Not too long ago, I was sitting around with a few of my friends and one of them asked me to go to The Tannery. As I looked at her curiously, I wondered to myself why she would ask me –an African-American with rather dark skin– to go to The Tannery with her. I also wondered why she would want to go tanning in the first place. To me, she looked fine.
I didn’t go to The Tannery with my friend, but I did begin to question why people went tanning to begin with. It seems like I always see women (and men) around campus with Caribbean tans during the fall and winter months. What are the reasons for wanting darker skin? What’s wrong with having pale, white skin? And why has this become such a social trend?
My first source for information about tanning was, of course, the Internet. I came across something from the Center for Disease Control about skin cancer. I had always known that extensive exposure to the sun could cause skin cancer, but what I did not know was that all people are at risk. The article also mentioned that one of the main reasons why people tan in the first place is because, “society views tanned skin as healthy and attractive.” After a little more reading about the UVA and UVB rays, I decided to visit where much of campus gets their tans.
So I went to The Tannery and spoke with the owner, Carolyn Sampson. She has been running The Tannery for almost 22 years. Since I already knew about the dangers of tanning, I asked her about the advantages.
“Base tanning is good to have before going on vacation and is better to have before going into the real sun,” Sampson said.
She also told me that when the skin is burnt from the artificial light in tanning beds, it adjusts quicker to the natural sunlight.
After talking with Sampson, I decided to ask a few of my friends their opinions. Junior Michelle Boyd told me that when she tans, she usually does it for about 20 minutes once or twice a month. Boyd does not tan anymore, but she left me with some words.
“The people that go to the extreme of tanning take it too far,” she said. “It doesn’t improve your beauty and I think people should just accept themselves for who they are.”
I thought about this and then about how, as a society, we are so consumed in how we look that we will do whatever it takes to look good. People even go as far as tanning four or more times a week just so they can feel attractive.
I would be lying if I were to say that the media has nothing to do with this social trend. We always see people on television with beautiful Caribbean tans as the norm. It’s unfortunate the real norm isn’t to be who you are without changing your skin color and to worry about things besides getting a tan in the middle of winter.