When my mom was in a Malaysian refugee camp and pregnant with me, she had her fortune told. The fortune-teller foretold her that she’d have daughter. And that daughter’s past life was a warrior who had a fearsome kick. In this life, she would be a short girl, but she’d be beautiful and with porcelain white skin. When she did have a daughter (obviously). And I apparently kicked quite a bit in the womb. And yes, I am short at five feet tall. And while I wouldn’t be so conceited to call myself beautiful, I know I’m pretty. But alas, my skin is a naturally peachy/bronzed tone that tanned easily and didn’t fade quite so easily. More like my dad’s “rice farmer” skin than mom’s milky white skin. My mom likes to joke that the fortune-teller got most of it right.
As a little girl, my mom used to scold me for playing outside so often, chiding me for how dark my skin got each summer. I cared and wanted to have lighter skin badly. But not as badly as I wanted to play hockey outside with my brother or sit outside on the front lawn contemplating the universe with my best friend. My mom was horrified that she had apparently given birth to a little East Indian girl (I know, I know, racist! Yikes! But it’s what she called me!). And I desperately wanted to please my beautiful mom and be more like her, including her pale skin.
Like I said before, I have skin that tans easily but takes forever to fade. I once had a bikini tan line from August until December. So I just resigned myself to forever being tanned which made me always less pretty than I could have been. And all this was true until a few years ago when I started working full-time in an office from 8am-5pm and oftentimes even later. It started to be a regular thing for me to go to work before the sunrise and go home after sunset.
One day, while hanging out with my sister-in-law, she asked me what I was doing to my skin since I was lighter than I had ever been before. I hadn’t noticed, but when I went home that day, I checked myself out objectively in the bathroom mirror. Yes, my skin was lighter, pale even. And rather than thinking that I needed to get out more, I took it as an excellent byproduct of working too much.
Moe to that, at the make-up counter, I’m constantly hoping to be matched up to a paler shade of foundation. If I get matched up to a light shade, I almost always end up buying it, from Stila 10 Watts to Nars Deauville. I’ve got bottles and bottles of foundation in shades too light for my actual skin tone. Alway me trying to be more like my mom. Trying to be pretty in my mom’s eyes and looking for her approval.
It’s funny how I’ve so far rejected most of my mom’s traditionally Asian ideas of beauty. My mom wanted me to be skinnier; I grabbed another bowl of fried rice with sweet & sour pork. My mom wanted me to wear my hair long, black and straight. In my life, I’ve cut it all off, dyed it Barbie blond and permed it once or twice. My mom thought I should do my makeup and dress up everyday. I was a tomboy growing up who didn’t wear makeup and dressed in big t-shirts everyday. But for some reason, the pale skin bit stuck. And while I know it’s based on this horrible idea of class and privilege, I still subscribe to it. Even though I know it means nothing, even though I know better, I can’t help it.