Friday, 24 June 2011

To tan or not to tan?

Recently I have been prompted to think about tans and tanning. It has occurred to me that the advent of the spray tan is a wondrous thing.  The fact that there is the option of having the colour sprayed on is  wondrous. Of course the activity itself is a nuisance, paper knickers (or not), visiting salons, stripping off and on and worrying about the colour rubbing off.  Then there is ‘assuming the position’, a pose that makes you feel like Shrek with a hernia! The stuff is smelly too.  I’m as pale as pale can be and have honestly never met anyone with paler inner arms than myself, virtually blue however I have succumbed to a fake tan booth. Largely for psychological reasons; if I go to a beachy place to relax I don’t want to worry about standing out and scaring the locals. Additionally looking slightly different to usual makes it feel more like a holiday and an escape from one’s everyday life.  I don’t feel however that it makes me look any better per se. In fact fortunately my personal preference is for pale skin, I think perhaps because it is more mysterious and sophisticated. Perhaps because unfairly sophistication is more associated with activities that take place indoors or ahem...in the dark. A preference for rich deep colours also makes me prefer those with pale tones, tans suit brights and pastels better. I never think black looks any good with a tan and it is my default clothing colour. Red lipstick also looks best, in my personal opinion, on pale skin.

Elizabeth Taylor, beautiful tanned...


As beautiful without any tan...
The historical reasons for the ascendance of the tan are well known. Pale skin was originally the marker of someone who was rich, aristocratic or intellectual: someone who didn’t have to work in the sun. When the poor started to work inside in factories and the rich in the 1920’s started to enjoy their leisure in sunny climes the opposite happened. Outside indicated leisure and wealth. This included sport, which for women became an acceptable activity during this period which was obviously a good thing.

Before and after publicity for Joliesatan,
What is interesting now is that this logical sociological reaction has been skewed. A cheap holiday is somewhere hot, we all have leisure and a tanning bed can be hired for very little by anyone. A stylish fortnight’s holiday is in Cornwall, not  the Costa del Sol. This vulgarisation of the tan is clear on the pelts of Wags and Glamour models. The former factory girls of North now wander around nut brown in the floating clothes and short bright dresses worn by the glamorous in Antibes in the 60’s and 70’s. Additionally we know that natural tanning, still the cheap option, is dangerous and will make you look older.  So what should happen is that pale skin, more difficult to maintain and requiring expensive creams to preserve should once again be ascendant especially in the youth obsessed Western world.

Erm....
My theory as to why this has not happened is that the association of tan and health is not what it seems. I suspect the popularity of darker skin pigmentation in the West is entirely linked to ideas of weight, obesity and thinness. In India and amongst other groups of darker complexions the urge to become paler persists, because I suspect the problems of weight are overridden by concerns about wealth and status however erroneous.  Darker limbs do look slimmer in the same way that darker colours of clothing can slim. The desire to look slimmer is stronger than the desire to look truly healthy or natural or even young. Being slim is more youthful than being fat, but the effect is lost when half a ton of makeup is added and the curious thing about any distinctive tan that is not related to your natural colouring is that it requires slap. A Spanish girl won’t need it, an Anglo Saxon will. So it is rarely youthful, but then again that isn’t something that would worry me particularly.

Nicola Roberts faced flak for refusing the Girl's Aloud tan...
What about the opposite sex? Well an entirely unscientific straw poll reveals that our male brethren sensibly believe that it depends on the person, their colouring and character. There was however a bit of a consensus that dark honeyed skin was great on Italian or Spanish girls but the traditional British girl should be an English rose.  A general loathing of tango tans was expressed however there was the caveat with all of these comments that ultimately if it encourages ladies to wear less it cannot be all bad (men!).
Sunbathing to get brown and using tanning booths or beds is just mingingly stupid but I would like to see the artificial tan, self-applied or sprayed for what it is: a personal aesthetic choice. If someone likes the tango tan good luck to them, our appearances should be a source of fun not stress.  There is not right or wrong and I’d apply that to vintage looks, why not wear a bustle and a tan or a thirties swimsuit and porcelain skin? In a recent post Miss Mathilda put up some photographs that indicated vintage and pale are not the natural default in any case.

Distinctly tanned 20's visage.
What I'd like to see change is it’s associations with health and youth because there are none and these just make people adopt a look to address perceived social expectations and norms and we beat ourselves up about enough things as it is.
What do you think? Do tans look ‘healthy’? Are you a pale beauty? Comments are always read and welcomed. xxx

8 comments:

WDI said...

Orangism in all its forms must be stamped out, whether it involves bowler-hatted lunatics marching down the Shankhill Road or fish-lipped bints rolling down the High Street exposing their badly plucked crevices to doormen and taxi drivers.

A natural light tan can look rather fetching on a lady but I find that an exceptionally pale shade of blue looks rather alluring, especially with expertly applied mascara and sheer nylons.

Mademoiselle Maladroite said...

I never understood the hype around tanning in the summer. I am myself a rather pale type who, if anything, gets a sunburn rather than a light tan. Meanwhile I really like my pale skin although I sometimes stand out in a crowd, especially in summer. I personally think that a person shouldn't try to tan if she/he is naturally a pale type.

TheBlackWardrobe said...

Living in the North-West, I tend to see lots of "orange humans" and everytime I see it it makes me cringe. I do agree that the tan, either being natural or artificial, if done in moderation!!!, can look right or improve someone's skin-tone. But that's on certain individuals, NOT everyone.
I am olive skin, therefore I love my skin tanned because it brings out the skin pigments of my flesh and undermines the yellowness of it.
However, someone who is clearly the anglosaxon type or "english rose" or, to be more extreme, red-head; WILL NOT look good with it, regardless of the clothing they are wearing, their age or the season. I truly applaud Nicola Roberts in ditching the bloody things. Not only it makes her look good (because that's HER natural skin-tone) youthful and it gives her an edge.

Hope not to have bored you all with my loooong comment. I am truly passionate about this matter.
Great blog, by the way.

www.the-black-wardrobe.blogspot.com
www.theblackwardrobe.com
Handmade Gothic and Vintage inspired clothing and accessories.

Shira said...

Hi, found your blog today ( vintage gal as I am). Anywho I am pale or should I say fair and have always been. When I was younger I did not use sun screen and I'm guilty to have used a tanning boot a few times. But I like myself fair. As opposed to my 2 yr older sister, she always tan and wants to be tan etc, when I visited her last weekend she said something about me always being pale and I said yes that's a choice I made, wear SPF 50 when it's really sunny out. she went on in a sort of mocking manner, that even f I do try to get a tan I get just red etc. I said that's not true. I don't know why she has to still put me down, she's 32 yrs old now, LOL. Then I got a compliment from her friend saying that I looked really good fair and that I had the right kind of skin for that, classic beauty etc. So yeah I'll stay fair among orange people!

RedlegsinSoho said...

Thank you for the comments, I must admit the pale = unhealthy attitude is understandable but wrong. I am flushed when drunk,embarassed or out of sorts.
WDI - so a nice spray tan for RR is a bad idea then? surely it would make me more photogenic?!

WDI said...

Ah, but as black and white photog is best, a spray tan will only muddy the contrast.

Stick to alabaster.

My legs haven't seen sunlight since 1980 and are now almost transparent. They resemble jellyfish tentacles, I'm proud to declare.

LollyWillowes said...

I hate fake tan, to me it looks ugly and cheap, the orange craze with ultra thick, beige make up on top makes me want to scream. If one has the sort of skin that tans naturally then it will look fine because it will suit the skin tone etc. A couple of my friends go the lovliest shade of honey brown in the summer but they are dark eyed and dark haired and it looks great on them.
I'm a reddish/brown haired, transparent skinned Celt, I will burn badly at the least hint of sun
and I have the whole blue vein thing going on. I have to say, I don't like it, especially the very obvious one that runs across my chest to my arm, it gives me the creeps. I'd have been so fashionable in Edwardian times, no need for me to crayon them in!
Unless one is naturally dark skinned, just go pale and interesting, I say.

Retro Chick said...

I hadn't seen this one when I wrote my post (so behind on my reader, sorry!)

I think some people really suit a tan and others don't, as ever there's no "one size fits all" way to look, and as long as you look after your skin and do daft things like cook yourself on a sun bed then whatever skin tone you like is fine!

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