“Her olive-skin was smooth and supple, her dark doe eyes lined with fluttering eyelashes, and her hair fell in tight ringlets down to her waist. As for her armpit hair…” Just another stereotypical Greek description which is quite often, completely untrue. Ok so the dark curly hair might be prominent (but let’s face it, most people nowadays are naturally dark haired so there’s no real differentiation!), and perhaps the armpit hair…but hang on, not all Greeks have olive-skin and dark eyes.
In fact in my experience, NONE of my Greek relatives have olive skin – the ones from Greece that is. My husband’s family who are GREEK CYPRIOT (two different countries people) are much more olive-skinned. And many of them have blue eyes!
Time and time again in recent years I have been accused of not being Greek because my skin is quite pale. I’ve even been told that I must be pale because I’m only ‘half’ Greek, despite the fact that my ‘English’ mother is actually strangely olivey skinned and my ‘Greeker than the Greeks’ father is as white as snow! This ignorance is starting to get on my nerves!
In the UK we rarely get to see any sun and when we do most of us are usually stuck inside at work anyway. Whilst at primary school I always seemed to be much darker than the other kids (possibly due to long summer holidays spent entirely outdoors instead of locked up inside with a computer), as I grew older and my hair became darker, my face in particular took on a more translucent pale tone.
One of my work colleagues was completely gobsmacked when I showed her some holiday pictures of me looking tanned. “I thought you would have burned!” she said bewildered. “Why would I burn?” I asked defensively, “I’m not exactly a red-head!” (No offense to the red-headed community, my nan was in fact a beautiful ginger!).
People seem to think that pale skin (pale, not fair) can’t possibly tan. As I said, my father is actually quite pasty, but one look at the sun and he turns into a bronzed Neanderthal.
Believe it or not (!) I tan easily, BUT I slap on sun cream and I use a high factor. The usual line from my sun-worshipping Greek-Cypriot relatives when I return from a two week sojourn to Cyprus is: “Why you come back with no colour?” They compare me to my Greek man who already has olive skin and will literally lie out in the sun having doused himself with olive/carrot oil whilst I’m inside scrubbing the oil residue off the towels. He will even avoid having baths (although he does shower!) so as not to diminish the colour he has obtained.
Apparently skin damage is not something he or these relatives take seriously.
Of course I’ll admit that I do love having a healthy glow in the summer and all my bright summer clothes definitely look brighter against my bronzed skin than when I’m pale BUT, during the winter months, ‘Pale and Interesting’ is the way to go.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a tan and I’m certainly not one to preach – in the past I’ve used sunbeds (never excessively) and those moisturisers with a hint of self-tan BUT nowadays and especially during winter, I have come to the conclusion: what is the point? If I have to go to a winter occasion such as a wedding or christening it’s likely that it will be freezing cold so showing off any pasty skin won’t be an issue anyway.
And even when I have a tan it never seems to last – office air conditioning and daily scrubbing sees to that.
Moreover, the ancient Greeks were said to be golden-haired and fair skinned – in the Iliad Homer describes Achilles as having “red-gold hair,” with Agamemnon and Menelaus having red beards! And the gods themselves are always described as golden with brilliant blue eyes! The Greek word for blonde was ξανθός (xanthus), “yellow,” “gold,” “blonde.” The xanthus colour in the hair, as well as extreme beauty, light skin, high height, athletic build and luminous eyes were considered by the Greeks as proof of divine descent.
So clearly something went wrong in the Greek DNA along the way.
The pressure on youngsters (and well everyone!) to be tanned these days is becoming dangerous. Luckily most simply turn to the fake bake rather than baking themselves for real but in extreme situations, even a fake tan can go horribly wrong.
I think the main thing is to simply embrace the skin you are in and look after it!
So do you stick to the pale look or are you a serial tanner? Are there any other pale Greeks out there who get side-lined for not appearing bronzed enough? Comments below!
Disclaimer: in case anybody gets the wrong idea this post is not intended to offend. We all have completely different skin tones and no one should feel pressured to be darker or paler.