The Paw Print

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The Paw Print

The Paw Print

The History of Fake-Tanning


In a world full of Eurocentric beauty standards, why is tanning so prevalent in Western culture? 


Tanning is still extremely frowned upon in non-Western society, as years of colonialism and imperialism have caused so much colorism and internalized racism in their beauty standards. But in America and Europe, having a tan is seen as attractive. And if it cannot be achieved naturally, then women must do it themselves. 


I’m doing a project for my speech and debate class on the history of makeup. Around the 1920’s, it mentioned how companies started offering suntanned shades. America had seen a significant increase in immigrants and an exotic, ethnic look, became desired. This highly contrasted with previous cosmetic trends. Queen Elizabeth I poisoned herself with lead paint because she wanted to look lighter. Pale skin was the epitome of beauty, wealth, and class. It differentiated manual laborers who had to work in the sun from the rich who sat in their homes.


With some historical context, we know the Industrial Revolution, which occurred a century and a half ago, meant a shift from an agricultural-based economy to a mass manufacturing system. Workers were in factories and mines, giving the rich more opportunities for outdoor recreation. This combined with the appeal of having racial ambiguity like other immigrants made tanning popular in Western society.


Fake tanning has taken many forms since the early 20th century. We have tanning beds, spray tans, and tanning lotions now. The cosmetic industry has expanded shade ranges and offers products that give you a bronze glow. It’s interesting how wealthy, white people try to emulate poor people of color while also separating themselves from them. They pick and choose different features but still maintain a level of superiority. If they can’t take things completely away from marginalized groups, they adapt their culture to incorporate the aspects that they deem favorable. It is a questionable practice and leads people to wonder whether Western society should continue to tan as aggressively as they do.

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