By definition, I am an unequivocal, salt-of-the-earth sun-worshipper. If you don’t believe me, know that I come from a family that hosts an annual tanning competition. You read that correctly.
My youth was spent running around the beach barefoot, barely clothed, and bathed in the harsh Australian sun. In my teenage years, I went to unspeakable lengths to make sure I returned to start the school year as tanned as was possible. I would wear white to make my colour more obvious, and relished in my tan lines.
While it’s not something that is uniquely Australian, being tanned is about the closest thing to tradition we have. We all know we’re supposed to wear sunscreen, but meh—let’s not waste valuable tanning hours talking about that now.
Until very recently, beauty standards dictated that obtaining a tan was the most beautiful thing a girl could do. To be bronzed is a symbol of status. It shows you’ve been on holiday, are relaxed, and are at one with the beach (à la Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush).
In pursuit of a “healthy glow,” I’ve done an untold amount of damage to my skin. My natural skin tone is olive, which, rather than make me feel grateful for all of its shades, made me feel pressured and stressed, like I was on a deadline each summer. When you tan, not only are you at risk of skin cancer, but you are messing with the texture of your skin and speeding up its ageing processes, too. Your skin loses its moisture. You are, essentially, begging for hyperpigmentation. Have you ever had a scan of your face to show your sun damage? I have, and it is truly terrifying.
Everyone who knows me will be shocked at my decision to veto a tan and don a wide-brim hat. My decision to no longer treat myself like a rotisserie chicken was born from a mixture of factors over a long period. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more conscious of the way I treat my body. It’s more about celebrating, and far less about commiserating and comparing. The inclusive and empowered changing beauty standards of today have put my own hang-ups and me on notice. I used to think I needed a tan in summer because that was what others expected of me. In all honestly, it felt good to have people comment on how tanned I was, but that’s no longer what I want. I’m going to relax at the beach, swim, and spend time with my friends without feeling a crippling pressure to torture my skin cells.
I am going to spend my summers embracing my soft, healthy skin, and not spend my nights dehydrated, radiating heat, and being unable to touch my nearest and dearest. It’s not to say that the tan trend is dead, but it is well and truly time we re-evaluate what pushes us to want to fry ourselves. Not to get dramatic about it, but we are literally risking our lives for a ~healthy glow~.
Words, Domonique Chevalley.