The pale versus tan debate is one I find absolutely fascinating. In fact, I found my research so compelling that I divided my article into 3 different parts! Here's part 2, hope you enjoy:)
'Tis the season to be tanning...wait, what?
Yes, that winter "glow", i.e. the look of death that emanates from pale skin, is not on most people's Christmas wish list. Tanning beds fill up, trips to Cabo doublebook, it seems that being a fair maiden means not what it used to once upon a time (more on the history of tanning popularity in part 1).
But most importantly, it reflects the 21st century Occidental beauty ideal that is glowing, Mediterranean, tan skin. When did "tan" become the new spokesperson for health and beauty, and what does that mean for the rest of us anatomy doll lookalikes?
Someone once told me, after I commented on their dangerous tanning habit and pointed out the risk of skin cancer:
"Well, you gotta die of something".
It's this kind of complacent self-destructive attitude that worries me most about the tanning fad.
I'm not going to lecture you about the serious repercussions of sun beds; the severe wrinkles, melanoma, damaged skin, skin cancer, excess dehydration, and shortened life expectancy.
Your grandmother could use ignorance as an excuse for laying out in the sun for hours on end; you, my darling, cannot.
The psychosocial term of the day is "tanorexia", or an addiction to tanning.
There have been many critics of this pseudo-scientific diagnosis, and I agree with some of them, but whenever I see a so-called addiction, just like plastic surgery or shopping addiction, I always aim to find the underlying issues, the insecurities that would push someone to such potentially fatal extremes.
Let's take a look at what's really happening here:
Biochemical: For tanning addicts, tanning causes the release of endorphins, also known as the "happy" molecule. A study conducted in 2006 showed that "when frequent tanners took an endorphin blocker, they experienced severe withdrawal symptoms, while infrequent tanners experienced no withdrawal symptoms under the same conditions" (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology).
Hence, from a neurological standpoint, a "tanorexic" lacks natural endorphin releases in his/her life, implying that tanning has become a coping mechanism for depression, anxiety and general low self-esteem. Pretty legit so far...
Insecurities: I often wondered where the term "tanorexic" even came from, since we usually add the suffix -holic to anything in order to coin said thing's addict. But it turns out the idea behind the use of the eating disorder "anorexia" in the name stems from the common ground of poor self-esteem and distorted body image.
The idea is pretty simple: most of us feel, from time to time, a little low on confidence.
|Tanning mom, a popular mediatized example of "tanorexia"|
However, if you suffer from an eating disorder or "tanorexia", your idea of yourself and your body is so distorted, so negative that you will take extreme measures to correct your flaws.
However, we know these flaws are often greatly exaggerated or even non-existent, so this poor sufferer will never stop trying to perfect his/herself. What does that mean for "tanorexics"?
Well, they believe they are unacceptably pale, and will keep tanning to reach the darkness they need to feel "okay". BUT THEY WILL NEVER REACH THE "PERFECT" LEVEL OF TAN, , as the real problem lies in their self-image, not the complexion of their pigment (yes, I just quoted Macklemore, deal.)
That is the real danger for real tanning addicts: there is no limit, and there never will be.
They will go for the gold (skin) until they burn to ashes.
Have a lovely day, stay tuned for part 3:)