Who Cares About Skin Cancer So Long As You LOOK Healthy?

A daytime TV ad caught my eye recently. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and each time, it annoys me a bit more. It’s flogging a powder that, among other things, works as a skin-darkener/fake tan. Darken your skin without going into the sun! it promotes. A healthy tan without the risks!

A ‘healthy’ tan without the risks? That doesn’t make any sense. By now, it’s been established that tans aren’t healthy. Tanning the skin is just a “˜light burn’, and spending hours and hours in the sun is begging for cancer.

So instead, we define an unhealthy condition as ‘healthy-looking’, then look for safe ways to get the dangerous ‘healthy look’. Um, call me simplistic, but wouldn’t it be easier for everyone to just stick to their natural skin tones?

What really annoyed me is that these kinds of products get flogged during the day, which means they’re predominantly aimed at women. Yes, it’s promoting a relatively safe way to get a certain look but it’s also reinforcing the idea that being tanned is healthy and desirable. And maybe I’m over-reacting, but it seems to me that we’re promoting women to be tanned a whole lot more than men. It’s just another way for women to damage their bodies in the long-term in order to look good in the short-term.

My point? Women are polluting their bodies in the long-term by committing acts that supposedly make them look “˜healthy’ in the short-term, and ads like the one I’ve described are only encouraging them to embrace a tanned look – albeit a fake one. Yes, I realise there are plenty of men who do the same thing to their bodies for the same reason, but there seems to be an extra emphasis on a tanned look = a healthy body for women. I guess that’s just one more higher standard that women are expected to meet in order to look desirable.


  1. scarlett says

    The discussions on makeup we’ve had since I wrote this article atm, I have a ten-month backlog; this was written about 6 months ago) has emphasised how annoying I find this ad. I think there’s a much greater emphasis on women to have that ‘tanned, healthy’ (oxmoron if ever there was one!) look in much the same way there’s greater emphasis on women to have a flawless look, even if they need makeup to achieve that.

  2. MaggieCat says

    Aside from the million and a half other issues that try to convince women they need makeup to look acceptable, this whole “fake tan” phenomenon can also be connected to weight issues. It is a fact that tanned skin makes you look thinner than pale skin does. It’s a simple optical illusion: our brains interpret darker objects as being smaller than a pale object of identical size. So you can move towards not just one, but two unrealistic body goals at the same time. Yay?

  3. scarlett says

    Um… not yay. Yay is when women can darken their skin (by completely artificial, non-sun-involving ways) because they happen to like that colour, as opposed to men like tanned skin, and and darker looks skinner.
    I have to admit, my boy said I looked sexier with a slight tan. I’m half-Polish, so I have a very fair complexion. I’m sure he meant it as that I looked healthy, as opposed to pasty-pale, but stil…

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    It just doesn’t make sense to me that we would be programmed to naturally find unhealthy traits beautiful (such as tans and underweight). These ideals of beauty are ALL programmed in by society, not animal instincts.

    Tans have only been fashionable for a few decades, anyway. Before that, they were unpopular because pale-skinned people wanted to differentiate themselves from darker-skinned people. Now, part of that was sheer bigotry and classism, which sucks. But I think people have the skin colors they have for a reason, and it’s just kind of wrong for ANYONE to feel an urge to change theirs.

  5. Maartje says

    Fair skin used to mean you were rich enough not to have to spend a lot of time outside. People with tans (farmers)were poor, rich people were fairskinned and factory personell was just dirty. Now it’s the other way around, social-economically speaking, people who are rich don’t have to lock themselves up in an office for all the sunlit hours in a day.

    And by the way, sunlight also has some very positive qualities on the human body. It’s not just a big cancer-beam.

    That said, what gives me the creeps about these ‘personal care’ commercials is the insistence that you’re not good enough the way you are. Be it male or female, these adds are preying on the weak. Saying ‘if you just have a tan, if you just follow fashion, if you just try to look like these people, than you will be liked.’

  6. scarlett says

    Oh, I realise about vit D and all that, but I’ve grown up with a fair complexion in a very hot environment so I was always told a tan wasn’t worth it.
    Actually, there was a woman on the ad who had solar detrmititis (think that’s what she called it), basically, she had a very low tolerance to the sun so such a product was a blessing for her – she could have a ‘tan’ without going out into the sun. That particular promotion REALLY annoyed me, what was wrong with her being naturally pale and proud?

  7. says

    I’ll just go on record as saying I’m quite fond of my wife’s lily-white complexion. And I had a girlfriend at one point who did the spray-on tan thing to hide her normally pallid complexion; the orange colour her skin changed to didn’t appeal terribly much.

  8. scarlett says

    nice to know :p I think people see a tan is a sign of good health, both physically (that you’re not sick and spend all day in bed) and socially (that you’re not a computer geek who’s only exposure to radiation comes from the computer), but often don’t factor in things like natural complexion.. If I spend more then half an hour in strong sunlight (and we’re in the middle of an Aus summer here) I burn, which is neither healthy OR sexy.
    While I concede fake tans are the best way to go, I think they’re a lot of effort and often produce horrible results. I wish women (and men, but it seems mostly to apply to women) would quite literally feel comfortable in their own skin :)

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I just think all skin colors are beautiful, and it’s the quality of the skin that really matters for health purposes. As someone who’s never really had good, clear, healthy skin, I do believe I wouldn’t mind being mauve if my skin stayed smooth, healthy and blemish-free. 😀

  10. scarlett says

    I don’t think any of us would complain if our skin were clear and smooth, but having whatever we have, I think it’s important we take care of it, and not try to comform to very narrow expectations of beauty.
    I guess you could call my skin clear and smooth, but it’s very fair, so no staying out in the sun for me :p

  11. says

    I’m wondering if this is a historical thing. In the past, women were to stay inside, and keep a really pale skin through being totally covered at all times, and carrying parasols. Later, when women were allowed out and about and with uncovered skin, that a tan was seen as ‘healthy’- she was out doing stuff!

    Then of course it went over the top with tanning beds and lying around on the beach for that same active look. :(

    • Patrick McGraw says

      It’s a class indicator thing. In earlier eras, a tan meant you worked out in the fields, so pale skin was a sign or wealth. Now a tan means you have leisure time to devote to deliberately cultivating a tan.

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