"I did it again when I was 16."
Queer Eye‘s Tan France has opened up about his experience with skin bleaching and colourism in a new BBC documentary, Beauty and the Bleach.
In the special episode, which aired on BBC Two on April 27, 2022, the TV presenter retraced his roots as he uncovers what drove him to bleach his skin.
In a conversation with Cosmopolitan UK, Tan France said: “Racism is when you are treated differently by another race.
“With colourism, you are treated negatively based on your shade of skin within the community that you represent.”
Sharing his own experience with colourism, Tan recalled how comments about skin colour from family members while he was growing up, as well as bullying by his peers, prompted him to bleach his skin at just nine years old:
“I felt so much pressure to bleach my skin from such a young age.
“Honestly, if I could have bleached my skin at four or five years old, and if I had the access to do it, I probably would’ve done it.”
Tan added: “I only got access to bleaching cream when I was nine, when I stole bleaching cream from my cousin, and I felt like I needed to do it to lighten up as much as possible.”
Describing what the skin bleaching cream felt like, the 39-year-old told Cosmopolitan UK:
“It felt like sunburn and it stung so much. I only bleached for a few days and then finally, I just couldn’t take the discomfort anymore.”
But a few years later, Tan France found himself resorting to skin bleaching once more following a disheartening experience with online dating.
Tan France said: “I did it again when I was 16. At that point, I wanted to be lighter-skinned because I thought that was the only way I was gonna be able to date.
“I’d been on a dating website for months, without anyone ever responding to a message and kept seeing comments below people’s profiles saying: ‘No Asians’.”
Looking back, the Queer Eye presenter wishes he could teach his younger self how to love the skin he’s in.
It’s one of the reasons he decided to make the BBC documentary, particularly after welcoming his son in 2021:
“I wanted my son to never experience what I experienced when I was a kid.
“I wanted him to understand that his dad had done all he could to encourage people to see any shade of skin as worthy of love and worthy of respect.”