While discussing his childhood for a new documentary, the fashion expert detailed how he stole whitening cream from his cousin before secretly using it.
“(My skin color) is something I was thinking about every day when I woke up,” he said in the documentary “Tan France: Beauty and Bleaching,” which aired in the UK on Wednesday. “I thought, ‘What problem is my skin going to put me in today?’” I thought. ‘ And so, at nine, I was already making big plans to whiten—to do what I could to be as un-Asian as possible.
“I did it behind a closed door,” he recalls. “I put in a generous amount—it stinged. Over the next half hour (or) hour, you started to feel like you had an actual sunburn.”
Although discomfort prevented him from reusing the cream, France revealed that he once again used a skin-lightening product when he was 16, with which he hoped to start dating.
Tan France (centre) with Queer Eye. credit: Rich Polk / IMDb / Getty Images
“We used to go by the horrific names of some of our dark-skinned extended family members,” he admitted, saying that skin color — and its effect on people’s marriage and job prospects — was an “always-on” topic in a discussion growing up.
“It’s our people who say we don’t deserve unless our skin is fair,” he said.
The BBC documentary sees the 39-year-old, now living in the US, traveling to Britain to explore the history and impact of coloring. The TV star eventually decided not to return to Doncaster, where he was subjected to racial abuse and “a lot of traumatic experiences”.
“Just because some people might consider me light-skinned doesn’t mean I don’t have much experience with coloring.
“I’ve been surrounded by color my whole life,” he said. “I felt so determined to change my skin tone as a kid,” he said, adding later that he’d always “blame myself and beat myself up” about using the bleaching cream.
In the hour-long documentary, France discusses coloring with schoolchildren, experts, and a former long-term user of bleaching products. He also interviewed various notable people, including British actor Bonmei Mojiko and former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland.
Recounting how she “always” heard people describe her as the darkest member of the band, Roland traces her experiments with color back to an early relationship.
“My grandmother (my friend) compared me to the color of a paper bag and said I was too dark chocolate for him to date me,” she told France, adding, “It affected me somehow just always unsure of what I looked like. It started to define beauty for me.”
Top photo caption: Tan France arrives at the 2021 InStyle Awards at the Getty Center on Monday, November 15, 2021 in Los Angeles.