Friday, October 22, 2010

burn candles, not flesh.

So lately the media has made me feel like I resemble a ghost. With the complexion of a porcelain doll, I've been finding myself on a whole different color spectrum than most celebrities that frequent my magazines and television screens. I may or may not be pointing directly at Jersey Shore (see pic below) here - but does burnt orange flesh now define beauty? I decided to do a little investigating on the evolution of tanning in our society... and now, I bring it to you.

This article was greatly helped by articles written by researchers like Robert Mighall (link) and Ken Chisolm (link). 

In 1903, Dr. Auguste Rollier opened the world's first dedicated sun clinic high in the Swiss Alps. His treatment assumed that pure air and bright sunlight could cure disease, namely pulmonary tuberclosis (which was pretty prominent at that time).

From the years of Ancient Greece and Rome and onward through the 19th century, women traditionally went through extensive processes to ensure their skin remained pale. A sun tan symbolized the life of a lower class field laborer who spent her days toiling in its rays. Consequently, this meant that the paler one's skin, the higher class you belonged to. In antiquity, women used lead paints and chalk to whiten their faces (not a terribly healthy situation for your face). Arsenic was also a preferred skin whitener (again - we're talking about POISON on the FACE just to be a few shades PALER, I'm starting to feel better about my color). One article also notes that in Queen Elizabeth's time, women painted thin blue lines on their foreheads to give them a translucent look (still sounds stupid to me, but a little less damaging to your poor face). The point here is this: PEOPLE USED TO SPEND THEIR TIME TRYING TO MAKE THEMSELVES PALER!

Why does this sound so crazy and barbaric to us? Because our society has completely reversed poles on this topic. Now, women spend exessive amounts of time and money to bronze/fry their skin to be a few shades darker. (I guess we both have something in common - we're a society of skin damagers!)

What made the difference?

While legend gives Coco Chanel credit for starting the tanning craze overnight when she appeared with an accidental tan she contracted via yacht trip to Paris, most argue that the tanning craze was just a result of the times. Afterall, the mid-1920's removed the poor from fields and put them to work in sunless factories and mines. Lifestyles in general changed at that time as well - women were starting to make their way into the great outdoors to enjoy newly popular recreational activities like tennis and hiking. Fashion was also an enabler--as women began to wear shoes without stockings, leg-bearing swimsuits, and purchase dark powders to cover any spots the sun had missed! The sun tan had a new image. It symbolized wealth and leisure. A tan on a woman in the winter months meant that she was priviledged enough to afford an exotic vacation filled with lucious warm weather.

The awareness of the harmful effects that this new craze had on these "fashion victims" was more than likely absent. It really wasn't until the late 1970's that the FDA even began to recognize the significance of suncreens and develop the first rating system for SPF. At the same time, the art and practice of indoor tanning was really making a big debut! (They say we have between 20,000 - and 24,000 indoor tanning salons listed in the American Yellow Pages). It actually wasn't until the mid-1980's when the American Academy of Dermatology became the first medical society to denounce the sun when they started a public education skin cancer campaign warning about the risks of sun exposure.

Unlike older generations, we cannot blame our perpetual tanning as a flaw of ignorance but instead we must admit that it is an pure obsession with ones' own vanity. Sure, tanning make give you a slimmer, exotic, or otherwise more attractive appearance NOW. But there are definite risks associated that include but are not limited to:
-sun burns/poisoning
-premature aging (HELLO, WRINKLES!)
-injury to the eyes
-and more than one type of cancer.
Sure, that tan might really accentuate that white cocktail dress tonight, but what happens a few years down the road, when you look like this.

By the way - wonder what that tan really is?

"The color of you skin is determined by the amount of melanin it contains. This substance called melanin protects the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays. A tan is visible proof that your skin is being damaged. When the ultraviolet radiation of the sun hits your skin, it stimulates cells known as melanocytes, which make the brown pigment called melanin. The melanocytes respond to the sun by making even more melanin to protect your skin from the sun. The melanin acts sort of like a barrier for the skin's cells, and can give people the brown tint that is a suntan."

So see? Being pale isn't so bad afterall. We should make it trendy again so I can feel like I fit into the fashionable side of society... But this time, lets keep arsenic and lead out of the whole routine... But seriously. This just reflects that since the birth of domestic living, women (and men, but mostly women) have done everything in their power to change their appearance in general, for whatever reason. The take home point here is this: Being true to yourself not only saves you time and money, it requires low maintenance and doesn't involve behaviors that put you at major health risks.

So step outside of that tanning booth and find something better to do with your time and money. You'll thank yourself in twenty years when you don't resemble a leather handbag.

Signing off. And loving my lack of a tan much more...


  1. When I was 22 and first came to Florida, I thought I should be tanned like everyone else out there and one day at the pool a lady came over to me and asked me to guess her age. I said 48. It turns out she was only 32. She warned me against the sun and I listened and never got into the tan thing again.

  2. For everything, moderation is the key. I have done the tanning thing, I have been white as a ghost, I am, after all, a really white, white chick! But, for me, I burn so easily that I actually had a dermatologist recommend slow, tiny amounts of tan to build a base, especially before a water/sun soaked vacation, it is the only way to prevent me buring, even with suncreen.

    But, I agree, I don't spend hours in the tanning bed and I certainly was never one of those women who laided out and cooked themselves with baby oil and days in the sun!

  3. Being from jersey (and oddly enough) hating the superficial tanning fad, good for you!

    BTW I'm also white as white can be and don't need it any other way haha!

    - Jordan