A Perspective on Pale


While in the throes of summer, I am surrounded by tans and sunbathers.  I live in Coastal Virginia which is not only visited by those looking to take in the sun, but populated by sun worshipers.  Me?  Not so much.  I am, well frankly, pale.  I attribute my skin tone to my Irish roots, but I am unable to tan even if I wanted to.  My skin will not take on a darker hue.  I simply burn, and then, still no tan.  This would not be as blatantly obvious if I didn’t live where people sport tans all year, even when they have to resort to the salon variety.  Or if I weren’t married to an Italian who walks to the car on a cloudy day and gets two shades darker.  We look like quite the odd couple by mid-summer. 

My son, who shares my porcelain skin tone, at least has hair with red tones that accounts for his color.  With my dark hair, people always wonder why I don’t get out and get some sun, or they suggest some self-tanner.  Well, that won’t work either.  My skin refuses to be anything other than white.  Not even that peachy, pink tone.  I am white bordering on translucent.  Even my non-Caucasian friends have been shocked by how “white” I really am.  So what’s the problem?  I live in a culture that does not appreciate extreme paleness.  Search the internet and find a plethora of people who rail against paleness, calling upon even redheads to get a spray tan.  Poor Nicole Kidman takes some serious abuse for her paleness.  Yes, there is racism even among Caucasians.  I know.  I hear it all the time.  I’ve been out in public and heard people remark about my legs.  I hear the jokes about how they thought I had on white tights.  Snickers about putting on sunglasses to look at me.  Well, I am what I am and my skin is not going to change because people want to look at tan skin.

(Image courtesy of audreydao.com)

I’m even whiter than “No Tan” in this picture.  Maybe more akin to the white border on the top.  Yeah, that’s me.  Today I am reordering how I think about pale.  Even in scripture pale is not a good thing.  It always refers to the color the face turns in despair (Isaiah 19:9), shame (Isaiah 29:22), terror (Daniel 5:9), and the horse Death rides in Revelation (6:8).  But white, now that’s another matter. 

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus (Mark 9:2-8 NRS).

When Jesus was transfigured, his outward appearance altered, he is suddenly wearing clothes of “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” (8:3).  So white, so pale are his clothes that they are glowing.  They stand out in contrast to everything else.  When you are as pale as I am, and many others, you feel like you stand out.  Your skin is radiating paleness.  Now when I look down at my white skin, I remember that, not only was Jesus transfigured, but he washes us clean; white as snow.  My skin is, to me, a constant reminder of the cleansing power of Christ’s sacrifice.  When Christ was revealed to others, the whiteness of his clothing was not something to be ashamed of, embarrassed for; it was something to stand out, to indicate that God was at work.  I choose to be reminded of that when my pale flesh is revealed in the bright day light.  I might not have a golden glow, but pale is not always bad.  White can be desirable.  It’s part of the way God created, part of the myriad of colors in the world.  Who am I to complain?


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