exposure levels from beauty products are markedly higher in women of color. According to Dr. Zota’s report, the exposure levels are a direct result of ideals of whiteness and Western beauty standards. The high levels of chemical exposure are a result of women of color attending to meet these standards and using more products to do so.
France’s decision to try bleaching so young wasn’t just based on white and Western beauty ideals, though. The Queer Eye star explains that even as young as 5 years old he believed that whiteness would make him safer, especially given that his family is Pakistani. He writes, "But I’ve talked to many friends of color who have told me they shared the same dream, and that is to wake up white. I first had that dream when I was very, very young, because I worried constantly that if I went outside the house, bad things would happen to me."
France’s fears are far from unfounded. In a piece for Bustle, Iman Hariri-Kia who is Iranian-American explains similar feelings felt by other marginalized racial identities. She writes that many minorities in the United States have the perception that an appearance of white would help to "save" them from racial bias and discrimination. In the piece, Hariri-Kia cites a 2015 Villanova University study that found white interviewers believed "lighter-skinned black and Hispanic people to be more intelligent than darker-skinned people."
Now, though, France has come to love his skin. In fact, in his memoir he explains that if asked what his favorite is, he’d actually say its his skin particularly mentioning his skin color. France’s open discussion about skin bleaching in his memoir is a vulnerable admission, and it shows that the world has a way to go to combat white and Western standards of beauty.
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