It’s that time of year again, when the sun comes out and the clothes start to come off. In our peely-wally neck of the woods, that means that people generally start spraying themselves with chemicals in order to colour themselves somewhere on the palette from sun kissed glow, to polished teak.
‘Twas not always thus. I remember the days when a plane or coach load of white Scottish tourists would be turfed out in a hot country, returning two weeks later in varying states of sunburn or tan. You could mark your holiday tanning progress by looking at the lines above your swimsuit, feeling glee as the contrast increased. Your holiday tan was a reminder that you’d just been away enjoying yourself. Nowadays, most young women would not dream of going on holiday, or even a big night out, without getting a fake tan first. There are probably no lines after you’ve stood in a booth to get sprayed all over wearing only a pair of tiny paper knickers. Not that I’ve ever done this. Why would I voluntarily do something that involves as much mess and clean up, or makes you feel like you’re dressed for a gynaecological procedure? No thanks, I’d rather be pale.
Admittedly, the tanning habits of our youth were not particularly safe. We started off with no higher than factor 15 and graduated to factor one or two in coconut oil by the end of the holiday, sizzling like sausages on a beach BBQ. Nowadays I’m strictly a factor 50 gal, but there was no awareness of global warming or skin cancer back then. And we were desperate to emulate those lithe, tanned Mediterranean girls, instead of looking like snowmen in bikinis. Miraculously, after two weeks of constant exposure, some colour would appear on our bodies, as fleeting as the Northern Lights. Inevitably it would fade and peel off, faced with the chill of the Scottish autumn. All that effort and skin damage for nothing.
Maybe not quite nothing. Most of us feel better with a tan. We think we look healthier and even thinner when we are brown. I know I have felt this at my chubbier times. This is of course nonsense: we all know now that tanning is a sign of skin damage, even if we don’t care. And if you are fat, well…sorry to break the news, but you just look tanned and fat. It’s probably a psychological thing – wobbly flesh probably does look a little bit more toned and taut when it’s not pure white. Or perhaps it’s based on stereotypes: if you put a white woman and Black woman of the same large size together, does one look fatter than the other? Or does one carry herself better because of cultural norms and expectations? Because if you are walking around feeling that you look good, then you do. Simple as that.
You will then not require the services of Skinny Tan – an amazing new product that I received a junk email about the other day. Apparently you can actually ‘tan yourself thin’ in seven days, as it allegedly reduces the appearance of cellulite. The pictures on the ad show two bums – before and after – one pale and knobbly, the other smooth and brown. Really? There is no way in hell that these are the same two arses. Added to that, the colour of the fake tan looks like it would suit a piece of wooden furniture more than a human being. Shudder. Yet the tragic thing is that people will buy it and feel disappointed when they don’t look like Kim Kardashian within a couple of weeks. Forgetting of course that while KK undoubtedly tops up with St Tropez, she is from a family of Armenian origin, which gives her the dark hair, eyes and skin.
We are a more ethnically diverse bunch now in Scotland than we have ever been, but the traditional Scottish skin is – like many of our Celtic cousins – fair, possibly freckled, hard to tan and easy to burn. Especially for those of us with blue eyes. Yet I see women and girls walking about this city who are darker from fake tan than their fellow citizens of Asian origin. Usually with streaks, Barbie doll hair and makeup and terrible outfits. I would like to pretend that I am not judging them but I am. I am judging them for having Katie Price as a sartorial role model and I am making the assumption that they are vain and probably stupid. Harsh I know. But if you saw someone that looked like this, what would you think?
Maybe that girl is secretly longing to go mousy and study to become a brain surgeon but I doubt it. I admit it’s an extreme picture and not the norm, but I have seen young women look almost as ridiculous. As a middle aged feminist, I do find it utterly depressing that young women want to look like this. You can give me all the bullshit you want about how it’s women’s empowering freedom to look like a blow up doll, but I’m not buying. Surely it’s more empowering if you are not afraid to stand out and be different to everyone else? And while it’s not particularly satisfying to note, stupidity, bad tanning and vanity is not just a female thing. Just look at these two numpties and hold yourselves back ladies:
File under: what the fuck were they thinking?
Even among the grown up and sensible of us, there are people who wear some form of fake tan all year round. Like women who wear heels constantly and then can’t stop, there are people who have been wearing tan for so long, they are afraid to stop in case people think they are deathly ill. Even in the winter. This is bizarre to me: surely one of the joys of winter is being able to dispense with all the body fascism we are subjected to in summer, such as tyrannical waxing rituals. And don’t people with tans look a bit odd in winter anyway? Why are we so afraid to admit to be pale? Look at this picture. Valentino looks ridiculous anyway, but next to Anne Hathaway he looks like he’s been dipped in a volcano and left to smoulder. Why is his look (or a more watered down version of it) more desirable than hers? Maybe we value fake over real a bit too much in our modern western world.
Some of the most terrible tans come from the world of body building, even worse than daft Glaswegians. It seems that this is to highlight the muscle definition more prominently, or some rubbish like that. The argument would then follow that if pale people are muscled, then you wouldn’t see it which is nonsense. With the growth in popularity of weightlifting, has the extreme tanning of the powerlifters quit literally leaked out into the rest of the world? Who knows. This is more of an excuse to show two pictures that blew my mind. First of all, one of the most terrifying tans I have ever seen; is she possibly the bastard child of David Dickinson and Judith Chalmers?
Her colour ranges from russet, to actual ebony on the arms. She looks very happy, so I guess I shouldn’t rain on her parade, and let’s face it, we’ve all had dubious 50 shades of orange experiments with self-tan. I’ve even managed it once or twice with the so-called easy build up, daily moisturiser type. Mind you, even in Glasgow, land of the tanorexics, this woman would get stared at.
This second picture is for no other reason than it makes me laugh every time I look at it. Maybe it’s cruel, but c’mon…look at the guy’s face! Feckin’ hilarious. I’d hate to see their bed sheets after a sweaty shag; it would look like a crime scene.
There is of course a hypocrisy to this. As the weather improves and I feel the urge to bare my legs, I will no doubt reach once more for the slow build up tanning moisturiser, purely so that I don’t blind people with the glare when I walk along the road. And it’s far better that people use fake tans than those dastardly sun beds, even if they do miss a bit behind the knees now and then.
But is there any need to look like a satsuma? I would rather we were able to embrace the pale a bit more, but we may have gone too far for that. I expect there will even be people who fake tan for the Spartan race, so they look good in tiny shorts. Bless. Here are my words of wisdom on the matter: if you look like you’ve had a couple of days in the sun, you’re probably doing okay. If you are more of a carrot, cover up and think again. After all, who would you rather be: Willy Wonka or an Oompa Loompa?
Until next time,