The Pale Greek

The Pale Greek

“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.


Leave a Reply


  1. 27th May 2017 / 5:27 pm

    I am a fair skinned half Greek. I have other fair skinned relatives but I am by far the most pale. I do tan though, but it takes awhile to build up a little color since I’m starting so white. My full Greek dad would look at me and say “Why are you SO white?!”.

    • Ekaterina
      27th May 2017 / 5:30 pm

      Haha! I’m actually off on holiday tomorrow – I’m not looking forward to the ‘why you got no colour’ comments on my return! Whereabouts is your dad from? We’re probably related!! Xo

  2. Mike Photi
    26th February 2017 / 1:12 pm

    I’m Greek Cypriot and my skin is paler than most ginger people. I have a big black beard though so I get mistaken for an Ashkenazi Jew all the time.

  3. 13th March 2016 / 6:05 am

    When I was much younger, 12-13, I had visited a close friend and we spent hours outdoors. In the Colorado sun, I became several shades darker. When I returned to my father’s home, when he first saw me, he literally thought I was another child whom he did not know. He asked others who I was and even me! My skin had become so dark, I was unrecognizable. It goes without saying that being Greek, you tan very easily and quickly. I certainly wish we had the blue eyes and golden hair, but it seems most Greeks that I know of, have dark hair and eyes. Gorgeous by the way. 🙂

    • Ekaterina
      14th March 2016 / 7:33 am

      Funnily enough when my mum lived in Greece, my Yiayia used to tell her not to tan too much as people would think she was a ‘gypsy’ if she got too dark! There was no worry about my father of course!

  4. 12th March 2016 / 2:30 pm

    Come to think of it, I don’t know any dark skinned Greek people. They are all light (when not tanned). Perhaps darker than my Viking heritage skin lol but certainly I think generally fairer than Spanish, Portuguese or Italian which might all be thought to be similar. I’ve noticed that surprisingly many Greek people have blue eyes too.

    I think more than skin colour it is more the hair (in ladies) and bone structure in guys that can sometimes be Greek looking. I remember when I was at Uni for 4 years at SOAS, it wasn’t the colour of skin that gave things away but the bone structure that was really revealing and many of us became “casual experts”. As you say, not wanting to be in any negative way at all but I find the slight differences fascinating. Country by country from the British Isles and Scandinavia, all the way to Japan. If you spend enough time with different people, you can see the differences between them. Uzbeks and Kazaks, Kurds and Armenians. Athenians and err Spartans!

    Of course this only works for those without any mixed-marriages so I guess in 100 years time it might be next to impossible.

    Also there are many places where there are groups of locals that just look different. Many Egyptians with ginger hair! Some really beautiful Afghans with a mix of local blood-lines but with blue eyes and almost blonde hair… a legacy from Alexander The Great.

    I had one professor and he could identify hundreds of people by their appearance from all over Europe and Asia and again by their name and he could trace a name from Greece of England or India and show how through 6 or 7 changes we all had a single ancestor from Iran or some other place. An amazing man. He rarely used names… I was just his Anglo-Saxon friend.

    I think you are a lovely colour and it shows off both sides of your family. I’ve never been one for beach holidays and only bothered about tans one or two summers. For a long time I’ve embraced my milky white colouring… shame I lost my blonde hair when I was about 6 but at my age I should just be thankful I’m not yet in any way bald or grey!

    • Ekaterina
      14th March 2016 / 7:32 am

      Can you imagine a red-haired Cleopatra?! I bet most of the ancient depictions are completely wrong! And good for you Stephen for embracing the milky white tone. 🙂

  5. Pan
    12th March 2016 / 1:43 pm

    Very true. But it’s a myth about all Greeks being blonde and blue eyed in ancient times. In certain cases has been falsified by photoshopping ancient pottery to make it look so as to say “something happened to Greek DNA along the way” by the people who say that modern Greeks have no connection to our ancestors. Nothing happened. We have always had a mix on the islands, North and south. My island family are very oale and fair. Others are darker. Look at all the ancient mosaics and pottery. Some dark haired, eyed and skinned people depicted on most. On mosaics we have average toned European skin colour with blonde to black hair.

    • Ekaterina
      14th March 2016 / 7:29 am

      It’s a mix indeed!

  6. Eliza
    12th March 2016 / 10:49 am

    It’s so true, Ekaterina!

    Having been born in Poland- a cold Eastern European country, where we get only limited amounts of UV radiation, my skin is rather pale, with tendency to become reddish after 2 min exposure to the sun.
    I have to confess I also imagined Greeks having rather dark skin before I met my Greek boyfriend – during winter months he is as pale as Greek Marbles.
    It’s amazing how quickly he becomes absolutely brown after a few summer days in Greece.
    He takes a lot of proud and satisfaction in his brown chocolate skin and does everything to get even more tanned and impress his work colleagues when back in UK.
    I remember my 1st summer in Greece -he and his relatives kept applying cream on me with highest UV protection every 5 min whereas he barely used it himself! They were afraid I would get burnt as my skin was getting alarming red.
    I was also recommended to use a Shisheido UV Protective Compact Foundation which is also water proof – perfect for summer.

    I look forward to a great (as always) summer sun cream post on your blog.

    • Ekaterina
      14th March 2016 / 7:29 am

      Haha thank you Eliza – your ‘white as marbles’ comment made me laugh! Yes I shall have to do a sun cream post now – a ‘Greek’ sun cream post that is!

  7. 12th March 2016 / 7:48 am

    Years ago, I had a Greek friend who was so naturally blonde her hair looked like cornsilk. Her eyes were blue and her skin was extremely fair. No one ever thought she was Greek. Swedish, Irish, but never Greek. Joking once (but not really) she said she was more pure bred than I was because her family came from up North and they weren’t invaded there the way the rest of Greece was. The blonde was the true color of the ancient Greeks she said. Whatever…

    • Ekaterina
      14th March 2016 / 7:27 am

      Ha I have never heard that line before about not being invaded…interesting theory!! But no-one is Greeker than you 🙂 x

  8. 11th March 2016 / 11:12 am

    I live in sunny Florida-I do not lay in the sun-already olive-skinned with dark brown hair and hazel eyes I use so much sunscreen on a daily basis! My family does as well. My Greek/Cretan Father (100%) is dark haired/hazel eyes? his brothers and sisters (3 brothers, 4 sisters) only one brother is blue eyed? Go Figure? When I was 15 and had the measles I was not allowed out of the house-anywhere near the sun for fear I would scar (which I didn’t) I was so glad my parents watched me so closely. I have never had anyone question my Greek Heritage whether I was or not. You unfortunately have lousy wet weather a lot?! My sinsuses would be inflamed indefinitely if I lived in the UK! LOL

    • Ekaterina
      11th March 2016 / 11:57 am

      Haha send us some sun from Florida please Cheryl!!! 🙂

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