Wednesday, July 1, 2009


My father hates Dr. Seuss, and consequently his books were never a huge part of my upbringing.However, since I’ve worked in and around primary schools for a year and a half now, I’ve become familiar with a few of his stories.

I’m not a fan of classics like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat, as even as a child I was irritated by the self-indulgent rhyming taking precedence over the story. However, I do enjoy a handful of the Dr's other children's books. My favourite is one I recently discovered when a child at my school asked me to read it to him: The Sneetches.

Here’s a quick rundown: some of the sneetches have stars on their bellies; some don’t. The ones who do won’t let the ones without on the beaches (the self-indulgence is, of course, present, but I’m able to ignore it). Luckily, Sylvester McMonkey McBean arrives, with an affordably-priced star-painting machine!

Of course, once he’s done that, he then goes to the other group and offers them the service – again for a low price – of star removal. And so on and so forth, until nobody knows who they are anymore and everyone can live in perfect harmony.

Dunedin’s Western location on a cultural scale combined with its (extreme) Southern location on a geographic scale has created an odd standard of fashionability for the lucrative 18-24 female demographic. On one hand, ever the pragmatists, they want to protect themselves from the city’s perpetual drizzle and winds that deliver icy chills straight from – seriously – Antarctica. On the other, Western standards of beauty demand that everyone’s skin be toasted to a luxurious golden brown.

Achieving this is made more difficult by the fact that most of Dunedin – and New Zealand’s – residents are descended from the British Isles, a genetic makeup that is not overly conducive to tanning. So they first slather themselves in fake tan, and then, with a complete lack of a sense of irony, climb into a puffer jacket and don a scarf to protect themselves - and their recently-applied coat of tan - from the elements.

Cut to Vietnam, where the exact opposite is true. Naturally, since a tan is easy to come by, people – especially women – wear hoodies in the 30+ degree weather, along with sunglasses, masks, sleeves, and socks with their sandals to prevent the slightest pigment change. If they should find themselves outside without their anti-tan gear, they’ll grab whatever is nearby, be it a book, piece of paper, or takeaway container, and hold it over their heads. Anything to avoid the sun’s brutal rays.

Vietnamese women definitely have a healthier goal, but I don’t think the motivations have anything to do with health. Rather, just like their Western counterparts, they’re trying to achieve something that is, much to my surprise (although it shouldn’t have been), completely arbitrary: beauty.

At first, I thought it was just a masochistic desire on both groups’ parts to fight an uphill battle, but recently someone spelled out the real reason for me when she said, in shocked response to my enquiry as to why she wanted such light skin “I don’t want to look like a farmer!”

Because that’s it. Even though we don’t say it in the West, it’s still at the forefront: nobody wants to look poor. It’s acceptable – indeed, even par for the course in the West – to actually be poor, with debts, loans, and overdrafts all over the place but looking poor is unacceptable.

In temperate North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, those with money can afford to go on holidays where they can work on their tan; they have the spare time to lounge on their roofs in bikinis; they have the extra few dollars a week to splurge on a tanning bed. Saving all of that, a bottle of L’Oreal fake tan is always just a short trip to the pharmacy or department store away: if you can’t be tan, you may as well look tan. "At least," you’re saying to the world, "I can afford this bottle."

So of course it’s the opposite here, in a country in a region where the well-off sit at desks and the poor toil the fields and sell trinkets on the streets. Here, light skin is a sign that you don’t have to work outside, that you can afford air conditioning, that you can stay inside during the hottest part of the day.

It’s all an effort to separate ourselves from the working classes. In the industrialized West, a working man or woman spends his or her days in an office, under a car, in a factory; here, the working people farm.

Of course, there are significantly more people who look middle class than actually are middle class. Thankfully, credit cards have yet to arrive here, so unskilled labourers with $20,000 cars, $2,000 televisions and assorted overly expensive clothing are not yet on the scene.

But the appearances of the middle class are available to those who have to work outside. It’s in every pharmacy and supermarket, prominently displayed and constantly being re-stocked. Made by L’Oreal, probably in the same factory as the tanning cream by pasty assembly line workers, it comes in a bottle of the same colour it promises to make your skin: milky, glowing white.


  1. Who knew you could so much from Dr. Seuss or tanning. lol. Nice.

  2. Who knew you could /what/ so much? I'm pretty sure you're meant to have a verb there for it to make sense.

  3. I feel like I've truly arrived as a blogger now that people are attacking one another in my comments.