Finally, at long last, it seems people who once flocked to tanning beds for a ritual equatorial bronzing have begun to accept that there is no such thing as a healthy tan, and that achieving the color + texture of a buckskin jacket is not worth all the future skin cancer, wrinkles, and newly acquired shame it engenders.
In a piece at The Atlantic called "The End of Tanning?" we learn that some sort of paradigm shift has occurred in what used to be the reflexive pastime of cooking oneself by the sun, actual or artificial, and it's becoming, believe it or not, outdated:
"There's been a cultural shift," Hillhouse, the psychologist, said. "Fifteen years ago, you would not have seen an article in Seventeen or Cosmopolitan about the dangers of indoor tanning, but now it's very common."
Quinn said that the drumbeat of skin-cancer coverage has spooked even the most devoted tanners, who now say things like, "I know it's bad for me, but I just love doing it."
Some have switched to spray tanning, even though it doesn't generate the same "feel good" boost, he says.
But there are other signs that tanning, as a principle, is becoming passé.
"A coppertone complexion isn't looking so fresh this summer season," proclaimed a style article in USA Today last year, pointing to the rise of pasty beauties like Emma Stone and Taylor Swift.
It's a reported piece that also delves a bit into the history of tanning, but in a nutshell, these are some of the culprits for Big Tanning's decline that author Olga Khazan explores:
+Risk of melanoma increases 59% with tanning (in May of this year, the FDA reclassified UV lamps as moderate-risk, up from low-risk, and required them to host a black box warning that they aren't safe for minors).
+Nine states outlaw tanning for minors; nearly three dozen others restrict their use.
+Fake tan lotion used to hog 65% of the sun accessories market; now sunscreen holds that distinction.
+Usage is declining a little among the biggest tanners. Writes Khazan:
Slightly less than a third of non-Hispanic white women, who make up the majority of indoor-tanning customers, still use tanning beds. However, data from the CDC show that the number of high-school students who used indoor tanning devices has declined by about three percentage points (from 16 to 13 percent) since 2009, though that number is within the margin of error. Among girls, the drop-off was six percentage points.
+There was that weirdly compelling Upworthy video that showed the effects of sun on people's faces under UV light. Hint: Scary as fuck when compared with your non-UV-lit face. Also, it showed how sunscreen looked under UV light , which, while certainly not "shocking" (what ever truly is, Upworthy, truly?) is a curious thing.
Everyone is (mostly) born with good skin, says the video, then cuts to pictures of children, whose faces looked freckle- and wrinkle-free under the light because duh, but also some people of color, whose faces just looked better cared for or more pigmentally able to endure the sun.
+Some anti-tanning campaigns are working, particularly the ones that, like those grossola anti-smoking ads, show that tanning too much will could make you ugly/gross. Newsflash: That is the opposite of what tanners are going for. Apparently, appealing to our vanity works.
And yet, tanning is still appealing for some people in spite of its risk, even to the point of being addictive. Get a load a' this shit:
"Tanning makes you feel good. But so does methamphetamine," said Joel Hillhouse, a professor of public health at East Tennessee State University who has studied the psychology of tanning. He said some of his study subjects have stolen money or broken into tanning salons to get their fix.
But obviously for the average person's lure in, it's more about the twin "look good/feel good" sensation associated with tanning, and I would think the hardest idea to part with for fans-of-tan is the notion that you just look better and healthier with a light crisp.
As a pasty person who mostly loves being pale (please, I liked The Cure in high school) I, too, have yearned at times for a golden bronze, mostly because it seems to give you that base of color that permits less makeup and yes, makes you look a little healthier and less peaked. Tan fat is just muscle, amirite? But I can't hold a tan for shit — I'm extremely fair-skinned, so I tend to go burn/pale/burn in a vicious cycle of undesirable states. But like most pale people, I've had a lifetime of jokes about my paleness — zombie jokes, goth jokes, oh-my-eyes-you're-blinding-me jokes, what-sort-of-crazy-person-doesn't-wear-shorts-at-the-beach-jokes. I'll tell you what kind: The kind who gets burned with sunscreen and a sweater on, asshole. YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE.
But I've lived the other half of this equation, if momentarily. Once, for a story a while back, I decided to get a spray tan when they were really getting popular. I went for a shade 3, level 3, i.e., from zero to Latina in thirty seconds, and it was so weird. I had never gotten more attention from gross dudes in my life, and it felt extremely unnatural. I also learned about the "double dip," which is the one-two punch of a quick sesh in a tanning bed + a spray tan. (Spray tans are generally considered safer, but may still present risks: There are concerns that the chemical used in spray tans, DHA, can be absorbed by the body and lungs and bloodstream more than once thought. No bigs, just some minor genetic alterations or whatever.)
But pale may persevere. Khazan cites a Lucky Mag slideshow of celebrities — the Dita Von Teeses, the Karen Elsons, the Christina Hendrickses — who allegedly prove "pale is the new tan." There are also shows like True Blood, upping the sexy vampire thing, which is undoubtedly pale. But I must point out that all these people are not really pasty, they are ivory or porcelain. Pasty people got a whole different set of hot probs, ok? Pasty is more like blotchy and flushed, not creamy, milky marble. Reconciling that is a different beast altogether. (And, I must point out: Pale skin takes work, and the key is this: Serious SPF, floppy hats and caftans.)
But I support this cultural shift toward lower skin cancer rates and accepting one's natural skin tone, whatever that may be. Pale is beautiful, too. The trouble is showing young women that it's OK to be pale when their peers are tanning it up for prom or any occasion requiring bare shoulders. A psychologist in the piece explains that routing women to fashions and jewelry that accentuate their natural skin tone is a great way to encourage women to avoid tanning. Which gives me an idea: Tan makeunders. That is what we need. Makeunders for tanners who should be shown their future selves as lovely and pale. It worked for Tan Mom! Seriously, this could be a thing.
Image by Tara Jacoby