Thin, tan and beautiful?

Christine Whelan | Posted on 05/13/10

We judge people for being overweight. We think they lack self-control and aren't smart about what they eat. And we do this all in the name of health: Being overweight has myriad health implications. But if that's the case, why do we still think being tan is attractive?

According to a new survey out from the American Academy of Dermatology, even though 80% of respondents said they were concerned about skin cancer and thought it was important to protect themselves against the disease, 72% said they thought people look more attractive with a tan, and 66% said that people look healthier when tanned.

We know too much exposure to the sun is unhealthy. We know that tanning skin means that it is being damaged by cancer-causing rays. Yet still, the vast majority of Americans think being tan is a good thing.

I'm as guilty of it as the next guy. I'm wearing shorts when I run so that my legs aren't so bright-white as summer rolls around. I try to get a tan before college reunions, and other see-and-be-seen events. (And I live in the least "sun-smart" city in the nation, apparently: Since it's always so cloudy in Pittsburgh, we think being tan is great. Because so few of us are.) We get after the Jersey Shore cast for leathery skin, sure, but having "a little color" is considered good. Healthy.

Why? As usual, it comes down to social class

150 years ago a little extra fat was considered a sign of wealth. The most affluent women were supposed to be round... and pale. Manual laborers, the lower class, worked outside. They were thin and tanned. But now that caloric food is in abundance, being thin is a sign of affluence. And being pale means you work too hard in an office and don't get away for leisure.

So, to look rich, eat a few sticks of celery and sit out in the sun... wait, no... <sigh> Enjoy your summer.

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