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Should We Fake It?

pale skin, skin colour

Back in the 90s, I’d return to school after a week’s holiday in Majorca to cruel sniggering.

“Where’s your tan?”

“Did it rain and wash your tan away?”

“Woah, SO many freckles!”

“Milk bottle legs!”

“Ugh, why is your nose red and peeling?”

Classmates would roll their sleeves up and line their arms against mine. I remember taking my watch off to reveal my translucent, ghost-like white wrist, saying, “You see? I did get a tan!” I was laughed at even more. But I was lucky. I’d been on a nice holiday with my family, who would take us during May Half Term before the European sun got too hot. My sister and I burnt easily. We were forever being slapped with thick sun cream and we painted pink streaks on our faces with a stick of neon sunblock. When other kids jumped into the pool in a bikini, we looked as though we were doing the bronze lifesaving test, treading water in an oversized t-shirt to shield our bare shoulders. And…we still got sunburnt! As lovely as those holidays were, there were uncomfortable nights of hot prickly skin, Aloe Vera and sulking in the shade playing Tetris on the Gameboy. 

Celebrities such as Amanda Seyfried have opened up about being bullied for being so pale, with kids calling her ugly. Growing up during the height of toxic magazine culture made women feel as though being tanned meant having a healthy glow. Every popstar was photographed showing a golden midriff and pierced belly button. Movie stars were papped on the beach, their tan lines circled on the front cover shaming them for having white bits on show. The common chat was that you looked slimmer with a tan, that being bronze defined your muscles and trimmed you down. In a bid to be as beautiful as the media said we should be, pale kids spent their pocket money in tanning salons and fried under electric sunbeds in the hope of avoiding having to fake it. And why? Because faking it meant orange streaky legs, thick blotches around the neck and a face that looked like a tangerine.

Nowadays, we are more informed about the harmful effects of sun exposure. The statistics are terrifying, with 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer by the age of 70. Being sunburnt multiple times increases the risk of melanoma. Under the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 for England and Wales, it is now an offence to allow people aged 17 years and under to use sunbeds in commercial premises including beauty salons, leisure centres, gyms and hotels. Exposure to artificial UV radiation in a solarium increases the risk of skin damage, skin cancer and eye damage. Researchers have estimated that somewhere around 450,000 cases of skin cancer (including basal and squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) each year can be chalked up to indoor tanning.

So, if you’re still desperate for that golden glow, surely it’s best to fake it?

Or, can the beauty world just embrace the pale and interesting?

Well, the global fake tan industry was recently valued at $1.04 billion and is projected to grow to $1.70 billion by 2030. In short, we still want what we can’t have and strive to change that. And why, we must wonder? To fit it? To comply with superficial beauty standards? What is it about a tan that makes us feel so attractive? Because I struggle to answer this myself.

As a pale person with Irish skin and a tendency to burn easily, you’ll always find me sitting in the shade. The sun comes out and I run for cover, pronto! I’ve learnt to love sitting beside the pool fully shaded by a parasol and reading a book, enjoying the heat and light breeze at the same time. I take a dip in the afternoon, once the midday sun has descended. I don’t want to experience the pain of trying to put my bra on after sunbathing or feeling my skin pulsate with heat as I eat my evening meal. Factor 50 is what I use, and that is non-negotiable. But do I feel beautiful? Do I look at my skin in summer clothes or a bathing suit and think, yes, I am beach ready? Honestly - and sadly - no. I tell myself each year that it doesn’t matter. So, what if I’m so pale that I reflect the sun?! But still, I reach into the bathroom cupboard for the tinted body lotion. I scour the web for the best tested brands and most natural results. I apply with care, followed by a rigorous palm scrub to “hide the evidence” of self-tan.

Parenting website Mumsnet sparked a recent discussion on this topic and had an overwhelming response of women who feel they would be more confident with a tan. Words such as “ugly” and “corned beef” were mentioned many times. One woman said that even her mother-in-law was forever commenting on how white her legs were and another complained about how she hated every spot, blemish or dark spot standing out. “I don't know if it's the media,” said a contributor, “but I’ve always envied those with super smooth golden skin.” Another hit back with, “Basically, where there is a way to tell women to change some part of their body and make money, that's what will happen.”

It’s a shame that we cannot accept our own beautiful bodies, isn’t it? From weight to height, from hair type to skin colour, our biggest enemies are often ourselves. But how much can be blamed on the media and the beauty industry telling us how we should look, what’s hot and what’s not? It would be wonderful if we could look back on this era - an era that’s spanned many decades - and shake our heads at how strange it was that women were told they must look a certain way, or else. Imagine a world where every so-called imperfection is just perfect, because it’s as it should be. 

So, for anybody out there who has been labelled “pale and interesting”, enjoy these five reasons why it’s interesting to be pale. And let’s strive to accept who we are, always. 

  1. Lower Risk of Skin Cancer

Cancer Research UK says overexposure to UV rays from the sun and sunbeds is the main preventable cause of skin cancer. Fair skin that burns easily is particularly susceptible. So relax with a book on a sun lounger and celebrate the shade.

2. Less Wrinkles

According to experts, ultra-violet rays account for 80% of visible skin ageing. Stay out of the sun and you’ll look more youthful for years to come.

3. Healthy Look All Year

If pale is your year-round look, you won’t be accused of looking peaky when the summer tan fades. You won’t crave the sunshine because you feel tired and drab. Your cheeks will be nice and rosy, but hey, what’s new?

4. No Tan Lines

Bikini stripes? Nope. T-shirt lines? No thanks. You can wear anything without worrying about exposing sunburn or lack of… and when you catch yourself in the mirror naked, you won’t look like a scene from a Carry On movie!

5. Dance In the Rain

When you see those dashing for shelter, is it because they’ve faked it? Do they dread the tan running down their cheeks and making tear marks? The stripy legs? Do they wish they could embrace nature’s showers without threat?! You, however, can dance to your heart’s content without turning into a tiger. 


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