I heard it for the first time this year and it made me cringe. A friend of mine referred to herself as pasty — you know, as pale as white paste. It was a derogatory comment about her body and I hated to hear it.
My friend is beautiful, with creamy skin that is (by the way) several shades darker than mine. She was letting her fear about exposing her pale arms and legs dictate what she was going to wear. Why? Because somewhere along the line someone told her pale skin is unattractive. I disagree.
It used to be that pale skin was considered attractive because it meant that you didn’t have to work in the field and get tanned by the sun. Victorian poetry is full of references to “milky white skin” and “alabaster shoulders”. Then, in the early 20th century the wealthy elite began to vacation in France and came back tanned. It was exotic and fashionable. Coco Chanel even said, “The 1929 girl must be tanned.” Suddenly, pale skin was no longer worthy.
If you were tanned, people asked, “Where have you been?” It was exciting. But not everyone can go to Nice to brown. So, people began to tan at home, or in tanning salons (a 3 billion dollar industry last year).
That was kind of fun for a while, until we learned about melanoma and other skin cancers, and how rays age us prematurely. It is estimated that more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer are linked to indoor tanning.
Still, primarily young, Caucasian women stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la-la-la-la-la” and follow the tanning industry narrative that tanned skin is attractive and pale skin is ugly. I disagree.
Tanning is an outdated “beauty” pursuit that is as unfashionable as oversized shoulder pads, that robs you of your youth, beauty, and sometimes your life. It is as deplorable as skin lightening creams for women of color. It is an acceptance that your skin isn’t beautiful, isn’t good enough when you ignore the health risks and buy into the marketing of tanning companies that state you have to tan to look well. I reject that — for you and for me.
Women of color rightly refer to their shades of skin with lovely descriptive words like ebony, mocha, and fawn. Those of us with paler hues need to follow their example with positive words like ivory, porcelain, and alabaster.
We need to accept the shade of skin we have, recognize its beauty, and we need to change the narrative. It’s imperative for us and for future generations.
I’m not pasty: I’m the color God made me. I value that and I refuse to tan.
To see how skin cancer affects all of us, watch this moving video “Dear 16 Year Old Me” here.
Find out more: All facts obtained for this article and more information about skin cancer may be found here at www.skincancer.org.