"Brown" "White" "Tanned" "Olive" "Other"

These are the options for skin colour at ModelMayhem,com to insert into model profiles. It enables photographers to search for us by skin colour, or gives a photographer / makeup artist a sense of the model's skin type (for the former, lighting would be an issue; for the latter, foundation types).

I currently have "Olive" picked as my skin type, but I can't say I like it.

You see, whenever I go out for pizza with a friend, he always orders a pizza with cheese(s) and olives. The olives that come out are always black. And whenever I go to the supermarket, olives are green.

Neither of these are indicative of my real skin colour, which is either white or tanned with a yellow undertone. And yet I have to pick Olive, because it definitely isn't an "Other" or any of the other skin colours listed.

I know that Olive is supposed to be this safe alternative to "yellow" seeing as the term "yellow" has all sorts of unpleasant connotations and is now loaded with overt racism. But I'm not sure it helps to deny that yes, my skin undertone is yellow. When I was growing up, I remember thinking that being white-skinned was a good thing. We would see all these advertisements for Hazeline Snow White and think that having white skin was the best thing evar!

(I actually tried washing my face with the Hazeline cream. I thought it was a kind of soap, and that it would help get whatever dirt was on my face and make it whiter. I would wake up at 5am and the first thing I did was wash my face with it. Don't ask me what kind of logic this makes. I was 8.)

Once in a while, whenever I discuss makeup with other people, eventually our conversation gets to foundation, and the difficulty of finding foundation. For my black friends, it's finding a foundation that's as dark as their skintone, and even those "Noir" tones aren't nearly dark enough to match and even out their actual skintone. For me, it's finding a foundation that doesn't make me look like I'm wearing a mask, and just looks like my natural skintone whenever I'm not tanned. But my black friends will say "black" and I will say "yellow".

It feels odd to say "yellow" too. But why can't I say "yellow"? What other terms do I have to describe my particular skin colour? 'Cos it ain't beige.


  1. I would consider my skin to be beige... with a neutral yellow undertone - yep, it means the make up people confuse between choosing either warm shades or cool shades for me...

    Well, I use MAC make up and the studio stick NC27 shade is the perfect shade for me I've found. It looks beige to me...

    I've always though olive skin tone was more like a darker shade of European (Mediterranean area) skin with a cool undertone...

  2. What! No! Oh no! Then I've been getting my skin tone wrong all this while?! Shit! T_T

    I used Maybelline's "Natural" 12 for a while. I also used L'Oreal Medium before, and haven't actually bought foundation in a while. I went home and specifically went to a Shu Uemera outlet to get something for my yellow skin.

  3. No! Not saying you got it wrong... terms for skin shades lighter than obvious brown gets a bit muddy so to speak and is subjective I believe. Which is really odd, you'd think that after tens of thousands of years of looking at other human beings we've come up with generic basic common and correct terms to describe the colour of the body's largest organ! Seriously... NO ONE is white OR black and yet those words to describe "human skin" are so commonly used. It's so misleading. I can see white and black as systems of privilege and oppression but not as literal skin shades!

    When my parents spoke of our "yellow" skin, it was more like a "gold" type of yellow - I'm Vietnamese and the same word is used for both buttercup-yellow and gold-yellow. In Vietnamese literature, it does sound like the intent of using the word "yellow" is more pointed to "gold". Kinda like bronze... but not as dark and more of a warmer undertone.


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