Fluro pinks, yellows and greens made up the very 90s style of my one-piece swimmers! I remember I use to wear these ‘togs’ with pride, just like I did all my swimmers! I was only nine! I loved the water, I loved being near the water and I even loved the smell of a chlorine swimming pool… (I know right! But you do as a child!) It was time to get wet and have some fun! I’m always happiest when I am near water but there have been times in my life when that hasn’t been so.
This one-day however, was the turning point for me, and the swimmers that I loved so dearly became something that I began to fret over. You see, when I was a little kid I was pretty spoilt for choice! We grew up in the 80s and the 90s, we spent every waking hour outside! And for my family this consisted of my sister Leanne and I riding our bikes on our property, horse riding, making up stories and going on adventures, we use to spend pretty much every weekend down at the Broadwater on the Gold Coast fishing off the beach or out in our boat, until my obsession with dancing took over well into my teenage years!
Swimming lessons were a part of growing up, just like they are for many children in Australia. I remember my swimming teacher, Mr Rigby! As I child, he was frightening but an impressive teacher all the same, who was an Olympian back in his hey-day. A man with a passion to be revered! My mum thought he was grand, me… well I couldn’t make up my childish mind. I think it was one of those love/hate relationships. I loved him when he was nice to me and hated him when he pushed me [too] hard. [Insert… my opinion of too hard is giving me instruction to do something I didn’t want to do… yep I’m pretty strong-minded at times as my husband can agree too!!!] Kids… hahahha! But lets be honest, there were real moments I hated swimming! I hated being the kid that struggled breathing underwater, getting my face wet and that my sister Leanne was so much better at every swim stroke than I was…. though she had four years on me, lets give her that! I soon realized that backstroke was my thing, and even today on the rare occasion I have a chance to go swimming, you will often catch me swimming in this style or doing what I like to call my ‘daggy’ which is in-between a ‘doggy’, breaststroke and freestyle… all of course with my head safely above the water! Priorities!!!
But swimming got pushed to the sideline as I took up piano lessons and then piano lessons got pushed to the other sideline as I became obsessed with dancing. But what I remember fondly of those early swimming days was that above all, I had fun learning to swim in a safe environment and it encouraged my love of being outside.
Then in the middle of my Primary School days, a swimming pool was constructed at our school, so swimming classes became a part of our curriculum. A swimming pool at school was a big deal!!! I was pretty familiar with wearing swimmers, as most Aussie kids are, because let’s face it growing up in Summer in Australia you pretty much run around in as little clothing as you find comfortable; you play with water guns and the hose, go to the beach or head to friends’ pool parties! And leotards well, they were just like another pair of ‘togs’ to me except I had to wear stockings or crazy fluro dancing socks! Oh dear… the photos I could rustle up! So let’s just say, I have always been comfortable in little clothes.
But this one day, I remember heading out of the change rooms in my new pair of ‘togs’ and the snickering began. Even as a child you develop pretty thick skin; and look to be honest I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that I was a pretty pale kid, considering the amount of sunscreen my mum lathered on me whenever we went to the beach, all just added to me looking even whiter! I used to get called ‘albino’, ‘whitey’, ‘translucent’, ‘freckles’ and as I look back in hindsight they were all pretty lame names, nothing near as harsh as what the kids come up with these days, but nevertheless they left their mark, and an activity that I loved as a child soon became something that I dreaded.
When I evolved to High School years, the ‘pale’ stigma remained. I refused to participate in school swimming events and even sporting events to a degree, even though I was still a hardcore dancer in my spare time. Childhood judgments began to get the better of me and I found that as I grew older I retracted more into myself then blossom to my full capacity. Others opinions of me became all to ‘encompassing’! Stigmas, labels whatever you want to call them seriously have a lasting effect.
My love of hanging out at my friend’s pool was always a joy, but I knew deep down in myself that I didn’t have the skin for it, so my attempts at participating in poolside lazing were always short-lived. I look back on that transition from childhood stigma to teenage years when you just want to find a place where you belong. You make mistakes, you have wins but it’s during this time that you commence searching to find who you want to be as a person.
Back in those days, a tan was deemed healthy and “Slip Slop Slap” with the singing/dancing pelican, the campaign at the time, was a thing you were taught in Primary School. The 90s were a tough period when magazines like Cosmopolitan and CLEO was all the rave and tanned skin was very fashionable! Fake tans weren’t really the thing yet and those that were smelt like nail polish remover and were one colour… ompha-orange!
I was never really a tanner… Like any teenager you try your hand at lying by the pool or out in the sun, you look to products like REEF Coconut Oil (and shake your head that its still stocked on the grocery shelves today), but for me I was the classic peeler… tanning and I were not friends. If I got sun burnt I’d go a classy shade of beetroot. Hypercolour hand print tees had nothing on me (remember those!!!). And incidental sun exposure was usually what got me in the end, when I was less prepared for the harsh Queensland sun’s bite. I look back stupidly, and I often remember saying to my mum that I was the one in the family that took after her with her ‘olive’ complexion, but it was more likely because I was the one that wanted to believe I wasn’t as pale as I really was. I can confess that I knew I couldn’t tan so I didn’t really try in the end… but we all get burnt at some stage don’t we.
Just as I was leaving school, rashies became a thing that was introduced to beachwear. Surfers were wearing them and brands like RipCurl, Quicksilver and Billabong were all the rage! And hey, when you are teenage girl, you take notice of surfers don’t you…! [yes!!!!] I can’t help but be slightly jealous of how lucky kids are today and that they have so many styles to choose from. If it wasn’t a daggy tee back in my day you really didn’t have many options for coverage.
My ‘pale’ stigma became a huge part of the self-confidence and lack thereof that I had in myself growing up. Children today are more conscious of the sun and far more educated than what we were, and that will always be the case as time goes on; we all become more educated… we will all become more aware! But what I think is really important is that we as adults, are now far more conscious and we are armed with more tools at our aid.
Like me, many children and teenagers will attempt to find their true selves as they grow. They will be faced with stigmas and labels and feel inferior because social media shows them what the ‘perfect body’ looks like. And like us, they need to find their way in life on their own two feet and through common sense.
What we can do is try to empower our children to not to be the little bullies at school that pick on that one kid that may be different from the rest. Something that others see as an imperfection may simply be what genetically sets that person apart from the rest. It’s so important that we empower the children in our lives to be positive-life-givers rather than negative-life-zappers. That a mere observation is more than welcome but intentional bullying whereby making another person feel inferior, is not. We tend to be a very judgmental race of people; in each one of us there is a trigger to act kindly with intent or to act impolitely also with intent. It is a choice.
Strangely, as you all know, my pale stigma as a child has come back to bite me, but the stigma itself is no longer present. I love the body I am in, even the pale skin I embrace. There will always be a few things I would give or take obviously, a disease I wish never entered my life, but these are the challenges we face… that I face, and without these I wouldn’t be… ME!
So my message to you is, love who you are! Love the skin you are in! Look after it!!! Be respectful and considerate to others and the environment you are in. AND…. Act with kindness and compassion!
With love, light and respect xx
Note: This post has been written in honour of Cancer Council Australia and the Australasian College of Dermatologists for National Skin Cancer Action Week from 15 – 21 November 2015. This year the campaign is highlighting ‘UV. It all adds up’, which focuses on the unintentional UV damage Australians can accumulate when they forget sun protection. To read more please click here.
It is a timely reminder to be conscious of the chores you undertake outside, while in the garden, hanging the washing, going from A to B or even driving in your car! Be mindful folks. It all adds up!
Please refer to some wonderful Infographics below from Cancer Council Australia highlighting the campaign’s message.