I read an article in The Age recently, because yes, the newsagency had sold out of Grazia – BAM! No, I was really reading The Age and no it wasn’t something I’d already read a week earlier on the Guardian Newspaper website and then was re-reading syndicated as ‘our’ news in ‘our’ newspaper, no this was proper Australian news, an entire article devoted to the ‘perish the thought’ idea that Australian women are more likely to list their ‘absolutely cannot live without beauty treatment’ as spray tanning over leg waxing, like I said my brain is actually perishing at the thought. I mean imagine the site of it, furry tangerine coloured women wondering around, freely and clearly without a thought for prioritisation. Personally, as a person of ethnic extraction I celebrate this coming together of colour and leg hair. Viva la revolution!
Earlier this year I was asked by UN Women (calm down, the Melbourne branch) to go into high schools and talk to you young women and inspire them, well I was there to talk at them, a presenter from Getaway was there to inspire them. At the end of the session a young Greek girl raised her hand to ask a question and when it became clear this wasn’t a question about Getaway it was directed at me. It was a question asking why girls like myself weren’t ever seen on Australian TV, well not in things that weren’t Fat Pizza, well look not on any other channel other than SBS and to be fair, SBS 2. I jokingly remarked that years ago when I was first starting out in television in Australia an exec at one of our ‘ethnic orientated television stations’ actually told me I wasn’t ethnic enough for them, a sentiment re-iterated to me again earlier this year by the same station. I hadn’t conceded defeat though I told the young girl, cause well given my tanned olive skin I was hoping to score an audition for Home & Away. As the polite laughter died down another girl raised her hand ‘but wog olive skin isn’t the same as real olive skin is it?’ And then she motioned to the spray tanned glossed veneer of the presenter from Getaway ‘I mean that’s real olive skin nowadays isn’t it?’ And before I could object every girl in the room nodded in agreement.
It’s not the first time I’d been told the colour of my skin wasn’t what people considered ‘real olive’ nowadays. When I was in my 20’s I moved to the UK where lovers of the fake tan, muffin tops and chubby Page 4 blonde lived in harmony together. Given I didn’t have a muffin top or a desire to get my ‘knockers’ out for a lads mag I thought I was safe from this orange goo seeping into my life, but my Gordie housemates had something else in mind. Every Saturday morning after a night on ‘the pull’ my housemates would waft into the kitchen smelling of skin varnish and draped in sarongs to stave off streaking. A bottle of turps was always kept within grabbing distance in case of any furniture smudging. For the most part they left me alone, after all I didn’t even dye my hair, some people were such as myself were clearly beyond help, well that was until one day when I was ambushed while watching a re-run of Big Brother Up Late, my only witness Russel Brand talking to me from the TV as my arms were held down and I was slathered in fake-tan because and I quote ‘we just really wanted to see if it would work on your skin’.
Of course amongst all those that don’t think my skin can actually be called olive and tanned these days because it doesn’t come with instructions to prevent streaking there are some purists like Tom, a guy I’d worked with at a music festival a couple of years back. We ran into each other again at a friend’s BBQ in the chilly winter Melbourne months when he saddled up next me and asked if I’d like a sip of his white wine and yes it was a euphemism. When I told him I was allergic to semen the conversation moved on…
‘You should keep that tan Lou, it suits you, how’d you get it?’ He hovered close enough so that I knew his body was covered in a combination of Lynx and skin.
‘It’s natural, I have olive skin.’ I replied navigating the hummus that only seemed attainable if my hand were to brush his against his person. I decided against using any dip with my bread.
‘You know Lou I’ve never touched olive skin before.’
The air vomited around us both…
‘It’s the same as any other skin.’
‘I doubt it Lou, here touch mine.’
He held out his arm…
‘Or if you’d prefer’ he began to mime unzipping his trousers as I turned away and silently began to cry – I really wanted that hummus, this bread was nothing without it.
‘Can I touch your skin?’ he asked.
‘If I bought you a drink maybe you’d let me touch it then?’
‘ Can we please stop talking about touching skin?’ I watched as the last of the hummus was devoured by someone who didn’t have to push past Tom’s penis to get it.
‘You’re a feisty girl aren’t you Lou…I like feisty girls, feisty Spanish girls, maybe you and I can get together one night and make paella together.’
‘I’d prefer it if you just fucked off.’ To be honest he was bearing the brunt of my frustration over my lack of hummus.
‘Ok Lou, no need to be a cunt about it. It’s all good. Anyway, if I’m honest I prefer dark skinned blonde girls; at least they care enough to pay for their tan.’
A few weeks after that encounter I was on a tram when a young woman approached me interested in where I went to get my skin done. I didn’t bother even explaining it was my natural tan, all I said was ‘make sure you ask your spray tanner for the colour that existed before orange became the new olive.’