• Angelica Silva writes about Blackfishing and Australian beach culture. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
It’s easy for those who have not personally experienced racism to look at ad campaigns and think that a white woman with too much fake tan is unproblematic.
By
Angelica Silva

8 Dec 2020 - 9:54 AM  UPDATED 8 Dec 2020 - 11:23 AM

From tangerine-coloured bodies to zebra-striped arms, for years, I witnessed my white friends experience the Australian rite of passage that was having a bad fake tan.

Desperately yearning for that sunkissed, golden “Aussie glow”, applying fake tan was something so deeply rooted in the daily self-care routines of these friends. Just as I considered regularly tweezing my messy brows or applying a mask to my extremely thick hair as acts of grooming, fake tanning has evolved to also be viewed in this same light.

Now in 2020, Australians are no longer limited in their choice of tanning products and no longer have to relive the “oompa loompa” rite of passage. Just walk into any chemist or department store and you’ll find aisles dedicated to what has become the greatest selection of tanning products and tools we’ve ever had, all to help anyone achieve the perfect faux glow.

I’m grateful that I never had to experience the fake tanning terrors my white friends did. But as an Indian woman who grew up in Australia, I didn’t always feel this lucky.

I’m grateful that I never had to experience the fake tanning terrors my white friends did. But as an Indian woman who grew up in Australia, I didn’t always feel this lucky.

I went to an all-girls Catholic high school where I was one of five brown-skinned girls - out of a cohort of 200.

The majority of the friends I had in high school were white. There were times where I became the subject of ‘jokes’ like, “Angelica is so dark that if we take any photos tonight, we’re gonna need the flash on all of them.” Oftentimes, the insults cut deeper - “I’m surprised you don’t smell like curry every day.” - slandering my ethnicity, making me feel ashamed of where I was from.

Fast forward years later after graduating high school, the same girls who made these insults and targeted my skin colour continue to fake tan their skin, only now - they are two shades darker than mine.

Perhaps in their eyes, it simply makes them feel good and perceived it as having ‘a healthy glow’. But to me, this hits differently.

The concept of 'blackfishing' refers to white people who use makeup, tanning products, fillers or cosmetic surgery and hairstyles which make them appear not just Black, but anything that looks racially ambiguous or mixed-race.

The concept of 'blackfishing' refers to white people who use makeup, tanning products, fillers or cosmetic surgery and hairstyles which make them appear not just Black, but anything that looks racially ambiguous or mixed-race.

Whether it’s Kylie Jenner sporting boxer braids or “cosplaying” as Beyonce, Ariana Grande being accused of wearing “culture as a costume” in her 7 Rings video, or Selena Gomez with baby hairs on the cover of Interview magazine, the issue of 'blackfishing' transcends the celebrity world. It’s hiding in the cracks of Australia’s very own fashion industry - especially in swimwear, where tanned skin is still revered in beach culture.

Interestingly, 'blackfishing' is not limited to white people attempting to look just black. It is, in fact, the act of making visible changes in one’s appearance to give off the impression that they are any race, any ethnicity - that is not white. In the words of Johannah Yaovi, founder of The Curl Talk Project, “It’s about picking and choosing common black traits and characteristics for one’s benefit.”

In an article for i-D magazine, writer Emma Dabiri explained that white women can “flirt with the suggestion of blackness without being burdened by the reality of actually being black.”

In an article for i-D magazine, writer Emma Dabiri explained that white women can “flirt with the suggestion of blackness without being burdened by the reality of actually being black.”

Perhaps this is why I feel uneasy about the culture of fake tan, and the plethora of beachwear ads that feature caucasian models with visibly darkened skin tone. Over the years, I have continued to see excessive use of fake tan used on models for many Australian fashion brands.

As summer approaches, and swimwear campaigns begin to flood our social media feeds, we would do well to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all Australian “beach look”. Moreover, it might be time for us, as consumers, to actively question why brands don’t use more swimwear models who are women of colour.

As a South Asian woman, it feels like a punch to the gut to continue to see companies cherry-picking the ‘aspirational’ features of brown and Black women where it suits them.

It reaffirms to women who look like me that our worth is conditional, and our appearance only approved of, if modelled on a fair-skinned woman.

In her interview with Country Road, healthcare worker and model, Hanan Ibrahim made a critical link between the fashion industry’s incompetence in featuring more POC and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If there is one thing that came out of movement regarding the fashion industry, it’s that brands need to do a lot more in their allyship to the First Nations and BIPOC communities,” she said.

“If there is one thing that came out of movement regarding the fashion industry, it’s that brands need to do a lot more in their allyship to the First Nations and BIPOC communities."

“Brands are being held accountable by their customers, not only in the diversity and inclusion of the models they choose as the face of their brand, but in the people who are behind the scenes, those in charge of portraying our stories, the creatives and executive decision-makers.”

As someone who was ridiculed for the very core of who I am - my skin colour - I find it difficult to sit back and watch as white women, who dominate the covers of magazines, billboards, TV screens and just about everything else, wash away their dark tans without a care.

Because this will never be the case for me, for South Asian people and for Black people.

It’s easy for those who have not personally experienced racism to look at ad campaigns and think that a white woman with too much fake tan is unproblematic. But our skin colour shouldn’t be treated like a light switch that can be turned “on” and “off” at will. The sooner more of us refuse to accept 'blackfishing' as an innocent ‘healthy glow’, the sooner we will start to see the Australian beach culture portrayed more realistically - in all its diversity.

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