“Do you have anything to make my skin whiter?” my Arab girlfriend, Shiha, looks at me hopefully with her big brown eyes. I am in the Sinai, Egypt, spending time in the desert with my exotic Bedouin girlfriends. How to be beautiful, is for them, like any women anywhere in the world, a hot topic.
Sometimes I think they think I am some kind of beauty Messiah, bringing all manner of “beauty secrets” from the West not to mention magic beauty products to help them look like me. And I don’t mean that in a vain way, I mean they want to be WHITER. Whilst in the West, we all strive for a “healthy tan”, my brown-skinned friends want to look … well, ill!
How could I tell them they were born that colour and they weren’t going to get any lighter – just like I used to kid myself as a teenager that I could turn the same dark brown as that Coppertone girl in the ad. Took me several years and lots of sunburn to realize that wasn’t going to happen!
Shiha looked at me, waiting for some pearls of wisdom to be uttered from my lips. “Eat lots of fruit and veges, drink water, sleep. And don’t worry about things or it will show on your face” I said.
She translated this for her friends like I had just said something profound. Shiha is always worrying about nothing and often wears a frown, so I had to drop in the last line. The friends nodded slowly, digesting my words. These beautiful Bedouin ladies, with their creamy olive skin, big brown eyes and long lashes had nothing to worry about. They hardly spend any time in the sun and are always covered up because of Muslim tradition anyway. There was no way they could get any paler.
I had seen skin-whitening products in the shops in the East and wondered what effect they had on brown skin, or if they were really just moisturisers with a high SPF. Fair and Lovely skin-whitening cream seems to be a popular brand around here.
Once Shiha told me I needed to visit the doctor to have the freckles on my face removed. It seems to be a sin around here to look anything less than perfect. A few days later I had to make a trip to the pharmacy to get Shiha some painkillers for her psychosomatic aches and pains. She and her friends always seem to be suffering from something. They often talk about making the 10 hour bus journey to Cairo to see a “good” doctor. I secretly think it might just be an excuse to leave the confines of their houses (married women are not allowed to venture out without their husbands or a male relative) and as for going to Cairo, well that sounds like a shopping trip in disguise to me!
Anyway at the pharmacy I noticed an oblong pink box on the shelf with the (tacky) name “Lovely dream”. I looked closer at the “before and after” pictures on the box – before: one brown boob with a brown nipple and after: one brown boob with a pink nipple. Yup, it was nipple-whitening cream. Obviously pink nipples are sexier here?! I wondered what kind of nasty substance that might contain to make your nipples pink! “Ouch” is the only word that sprang to my mind.
The beauty industry is a multi-million dollar con industry. It plays on women’s greatest fear: not being beautiful, getting old, and not looking like those models in the magazines. We are made to feel insecure. Recently a friend living in India told me about a cream you could buy there to tighten your vagina. I mean, really?! Like a cream was going to do that?! I’d rather stick to my pelvic floor exercises thanks.
Now in my 40s I can see all the damage and the good I have done to my body and skin over the years. Staying in good shape throughout your life is really not rocket science. Most of it is stuff your grandma would tell you, and we should really listen to the old duck and not fob her off . It doesn’t matter if you are white or brown, the rules are the same.
Don’t get sunburnt. You WILL end up one day with skin damage if you do. I would say as women we spend the first 40 years of our lives damaging our skin and the next 40 trying to repair the damage!
Eat lots of fruit and veges, you need those vitamins to repair and care for your hair and skin.
Brush AND floss the teeth you want to keep.
Exercise and do yoga all your life to avoid bingo wing arms and flabby legs.
Enjoy your body – be proud of it’s uniqueness. Don’t get sucked into expensive beauty regimes. At the end of the day how you age depends on how much sun you get and your genetic make-up. Some of us have good genes, some of us don’t, and the sun will make it all worse. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. And last but not least girls, don’t bother reading beauty magazines, they will only make you feel Ugly!
About the Author
Julie Paterson is the founder of Venus Adventures, specialists in women-only holidays and short breaks to fascinating destinations including Morocco, Egypt, India, African Safaris, Ethiopia, Turkey, Burma, Vietnam and Peru. For more information visit the website www.VenusAdventures.travel