Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Truth About Tanning

When I was young, I was convinced that my pale skin was ugly. Ever since I can remember, being tan has been considered beautiful—while pale skin was called things like “sickly” and “pasty.” I was jealous of my friends that could tan effortlessly, of my sister who always had a healthy golden glow, of my best friend who couldn’t burn if she tried. I, on the other hand, burn in about five minutes.
Tan is considered by many to be more beautiful than pale.
Society says tan is more beautiful. What do you think?
Image from

My mother tried to convince me countless times that my pale skin was just as beautiful as others, but I never believed her. To this day, I still find myself wishing at times that I were just a little darker, a little less red and a little more bronze. But mostly I’ve accepted that my Irish heritage simply doesn’t allow for that—and that’s okay.

Because even as I look wistfully at my tan friends, I remember that all the safe sun practices I’ve learned and all the tanning booths I haven’t visited make me much less at risk for developing melanoma. I have also found role models in pale-skinned actresses that I consider incredibly beautiful people—Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman, Evanna Lynch, Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johansson, Zooey Deschanel, and more.

Anne Hathaway
Helga Esteb /"
Zooey Deschanel
Zooey Deschanel
Helga Esteb /
My grandfather worked on the railroad for years, spending long days in the sun. In his later years, he developed melanoma on his face and ears, and I can remember him regularly having to get spots removed before the cancer spread to the rest of his body.

Tanning beds have been around for years now. And even though scientific data conclusively points out that using them increases the risk for developing melanoma, we continue to put ourselves in harm’s way. One Tacoma, Washington, couple found out the dangers of tanning the hard way when their daughter Shelley died of melanoma at just 34-years old. She had tanned frequently as a teen and felt like she needed to be tan to be beautiful.

“The paradigm that tan skin is beautiful killed my daughter,” said Shelley’s father, Peter Rasmussen. Rasmussen has urged lawmakers countless times over the past four years to pass a bill that would ban teens and children from tanning beds, and Washington State is currently considering raising the minimum usage age up to 18.

About 13% of teens say they've used tanning beds.
About 13% of teens say they've used tanning beds.
Image: Shutterstock
And while even some tanning salon owners in Washington agree that tanning is unnecessary and dangerous especially for children, not all states even have a minimum tanning age. Missouri is one of 17 states that has no age restriction for tanning.

In a study conducted by researchers at Washington University, children as young as 10 years old have used tanning beds in Missouri. Of the 243 randomly selected salons surveyed, 65% said children between 10 and 12 would be allowed to use tanning beds. In many cases, operators at salons also claimed that there were no risks associated with indoor tanning and that tanning would help protect them from future sunburns.

But those claims are completely false. According to the CDC, users of tanning beds under the age of 35 have a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma, eye cancer, changes in skin texture, and other problems.

Tan mom before and after tanning beds.
Tan Mom before and after tanning beds
Image from
Mostly, this article was brought on by the recent news that New Jersey’s infamous “tan mom” had all charges against her dropped. She was accused of taking her 5-year-old daughter tanning with her, which is illegal in New Jersey where the minimum age is 16. The world made fun of tan mom for her burnt appearance, but it mostly made me sad to see that someone would become so obsessed with being tan. She was ridiculed, but she was just an extreme example of what happens when we define beauty so narrowly.

Her daughter is being taught that she isn’t beautiful just the way she is—that she has to conform to ridiculous parameters set by society to be considered pretty. And that’s just not true. We are each made a little differently, and it’s so important that we pass that message on to our children. No matter your natural skin color, eye color, race, ethnicity, size, shape...

You are beautiful, just the way you are. Pass it on.
You are beautiful. Yes, you.
Image from