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Is Tanning Toast?


I’m pale. Always have been, always will be. Sometimes pale doesn’t even cover it. How about pasty. Ghostly. My wintry complexion lasts well through June, July, and even August. Through beach days and barbeques. Through afternoon picnics and rooftop parties. By the time September hits, I’m an oddity among my fellow bronzed city dwellers who have spent the summer months soaking up the rays or slathering on self tanner. I’ve never been able to tan. It’s either burn or no burn for me, and though in the past my burns have faded into temporary tans, the placement of them makes me look less bronzed beauty and more toasted marshmallow. I’m all grown up. My tan should scream island getaway, not campfire sleepaway.

These days it seems like more tans come from packages than from the sun. UV rays have racked up an impressive number of offences including premature aging and various forms of cancer, so it’s not surprising anyone would still be keen on the sunbathed look. Sure, I too could dip into a bottle of spray tan or duck in for a quick Mystic but then, do I really want to?

Tanning hasn’t been the norm forever. Before tan lines of the Eighties, before the sunkissed girls of the Seventies, before Annette Funicello fueled Sixties beach bunny culture, a solid tan was hard to come by. It wasn’t until the late ‘50s that the first sunless tanning product “Miss Mantan” appeared on the market, and with porcelain-skinned stars like Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe making headlines, few beauty aficionados had been adding sunbathing to their weekly routine. We can trace tanning back even further, however, to the 1920’s when Coco Chanel accidentally acquired her famous sunburn on a trip to the french Riviera, spawning a baby trend of light tanning amongst young flappers who had already tossed out the Victorian beauty traditions of their parents (including those rigid sun-blocking parasols). In those days tanning was something fresh and different among a sea of sun evaders.

But it’s not 1920 anymore and tans have become the norm. In fact, by the ‘90’s, the choice not to tan had become a favorite way to stand out. Goths, punks, and other subcultures flocked to the shade in the summertime while the glossies at the newsstands portrayed heavily bronzed stars and models.

Over a decade later, stars such as Lindsay Lohan and Snooki take tanning to new low, and a pale girl like me can’t help but wonder—is tanning on the outs? Watching the toll sun damage has taken on the older set, I’m seeing more of my generation reaching for the sunscreen in lieu of the body oil. At any rate, more and more individuals are feeling comfortable in their own skin.

I suppose only time will tell if trendy tanning is truly fading out. And if it does, I can’t help but wonder how it will effect my generation in the long run. Will there be a dynamic decrease in sunspots and wrinkles? Will we combat skin cancer once and for all? Your guess is as good as mine, but while we wait to find out you can bet I’ll be slathering on my SPF 50 and bearing my pasty legs through September, because even though a little color looks good in the summertime, healthy skin looks gorgeous year round.