British American fashion designer and TV personality Tan France addresses colorism and being left for dead after a racially motivated gang attack in the new BBC documentary, “Tan France: Beauty & the Bleach.”
The “Queer Eye” star recalled painful memories as he attempted to visit his hometown again after living in the U.S. for 15 years.
“As an Asian, gay Muslim I was desperate to get away [from the U.K.]. I have been concerned about my skin color from the day I was born,” France, who now resides in Utah with his husband Rob and their baby Ismail, shared.
Having grown up in a Pakistani Muslim household in the English town of Doncaster, France said he was targeted for his racial background in his youth.
“I always felt unsafe,” the 39-year-old said. “I thought if I had whiter skin I wouldn’t be called a P*ki every day.”
According to France, he was once attacked by a gang while walking to school and then left for dead – solely because he was Pakistani. He said he suffered so much racist abuse as a child that a psychotherapist diagnosed him as suffering from deep trauma.
“I used to wake up thinking, ‘What trouble is my skin going to get me into today?’ It was about survival. Being able to get home without being attacked,” he added.
France revealed that he decided to bleach his skin when he was 9 years old.
“I stole my sister’s bleaching cream and did it behind a locked door,” he shared. “It really stung. And then it felt like [a] really bad sunburn. I did it again when [I was] 16 – ashamed of my ethnicity and color. I know now bleaching is a form of self-harm.”
In addition to escaping “racist bullying and the widespread prejudice against people that aren’t white,” France also decided to bleach his skin to “please his South Asian community,” whose members see “fair skin as a passport to the best jobs, careers and marriage partners.”
Skin bleaching, which involves the use of procedures or products to acquire a lighter complexion, has seen tremendous growth over the years. Skin lightening products are projected to reach global sales of around $11.8 billion by 2026, up from an estimated $8 billion in 2020.
France said he now aims to help destroy the myth that whiteness is the pinnacle of beauty.
“I hope to break the cycle that pushed me and thousands like me to bleach. And still does,” he added.
“Tan France: Beauty & the Bleach” is set to premiere on the BBC this Wednesday.