Orange, the New Skin Tone

By Lisa Watson • Aug 7th, 2012 • Category: Features, Lead Story

Gone are the days when pale skin was a mark of wealth, proof that you never had to venture outside for work. Today, people flock to tanning salons across the country, year-round, in search of the perfect hue.

“It’s like, I want to lay in a bed and get cancer,” jokes 32-year-old Melanie Santos, a psychologist who specializes in helping people with body dysmorphic disorder and body image issues.

Santos is referring to the rise in tanning, which has caused controversy within recent years. It is especially popular among young girls, just another thing to do, like going to the movies or the mall.

“A lot of it’s for body image reasons,” says Santos. “They see more tan as ideal.” It’s no shock that many young girls have low self-esteem. Being tan may boost that for them on some level, but at what cost?

Excessive tanning can cause premature skin aging, such as sun-spots and wrinkles, and sometimes skin cancer, but the website for Beach Bum Tanning, a chain of tanning salons in several states in the U.S., and other pro-tanning sites, such as tanningtruth.com, state the “facts” a little differently.

According to tanningtruth.com, a website that claims to preach the truths of tanning, “Saying that sunlight is harmful and therefore should be avoided is as misleading as saying that water causes drowning, and therefore we should avoid water.” The site also claims that sunshine has benefits, but is constantly battled by a $35 billion anti-UV industry.

Despite the risks, massive amounts of people continue to frequent tanning salons regularly. Take 23-year-old Vancouver native Courtney Johnson, who tans both outside and inside tanning salons. “It makes you feel good about yourself, like when you get your nails done and stuff like that,” she says. “I feel like it makes you look skinnier.”

Johnson says that the weather in the Canadian province of British Columbia can be unpleasant. “It’s July and cloudy and rainy and fifteen degrees,” she says. “The past two summers for whatever reason have been so terrible.” She advocates tanning within reason due partly to the weather. “Lack of vitamin D is huge out here,” Johnson says.

Our society decides and portrays what’s “beautiful” strongly through the media and celebrities. Marilyn Monroe wasn’t tan, or super skinny. But in recent times, what’s in is just the opposite. This puts pressure on people, especially adolescents, to do and be what’s in, and right now it’s to be tan as an orange.

“I think tan is sexy but I don’t think orange is,” says 20-year-old Kevin Miller of Ontario, New York. “I guess you have to find the happy medium.”

High school and even middle school kids may feel pressure to be tan, due to the “coolness” of the trend. They may be made fun of for being pale or not tan enough, and the accessibility to do what’s cool has never been so easy to achieve.

“Part of it could be really good marketing,” says Santos. “It’s always been there, it’s just more accessible.” Tanning salons like Beach Bum Tanning offer all kinds of deals, like free tanning every Sunday, unlimited tanning passes, and of course, very appealing student rates. Not to mention the plethora of salons across the country.

According to the book Overcoming Body Image Problems Including Body Dysmorphic Disorder, tanning used to be a sign of wealth in Europe, because it meant that people had the money to go on vacation. This subsided with the easy access and affordable prices of tanning salons.

Television shows such as MTV’s “Jersey Shore” have contributed greatly to the tanning trend and have brought light to the “guido” trend, which also involves an excessive amount of tanning. The characters on the show are constantly talking about going to the tanning salon and needing to get tan, and associate not being tan with ugly.

“My ultimate dream is to move to Jersey, find a nice juiced hot tanned guy and live my life,” says Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizi, who wouldn’t be caught dead pale.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” states Johnson. “Obviously on T.V. it’s funny, but some people take it to the extreme.”

Another recent story in the media involves an unusually tanned mother named Patricia Krentcil and her 5-year-old fair skinned daughter. Krentcil was accused of bringing her daughter to the tanning salon. This was the shock that brought the incident to the media’s attention, but what really caught the public’s eye was how artificially dark the mother looked.

“That woman’s insane. That’s ridiculous,” says Miller, who thinks there should be more restrictions and regulations on tanning. “Honestly, I think people do it too much you know.”

Johnson has a slightly different view on the matter. She believes that tanning is “a weird addiction,” but shouldn’t be taken away because certain people can’t control their habits. “Clearly if someone has a problem with anything like drinking or drugs, they need an intervention. You can’t take away alcohol from alcoholics.” She also believes that people should only be able to go tanning a certain amount, depending on their skin tone and type.

A safer way to look tan without stepping foot in a tanning bed is using spray tan or bronzer. This goes hand in hand with the tanning trend. Beach Bum Tanning, along with other tanning salons, offer these procedures and products. This tends to give the “tanee,” more of an orange looking skin tone, as opposed to a natural looking tan. This form of tanning is becoming increasingly popular due to its safer method of skin darkening.

“I think it’s a good idea. A lot better than U.V,” states Johnson, who thinks spray tan does look artificial, but doesn’t look as bad if it’s done properly.

“It’s healthier,” says Miller,  “but personally I think it’s stupid. If you’re gonna tan do the real thing.” Both Miller and Johnson believe that a regular tan looks better than artificial ones like spray tan.

The tanning trend has engulfed our society and culture. As for Miller, he says, “I come in two shades: pasty white and lobster.”

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