Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A different value: pale skin

I'm not talking about light versus dark skin here, but about pale versus tanned skin. This post was inspired by the following article, which was picked up by Fox News dot com after appearing in the Adelaide Now paper under the title Fair go for beauty. Apparently - and I can't help laughing about this - the Twilight phenomenon has made pale skin trendy again.

Sun exposure hasn't always had the same value. I've read plenty of stories taking place in historical England (at varying time periods from Victorian to medieval) where young girls were striving not to have any freckles at all. I personally have been subjected to all kinds of teasing about my pale-to-freckly skin because of the value placed on "a healthy tan." I imagine the skin cancer researchers might have their own issues with that phrase! I remember saying when people commented, "My skin comes in three colors: white, pink, and red. Of those three, I prefer white." I have known at least two women who took tanning to an unbelievable (to me) extreme. I have also witnessed the French tendency to engage in tanning, which can take place anywhere from the mountains to the sea (no discrimination as to where the sun rays should come from!). I have had the distinctly uncomfortable experience of seeing a tourist in France who had decided for what appeared to be the first time in her life to tan wearing a "monokini" instead of a "bikini." I don't even want to imagine the pain that followed.

This is one of the details of appearance that might slip notice in the process of building a very different world - but it's something worth thinking about.


  1. I've never gotten that whole tan thing. Tans can be attractive, but so can a lack of them.

    I'd imagine the Victorian thing has to do with the lower classes being out in the sun so often and thus having a tan outside of their control, while upper class women who didn't do much outside the home would have lighter skin. Or something similar.

  2. Oh, I remember a girl in college doing just that! She had dime-sized blisters - plus she was a size D. Sheer agony.

    Yes, you're right, atsiko. That was true as early as Elizabethan times, maybe even earlier.

  3. Good point, Atsiko. I'd say it was definitely a class-related thing. Different points of appearance can be associated with status by different social groups.

    Deb - ouch.

  4. I do not understand why white people want dark skin so bad.You should embrace how you were born and be proud of your natural skin tone.

  5. Indeed, Anonymous. I don't really understand it either, except as an expression of fashion. I know that fair skin was trendy a few hundred years ago, for example. Thanks for your comment.