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I'm The Only Person In My Asian Family Who Wants To Be Tan

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born and raised

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a slight obsession with being tan.

I've written about being a tanorexic. I've tried (and reviewed!) countless self-tanners. And I've definitely had my fair share of good (and bad) spray tans.

People who know me, particularly my Caucasian friends, are also quick to tell me, "You know you're the only Asian who wants to be dark, right?"

And for the most part, they're right.

madelyn tan
Back when I took my tanning too far. I've learned since then.

Most East Asians yearn to be pale, my Hong Kong-born sisters included. (Ironically, they're more naturally tan, while I'm the palest of the bunch). I remember seeing whitening creams on their bathroom vanity, and being scared because my mom had once told me Michael Jackson used bleaching creams to turn himself white. It's for this reason, I avoid any "brightening" products like the plague, because, essentially, products marketed as "brightening" in North America are being sold as "whitening" in Asia.

I live in a world where tans are viewed as attractive, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I've been sucked into this mindset.

My aunts on my father's side would always tell me, "Oh you're so pale! You're so beautiful!" When I asked my mom why they said that, she explained to me that pale skin equated to beauty because darker skin, to them, meant that you were "poor, working in the fields."

It all has to do with a hierarchy based on skin colour: the fairer you are, the more you are regarded as elite. And if you're dark? Well, you're just considered "the help."

My sisters and me.

So why didn't these East Asian ideals resonate with me? Well, for one thing, I am Canadian-born and raised. I live in a world where tans are viewed as attractive, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I've been sucked into this mindset.

On top of that, my mother is from the island of Mauritius. My aunts, uncles and cousins in Mauritius sport year-round tans due to their prolonged exposure to the sun.

But knowing I have a completely different beauty ideal from my dad's side of the family has often made me feel like an outsider. Since I don't adopt the same beauty standards as my sisters, does that make me less Chinese? Am I denying my culture's idea of beauty and adopting the Western ideal? Does my family fear I'm being regarded a "lower class" because I want to be darker? And do they cringe looking at our family vacation pictures, because I am more tan than the rest?

marvin madelyn
My cousin on my mom's side. He enjoys being tan, too.

The answer is no, to all of the above. That side of the family is still loving and accepting of me, even though we have different beauty ideals. But I still feel more comfortable around my mother's side of the family, simply because we look more alike and that gives me a sense of belonging.

When I'm tan, I feel more attractive.

It's sad, however, that one can feel closer to a group of people based on appearance. And think about it: isn't that why many of us change our natural appearances? To fit in?

Whether it be dying our hair, tanning or "brightening" our skin, or adding fillers to our lips to get that enviable pout we see on certain celebs and Instagram stars, many of us are constantly trying to morph ourselves to fit a beauty standard to feel like we belong. To be viewed as "attractive" by a certain society's "standards."

But what if you're not just part of one society, one community, one culture? What if you're stuck at different ends of the spectrum of what it means to be beautiful? Do you adopt one ideal, take one side? Do you go back and forth to "please" each view? Or do you simply embrace who you are, and go by your own standards of beauty, not caring about what the other say or think?

I, personally, prefer the last option, although it is easier said than done.

And even though I'm older and understand this disconnect and why I feel it, sometimes the younger side of me comes out and worry ensues.

For now, I'm not going to stop wanting to be tan (though I do pledge to try to do it in a safer way than I used to). When I'm tan, I feel more attractive. My eczema clears up, I don't need to wear as much makeup, and I am more confident when I have that "healthy glow." I don't feel like "the help," I feel more empowered, more myself.

And if anyone else tries to tell me otherwise, well, in the words of Tess Holliday, #effyourbeautystandards.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at

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