I’m looking out the window at work right now and the sun is shining. It’s a GORGEOUS day. Do you know what I wish I were doing? I wish I were at the beach – swimming in the ocean, feeling the cool breeze, and tanning. Emphasis on the tanning. Yes, I, along with almost every other person in my age group, love to get tan.
In high school, one of my friends and I would have a competition every summer over who could get more tan. She always won, damn her. During my freshman year of college, I spent one day laying out in the baking sun for about 3 hours…without putting on a touch of sunscreen. A stupid decision, and oh I payed for it. I got sun poisoning. That included fever, throwing up, and an incredibly painful sunburn that got oozy. It eventually turned into a rocking tan, though, so…yay (but not really, it was one of the worst experiences of my life). And last summer, I went to Hawaii and came back with the darkest, most beautiful tan of my life. I took picture after picture of myself, so that my tan would forever be documented. A little obsessive? Um, yeah.
But it’s not just me. I can think of plenty of people, both women AND men, that obsess over getting the perfect tan. In fact, sometimes we get so obsessed that we become insanely desperate to get to the beach, just like Snooki does here:
But why do we go to such great lengths to get tan? A TIME article entitled “Why Teens are Obsessed with Tanning” explores that.
According to the article, being tan is linked with popularity. One high school girl notes that all the cheerleaders are tan year-round. Pop icons also reinforce the value of a tan (I mean, my god if Paris Hilton is tan then I have to be too!). And for women, guys contribute to the desire to be tan. Men think tans are hot. And I think the opposite is true, too – after all, Snooki would NEVER settle for a guerrilla juicehead that is pasty white.
Doctors point out new evidence that tanning, whether indoor or out, may be somewhat addictive. Small-scale studies by researchers at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University indicate that tanning may trigger endorphins, which could be why sunbathing feels so relaxing and why frequent tanners experience withdrawal-like symptoms if they don’t get their regular fix.
Not only is that crazy, but it’s scary too. There’s no question that tanning is dangerous and increases your chances of skin cancer. So a mental addiction to it would obviously have a bad outcome. But I can understand how that addiction develops. I think overall, the need to be tan is linked to self-esteem. People think that they will be happier with themselves if they are tan. They think it will cause others to notice them more. But this obsession with being ultra tan cannot continue – unless skin cancer is what we’re all aiming for.
But I’m not saying we should be vampires and hide from the sun, either. No sun at all is equally unhealthy. I think that everyone who does want to get a glow on should focus more on doing various activities outdoors instead of laying out in the sun or going to a tanning salon. If you go boating, or read a book outside, or play soccer, or have a cookout, you’ll get sun. But your focus won’t be on tanning, it will be on whatever your activity is. You’ll still get tan like you want to, but it won’t turn into an addiction.
And ultimately, we need to realize that being super tan won’t really make us more happy with ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with just having a healthy glow. And sure, I may never win that competition with my friend, but if it means not getting sun poisoning or skin cancer, I can definitely live with that.