With his role on Netflix's Queer Eye, Tan France has built a career on spreading empowering messages of self-love and body positivity — one expertly-styled French tuck at a time. But in his new memoir, Naturally Tan, the reality show star and stylist is revealing his own road to self-acceptance wasn't always a smooth one, starting with the colour of his skin.
In his book, France opens up about his history with skin-bleaching products, which he stole from his cousin when he was just 10 years old. "I haven't had the balls to tell her I took it, because, since then, I’ve been ashamed of the fact that I succumbed to the pressure," he writes in his memoir. "I kept the dirty little secret to myself. I'd only use it at night, before bed, when no one else was going to catch me. Let me tell you, that shit hurt."
France grew up in England, where skin-bleaching products continue to be available despite the country's efforts to ban the dangerous lightening ingredients. Skin bleaching — which has many proven and potential health risks, including rashes, kidney damage, and psychosis — stems from a culture that values whiteness and pale skin as a marker of success, economic status, education, and attractiveness. "The importance of being pale is very bizarre," France writes. "When I was five, I remember thinking, 'God, I’d give anything to be white. I just want to be white, I want to be white, I want to be white.' I had been so conditioned to think that if you were white, you were automatically more attractive."
France, whose parents are Pakistani, also felt that having lighter skin would make him safer. "I had another dream as a kid, which angers me now," he writes. "But I've talked to many friends of colour who have told me they shared the same dream, and that is to wake up white. I first had that dream when I was very, very young, because I worried constantly that if I went outside the house, bad things would happen to me."
It's a fear and insecurity that France told us about last year while promoting his skin-care partnership. "Caucasian beauty is seen as the beauty, and people like me were massively different than that," he told us.
But 26 years later, France has discovered his own source of self-love and confidence, which he hopes to spread to others. "If you ask me what my favourite thing about my appearance is, I’ll say my skin," France writes. "I think my skin colour is beautiful. As a 10-year-old, I could never have imagined that you could find my skin colour beautiful, and I’m willing to bet most non-white people have thought the same thing."