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To Tan Or Not To Tan? How To Be Pale & Proud

To tan or not to tan? That is the question! Right up there with glistening white teeth and a clear complexion, sunkissed skin has become a highly desirable physical attribute for many. Magazine spreads, advertising billboards and TV spots are dedicated towards convincing us that a healthy, natural glow is the “must have” accessory every summer – if not year round! And it’s not just the media and advertising industries who advocate having a tan, either – studies have shown that rather than porcelain skin, a bronzed glow makes us appear more attractive to others.

Newsflash: I am very pale. I have white “milk bottle” skin, and I love it. Not everyone does, though. It seems that there is always someone out there who has something to say about my pale colouring. When I spent three months in Bordeaux, I lived with a host family. They used to say that my skin was “blanc, comme lait!” And even in England, fellow Brits – not always the most tanned of people! – like to voice their opinion on my skin. At a music festival, walking along in my bright red wellies, someone thought it appropriate to tell me, “You’re too pale for those wellies!”

I completely understand why having a tan – real or fake – is appealing. First of all, we need vitamin D to be healthy, and the best place to get it is from the sun. And, on a purely superficial level, a tan covers up redness and blotchy skin, and can make us appear thinner and more svelte. We all know how good people look with bronzed, post-holiday skin, and we all know that people can look washed out and ill if they’re too pale. I can’t deny that the benefits of getting a tan are many – so why don’t I do it?

I don’t tan because…

I accept myself
I think that one of the most valuable things any individual can do is learn to accept themselves exactly the way they are. Part of this means working with your physical attributes rather than against them. For example, I wouldn’t get a perm or spend two hours curling my hair every morning because my hair is naturally straight – and so I wear it that way. My skin is pale, so rather than fiddling about with bottles of St Tropez or lounging around on sunbeds, I just go with it. Life is a whole lot easier once you start to live this way, trust me!

I don’t like being in the sun
Every year, when the seasons change from winter to spring, I suffer from a condition called polymorphic light eruption. Sounds painful, but it’s actually just an irritating rash that appears on my chest, neck, upper arms, and even the tops of my feet. Luckily, it only flares up for a couple of weeks and once I become climatised to the sunny weather, my skin goes back to normal. However, living with PMLE means that I don’t exactly rejoice as soon as the warmer weather makes an appearance – and I certainly don’t slap on some tanning oil and run outside!

I don’t want to burn, age prematurely, or get cancer
I’m sure that I would tan, if I slapped on a low enough SPF and spent hours in the sun, but sunbathing bores me to tears. If I somehow happened to end up with a light glow by the end of the summer then that would be fine, but I don’t intentionally go out into the sun for long periods of time. Sunburn is painful and I don’t want to get wrinkles! Plus, vanity aside, tanning – whether it be out in sunlight or indoors on a sunbed – is, of course, extremely dangerous. Are you really willing to give yourself skin cancer just to improve your appearance? I’m not.

I don’t want to be orange!
Okay, everyone knows about the dangers of sunbeds, UVA and UVB rays, staying out in the sun for too long, et cetera – so why not fake it instead? Well, fake tan and bronzer are two beauty buys that, frankly, I just can’t be bothered with. Aside from a brief flirtation with a gradual tan moisturiser – which left me with wrinkly orange elbows, much to the amusement of my friends – I have never used fake tan or bronzer. Orange palms and white armpits just aren’t on my beauty agenda! I’d rather spend my time, effort and money on other things.

How to be “pale and interesting”

Find your pale role models
To me, Nicola Roberts is the poster girl of the “pale and interesting” look. Towards the end of last year she not only created her own line of make up for girls with pale skin, but presented a documentary highlighting the dangers of tanning. There are many celebrities, fashion bloggers and regular girls who are confident, secure and absolutely stunning – all without a trace of fake tan. Find pale-skinned beauties you admire, define them as your role models, and look at their picture whenever anyone tries to convince you that pale skin is anything other than beautiful.

Look after your skin
Having such light skin means that things like cuts, bruises and blemishes are more obvious to the casual observer. Look after your skin by using a body brush before you shower, exfoliating regularly, moisturising daily and investing in cosmetics which will enhance your natural colour. And, of course, apply suncream with a high sun protection factor – yes, even in winter – and your skin will stay porcelain all year round. Remember that even if you don’t want to tan, you still need vitamin D – so some exposure to sunlight is necessary!

Make your pale skin a feature
I have made my skin a feature by dyeing my hair black and playing up the contrast between my hair and skin, à la Dita von Teese. Figure out how you can make your pale skin a feature for you. Christina Hendricks is known not only for her incredible figure, but for her pale skin which complements her red hair. Will you be a vampish beauty like Kristen Stewart, a pink-cheeked English Rose like Keira Knightley, or the sweet girl-next-door like Kirsten Dunst? Pale doesn’t have to be synonymous with sickly, drab, and lifeless – make your skintone work in your favour!

Finally, remember that beauty ideals are always changing, and something that’s considered to be attractive now won’t necessarily be seen in the same way a few years down the line. (Just think of Marilyn Monroe’s curves to Nicole Richie’s size 0 frame, and back again!) Though you may feel pressured to get a tan from the media, well-meaning relatives and even comments from strangers, remember that this is your natural skintone, and it’s a part of who you are. Love it, embrace it, and most of all, show it off – it’s what makes you beautiful.

Recommended Reading
Why I Won’t Be Getting A Sun Tan is a wonderful post from Hey Dollface.
Skin Secrets by Liz Earle is full of skincare advice – no matter what your shade.
You Look Fab has a great post titled To Tan Or Not To Tan?

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