Get a Little Bit of Colour
August 17, 2012 3:44 PM   Subscribe

"Bronzer was offered up to me in make-up stores when I started painting my face for fun, as consultants tutted over my unfortunate foundation match: invariably ’00’, ‘porcelain’, or some other snide euphemism for melaninically challenged." Memoirs of a Ghost; or, being pale in a world where only tanned is beautiful.

She may stress the first world nature of this problem, but there are are currently 9,990,000 results for 'do guys like pale girls' on Google. As tanning becomes more and more popular, people have become critical of pale women, which has left some naturally pale folk feeling defensive. It can even be hard to find foundation for very pale skin even in predominantly white and pasty countries.
posted by mippy (98 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My mother’s description of my ‘unhealthy’ legs meant that I still wear skin-coloured tights in blistering heat;

Yep, being teased about my pale legs is why I don't wear shorts, even when it's 95 degrees. Of course, this just compounds the problem.
posted by desjardins at 3:46 PM on August 17, 2012

If you put "do guys like pale girls" in quotes I'm only getting 15,500 results. Sorry, pet peeve when people use google results numbers as an example of something but then don't put the query in quotes.
posted by cell divide at 3:58 PM on August 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

Porcelain is hardly hate speech.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:01 PM on August 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

There are many gorgeous shades of natural skin tone. But I watched my mother die of melanoma when I was 10 years old. I remember helping her go to the bathroom in a bedpan, with tumors poking out this way and that on her skeletal frame, bald from the chemo, and often screaming in pain. Then of course, having to bury her. There's nothing "beautiful" about that.

I have very dark hair, but even "porcelain" concealers are too dark for me. I'm pale (prefer the term "naturally goth"), but once you've seen the horrific flipside of messing with your skin's natural disposition, you pretty much rock the translucent look rather proudly.
posted by raztaj at 4:01 PM on August 17, 2012 [45 favorites]

As a goth-ish person of color I have so many feelings right now.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:02 PM on August 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

After all the threads on bros lately, I can't seem to see the word bronzer and not read it bro-nzer.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:03 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If someone (seriously, persistently) criticizes the color or shade of your skin, they are just telling you "Ignore me! I don't know what's important!".
posted by benito.strauss at 4:07 PM on August 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Yes. We wife was eventually diagnosed with a kind of albinoism. So maybe it works both ways?
posted by boo_radley at 4:08 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am dismayed by the number of ways we devise to make some of us feel unattractive.
posted by tommasz at 4:10 PM on August 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

If you put "do guys like pale girls" in quotes I'm only getting 15,500 results. Sorry, pet peeve when people use google results numbers as an example of something but then don't put the query in quotes.

Sorry, I thought I had. Few tabs open round these parts.

Here's what I find odd. In the UK, the majority of folk are white, either those who are 'from here' or have migrated from Eastern Europe in the past few years. The next biggest ethnic group are Asians, with the brown skin tone that you get when your antecedents grew up in the sub-continent. Then Afro-Carribean people, with all the shades of brown and black you find in Africa and the West Indies. Put together, this is, admittedly, a lot of different shades and those who manufacture make-up products would probably struggle to suit all of them perfectly. What isn't explained, though, is why most high-street and a lot of high-end cosmetic brands do colours in a) over-milky instant coffee b)river flowing past an ironworks c) overcooked pastry d) dried clementine e) red setter on a tropical holiday . Where are all the orange people that these colours are supposed to match? I do not see them.
posted by mippy at 4:11 PM on August 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Porcelain is hardly hate speech.

No, it's not, but this is just another depressing example of why many women feel we can never, ever win. She gives the example of her Filipino roommate, who's encouraged to lighten her skin, while the author is encouraged to make it darker.

It's always something. Too busty, too flat-chested, too fat, too skinny, too tomboyish, too high maintenance, too much makeup, too plain, on and on.
posted by desjardins at 4:13 PM on August 17, 2012 [52 favorites]

Where are all the orange people that these colours are supposed to match? I do not see them.
Ohio. That's where John Boehner is from, anyhow.
posted by adamrice at 4:17 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Christ, he looks like a statue of Don Draper carved from teak.
posted by mippy at 4:19 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

In fairness, I don't think I know a single woman of any skin color who's happy with the foundation shades available. I'm pale - like lightest shade available pale - and everything is too pink, too peach or too dark or too yellow. WTF, no one but Ms Pac-Man is that yellow.

I live in Southern California in beachy San Diego. When I look around I see tons of not-tanned, gorgeous people (including surfers, paddleboarders and other athletes). People are getting the message to wear sunscreen.

Marketers exist to sell products. Convincing you that you need something is what they do. No crime in that.
posted by 26.2 at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh yes. Things have gotten better, believe it or not. As a teen, I spent every single summer weekend on the beach (in Vancouver) and after months of tanning, could only muster a tiny, vaguely grubby discolouration that rubbed off if I washed too hard. The joys of Scandihoovian ancestry. At least it beats my Mom, who routinely went lobster red and peeled.

The good thing about this is that you soon stop sunbathing, or at least you stop sunbathing without SPF 50+. There's no point to it anyway.

I've always rather liked my translucent, cave-fish-like skin, at least on my face. The dead fish belly legs are less appealing but out of all the myriad of things there are to hate on about my body, my skin tone is at the bottom of the list.
posted by jrochest at 4:22 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where are all the orange people that these colours are supposed to match? I do not see them.

New Jersey
posted by Forktine at 4:24 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did worry that I might frame this in a way that suggested that people hating on being pale is OMG RACISM IN REVERSE; I think the thing is that it isn't just people being proud of being pale in a non-white-pride kinda way, but that this kind of super-tanned look has become the dominant image for what's attractive, and there doesn't leave much room there for women who are either very pale or very dark.

I'm not remotely qualified to really talk about caste or what skin shade means for black women, but I do find it interesting that a few years ago it was a sign of poverty to be thin and tanned, and now caricatures of the underclass show overweight, pale people in ill-fitting clothing.
posted by mippy at 4:33 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was in law school I had a foreign student roommate and we hung out with a lot of foreign students. A young woman from the Middle East said to my roommate, in a very miffed tone, "Why is Eyebrows so pale? Does she not know American women are supposed to be tanned?"

My roommate (from New Zealand) expressed mild surprise and said something about how I was probably trying not to get skin cancer.

The first woman was unimpressed and replied, "Has she never heard of self tanner?"

It seriously bothered her for the entire time she knew me and she got increasingly aggressive about bringing up that I did not meet the skin color beauty ideal that she had in her head for Americans, which I think was based on this sort of thing. It was very strange because this rule only seemed to apply to female Americans in her head.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:40 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am a male with very, very white skin. Now at 50 yrs old, I am still struggling with the fact that to the greater majority, I am "GINGER." It is not funny. It is not endearing. It is hateful. I have in recent weeks been at the grocery store while paying my bill...was remarked on...over how white I was. A smirking, middle age man remarking on my Porcelain Skin....How the fuck do you think that made me feel?? Well you say, grow a pair and don't let it bother you...That's what I tell myself as buy yet another bottle of spray on tan. At least with SOME color I can go out in shorts to a ball game. IF I PREPARE. Days of spraying so I don;t look too orange...and even if I do look a little will be a fleeting glance..and maybe the person looking won't notice that its fake. I hope. If they do...well perhaps they won't say anything.
I have lived all my life withouth the simple joy of pulling off my shirt in the sunshine and feeling like the rest of the guys. All my fucking life. Who would ever, EVER want to be a glowing white guy in the middle of tanned guys playing football in the park. I am not at the age yet to where I have the fuck everyone, I am at least comfortable, stage....Maybe when I am 80. Right now I am really pissed off at my genes....50 years of no color sucks. It just sucks.
posted by shockingbluamp at 4:43 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the thing is that it isn't just people being proud of being pale in a non-white-pride kinda way

People of a lot of different backgrounds are super pale. I don't personally see this as a subject of "white-ness," but much more about experience and expectations. I'm half Indian-Pakistani, and my dad was pretty tan/dark. I'm super duper pale and mostly get mistaken for being Latina or Arab, sometimes East Asian, though I have no recently traceable roots to any of those backgrounds. It's ridiculous that anyone get shit for something that's beyond our control - none of us are responsible for how the genetic cards fall.
posted by raztaj at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2012

... lobster red and peeled...
... translucent, cave-fish-like skin...
... dead fish belly legs...

jrochest, I never noticed until your comment how much marine imagery I use to describe my own paltry-melanin appearance.

It's good to see more examples of people bucking the trend to tan, especially since the dangers are well known now. I always hope that every few years when pale models dominate the catwalk in Paris and New York that it will catch on in the US, but it never does.

I still try to tan every once in a while. I always burn and never learn my lesson. It's not that I want to be less pale, but rather I just wish I could be less blue.
posted by Vysharra at 4:50 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am reminded of two conversations I had a few days apart about two years ago. I was at the beach for a week in celebration of the wedding of some friends, and a certain person, previously a stranger, was trying to be friendly. Mind you, both times I was wearing a giant sun hat and long sleeves. I am of the pale and freckly people.
Her, glancing at me, apropos of nothing: Are you going to try to get a tan this week? I'm going to get out in the sun!
Me: Um, no, I don't really tan. I just freckle and burn, really.
Her: Oh, I'm sure you could get some color!
Me: I'm not really into tanning, actually. I'll probably just go bodysurfing a lot.

Several days later, we met up again on the beach.
Her: See! You're starting to get some color!
Me: I have a sunburn.
Her: Well, but maybe it will fade to a tan?

It was so foreign to her that I might not want to be a different color than I am that even when I told her I wasn't interested, she didn't really believe me. All I could do was walk away and rage silently, since throwing down with "I AM A PERFECTLY FINE COLOR RIGHT GODDAMN NOW, BITCH." would probably have freaked out my newlywed friends. Sometimes I think it would have been worth it, though.
posted by Adridne at 4:52 PM on August 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm not incredibly pale; much less so than my red-headed sister, in fact. Living in Tucson, I tan a little tiny bit just from the constant sun exposure. And yet, it took me years and years to find a foundation that wasn't far too orange. The lightest foundations were too light, and all the rest made me feel like an oompa-loompa.

Also, I'm reminded of a long-ago fan site I was on where someone commented about a picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar that you could see the blue veins on her chest, and that was nasty, and why didn't she get a tan? I felt compelled to defend those of us who have translucent skin, and not tanning, of course. In certain lighting, my larger veins are visible through my skin on my face, even. And now I'm just rambling.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:59 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is why I rock the farmer tan. It renders these kinds of judgement moot when you are all colors and none at once.
posted by fshgrl at 5:00 PM on August 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

I walk into a meeting at work. The person running it glances at me and says apropos of nothing, You are the whitest person in the company! And who walks in, saving me just in time, but a very sweet albino, who states plain flat, No, I am. I learned that day to not be embarrassed by my paleness.

It's not that I don't tan. I can't. I don't burn either, which puts me at a severe risk of skin cancer. Runs in my family; one of my uncles who sails has had his nose completely rebuilt due to melanoma.

Rocking the goth look unintentionally.
posted by vers at 5:06 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am also this kind of pale. I once gave myself second-degree burns by forgoing sunscreen for one afternoon at a waterpark in Florida. This was because I was a teenager and had terrible, irresponsible teenage reasons, among which was the fact that I thought a good sunburn would basically replace the pale, bumpy skin on my arms, which I hated. (And which was perfectly adorable, of course, unbeknownst to me. I wouldn't wear sleeveless shirts in public until I was about old enough to vote.)

I've never been a huge fan of it, but I've come to terms with it. It's like being naturally Rubensesque -- you're out of fashion, but it's some comfort to know that there was a fashion once with you in it.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:18 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Pale is awesome.

And for the record, it's "alabaster" skin.
posted by Justinian at 5:18 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm exactly the same, vers. I just end up looking like freckly Stilton. I work alongside two people who tan very easily as well - they went on holiday to the Mediterranean around the same time and got very tan competitive. One went on sunbeds so he wouldn't be 'pasty' in his shorts, and came back looking astonishingly dark. Mind you, my last holiday involved being snowed on in Finland and Sweden. I get new moles and freckles sometimes, but no tanning.

It's weird that it is one of those things that people comment on. Usually, I'm the tallest woman, the biggest feet, the biggest bust, the flattest vowels, sometimes the largest, and sometimes the palest - as Other as another white woman in the room can get - but only one of those is something people feel comfortable commenting on.

My favourite farmer tan is Hank Hill's. If you ever see him undressing in an episode, his torso is a shade whiter than his arms and head, and his 'heinie' is a shade whiter than that. I always thought that was a cute touch.
posted by mippy at 5:18 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unlike the author, I long ago accepted my paleness and the stupid foundation names that come along with it (I told my husband once that I wanted a foundation with the shade name "Pasty Bitch"), but I refuse to accept the fact that I will never meet David Bowie.
posted by rebel_rebel at 5:18 PM on August 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

In reply to all these people asking "do guys like pale girls" on Google, the answer is yes.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:26 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had seriously thought we left the tanned ideal behind fifteen years ago. I too, live in Southern California, where evidently people think everyone is pursuing the perfect tan. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Tan skin seems to be the province of contractors and cosmopolitan-swilling cougars.

Full disclosure; I am brown haired, green eyed, of anglo descent. Two of my three kids have coppery red hair, the oldest is dirty blonde. We have slathered them in sunscreen since they were born, unlike me. I have a burgeoning population of actinic keratoses on my arms, and someday will look like my father, who has had so much cut off of him he looks like a burn victim - he's even missing the tops of his ears.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. And if anyone actually taunts you about being pale, wait for thirty years - as their sun damaged skin wrinkles and sags, or worse, turns into multi colored patches of moles, liver spots, and precancerous globs of flaking, dying skin - you just point and laugh.
posted by Xoebe at 5:29 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, what a tremendous set of false assumptions!

"Tan = good-looking" probably peaked in the U.S. around the 1950s. It's as outmoded as "gentlemen prefer blondes." If tanning is mentioned in the media these days it's usually the subject of mockery, ie Snooki or "tan Mom."
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Clearly there is something wrong with me. I really really like pale skin, on men and women. And I really really like very dark skin, on both men and women. Hell, I like caramel, chocolate, cream, pink, rosy, tan - in fact - my business logo colours are selected from Illustrator's skin palette. True story.

WTF, people? Haven't we learned anything yet?!

And hair colours and cuts, I like traditional and outrageous, natural and absurd. I like curly and wavy and kinky and straight and dark and light and dyed and not and dreads and mohawks and faux hawks and bobs, ginger, auburn, red, blonde, ash, grey, white, brunette, black, blue black - what's not to like???
posted by b33j at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

On the other hand I naturally turn orange-y when I get tanned ( no fake bake, no tanning bed, just natural glorious sun). I blame my Dutch ancestry for it
posted by raccoon409 at 5:42 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

For my honey-beige self, I would like to say, that indeed pale is pretty. Lord knows enough romance novels love, "alabaster", "translucent" and "pearl-like" skin tones. Further, while traveling I come across a lot of skin bleaching product to note that being "alabaster" is a freaking goal for a not inconsequential part of the female population.
posted by jadepearl at 5:44 PM on August 17, 2012

I came here to say something like b33j said. All the variations in the ways people can look! I love it so much.

Further, and more to the "google question" point: I "like" and am attracted to all sorts of women. I don't think I'm particularly unique in that respect among the heterosexual men in the western world.
posted by King Bee at 5:59 PM on August 17, 2012

I am dismayed by the number of ways we devise to make some of us feel unattractive.

The single greatest enemy of capitalism is a person who has enough.
posted by mhoye at 6:06 PM on August 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

Wow, I find all this rather alien to me. Over in my part of the woods (South East Asia and the Far East in general), everyone (well, mostly women) wants to be as fair as possible. Skin whitening products line the shelves, from creams and powders to supplements and food products.

I get compliments from many people (especially older folks) about how fair I am. I used to be a nut brown kid who went swimming alot, until puberty hit and I stopped being able to tan. My first sunburn was a lesson in pain. If you look at Asian brands such as Etude House, Face Shop, Shiseido, Fancl, Olay and Kanebo, you'll find they have heaps of skin-whitening and/or UV protection products.
posted by Alnedra at 6:12 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

mippy, I think we may be sisters, or at least cousins!
posted by vers at 6:15 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mom's family all have rosacea, and my outdoor-working dad has skin the color of "brick red" in the Crayola box. I have medium-pink skin that I am forever trying to bleach to alabaster with sunscreen and the power of my mind, because with any sun contact I don't tan, I turn angry boiled lobster.

Once I was getting a mani-pedi at a salon I like because I am painfully shy at smalltalk and at this salon the kind nail technicians have figured this out and let me sit quietly for grooming as they talk to each other in Vietnamese. That day despite the Vietnamese I realized that they--'they' being half a dozen gorgeous Vietnamese-American ladies with immaculately groomed hair/nails and flawlessly smooth makeup/skin--were talking about me in an excited way, so I went "hmmm?" with the politely inquisitive Do you need my input? eyebrows.

And the lady buffing my hands beamed and said, "We're talking about how we love your arms. They're so WHITE!"

Just thinking about it still makes me want to curl up in a conflicted ball of "Gorgeous people have found me attractive!!!" / "OHGOD I AM THE CULTURALLY RACIST OPPRESSOR."
posted by nicebookrack at 6:19 PM on August 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am shark-underbelly colored (a friend calls me "daywalker"). I used to hate it. Now it's just how I am. I don't tan because I can't tan, I burn, and I can maybe just get some of the freckles to join up. I stressed about it when I was a kid, now I'm a grownup. But people do still seem to think it's okay to remark on how white my legs are if I dare to wear capris or something in the summer (yes, I can see in the dark by the light reflecting off my legs! How clever you are! Nobody has ever remarked on that before in my WHOLE FUCKING LIFE).
posted by biscotti at 6:31 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Tan = good-looking" probably peaked in the U.S. around the 1950s. It's as outmoded as "gentlemen prefer blondes."

No, it's not outmoded, otherwise people wouldn't constantly comment on the "unhealthy" look of pale skin.
posted by desjardins at 6:41 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I happpen to pine for the pale ladies that Christopher Moore dubbed "snowy biscuits." I met him once (at work oddly enough) and thanked him for providing a mental category for my crush objects. Mmmmm, snowy biscuit.

Be proud, wear sunscreen and rock a big floppy lady hat.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 6:53 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am pale and totally ok with it. At 34, all the girls I went to school with who tanned regularly (including my sister) look older. They have lots of white/brown spots on their chest and arms (especially). My husband jokingly calls me milky white, but it is totally paying off.
posted by Kronur at 6:57 PM on August 17, 2012

Looking deep into the darkest heart of the matter (or taking the Google game straight into the gutter, take you pick) I find that "tan porn" gets 68,800 hits while "pale porn" get's 91,300 hits. So roughly 32% of the people saying pale skin looks unhealthy are actually creepy perverts in denial.

If that doesn't exactly make you feel better, welcome to my world after I spent 15 minutes trying to find Metafilter's Own Lore Sjöberg's "I'm Somebody's Fetish" comic and all the things I can never unsee that endeavor led to.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:25 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Went out for a date tonight, got dressed up. While we were having dessert I propped my foot up on my boyfriend's knee. He said he'd never noticed just exactly how pale I am until I put on black shoes.

And then it made sense why he asked if I was wearing stockings before we left the house. Because the contrast was somehow shocking in a way that flip flops or my usual brown shoe selections (brown is usually less expensive) doesn't match.
posted by tulip-socks at 7:27 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also have all the feelings. Mostly that I wish having this so-called"good fortune of Indian parentage" was real, because it's hard for me to get a job IN FREAKIN' MALAYSIA - y'know, an ASIAN country - because myskin colour emphasises the supposed truth of "dirty Banglas". But I come from the land of Fair nd Lovely, after all. Never mind coming to Australia or the US where the only time I get complimented for my skin colour is if my livelihood didn't depend on looking so foreign.
posted by divabat at 7:27 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I spent my teenhood being teased about my pale skin, but it never comes up anymore. In fact, my neighborhood is teeming with recent immigrants from India and China who walk around with with umbrellas and safari caps to avoid darkening or damaging their skin. SPF 50+ is the happening look round these parts, ironically less than 50 miles from the beach that spawned Snooki and JWoww.

Also, I haven't found it that difficult to get foundation to match. Twenty years ago it was tricky because the lightest foundations tended to have a blue/cool cast that looked like kabuki makeup on those of us with very pale but warm-toned skin. Now even drugstore foundations are available in cool/warm/neutral variations.
posted by apparently at 7:30 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with the essays linked, and this is an interesting post, but I will pretty much always be severely creeped out by phrases like "pale and proud".

That's fine, but skin colour is a big identifier in pretty much every society on the planet, and has been for a long time, and trying to make everyone view it through the lense of slavery in America, 1519–1867 (sorry if that's not what you're alluding to) is a major derail. This stuff is all bound up in local detail - Celtic v Germanic in Britain, the caste system in India, the Cordoba caliphate in Spain, Japanese expansionism etc.
posted by kersplunk at 7:35 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's such a mind-bender for USAians (I don't like the term, but 'Americans' isn't specific enough), who spend a lot of time and energy dealing with the legacy of our racism, to realize that there are all sorts of other types of racism in other cultures. The fact that they also deal in skin color, but have a different palette with difference rankings, helps highlight just how arbitrary they are.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:43 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't tan easily but will with long sun exposure with sunscreen or short burst without. Otherwise I burn. Well my face will tan a bit and my arms but my legs? Nope they just seem to do nothing or burn. I do try not to burn but if I do it usually turns into something a bit brown.

I actually don't find all over tanners very appealing and think that people that go for perfect and even tans all over whether in the actual sun look or tanning bed look pretty fake. My tans, when they occur happen from being out and active in the sun or snow so I get darker across my nose and cheeks and darker on the tops of the arms. That just seems like color thats just earned by doing something rather then specifically trying to get a tan.
posted by Jalliah at 7:44 PM on August 17, 2012

It's obscured by the article window that pops up, but some of the images in the background (which you can see if you close the article window) are NSFW. Not sure how this might appear in someone's work proxy log...
posted by sbutler at 7:48 PM on August 17, 2012

The main link in the FPP only gave me a blank page with a small Blogspot gears graphic in the center.

After I turned on cookies, temporarily and for this site only, it worked.

Stupid cookie-requirin' website coding. Bad web authoring tool, bad!
posted by intermod at 8:08 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

. . . In fact, my neighborhood is teeming with recent immigrants from India and China who walk around with with umbrellas

Is that why this is! I've noticed a lot of Asian women carrying parasols or umbrellas around Boston this summer. I didn't quite understand why, since they are usually just plain, functional shades and don't add anything to an outfit, but if it's to protect their skin, it makes sense.

In fact, it would make sense for me, too. I'm perfectly capable of picking up a light burn from spending a lot of time outdoors on a bright day. But it's hard enough for me to remember I carried an umbrella when it's been raining.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:08 PM on August 17, 2012

I'm naturally quite pale, and uninterested in tanning anymore. I was really surprised recently to find that while Target, a major retailer, stocks the line of foundation I wear, it stops halfway across the color spectrum; the lightest it goes is a sort of dark honey beige. It seems totally bizarre to me that I had to go to Walgreens to find the pale colors in that line.

I was also completely taken aback, during a farewell lunch for a coworker earlier this year, to find myself among an entire table of women completely preoccupied with tanning and its effects, spending at least 20 minutes discussing their favorite tanning salons, how they really needed to go tanning soon, how natural their spray tans did/didn't look, etc. I thought people had left that sort of social compulsion behind in high school, but apparently not...

On a related topic, I'd long known about skin bleaching among those with darker skin, but I inadvertently learned first-hand about one of the steroid creams people use to bleach their skin when I happened to be prescribed one (for a spot of skin irritation) last year. Within a few hours of applying it I panicked as I noticed a big round pale spot where it had (temporarily) bleached my skin. After calling the urgent-care center back to let them know that in the future, they should probably warn people about that side effect, I Googled a bit and found this scary article about people abusing prescription steroid creams to bleach their skin. So that's fun.
posted by limeonaire at 8:27 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, I guess another way of putting my position on this would be that I'm on the side of Normal-chan (NSFW in spots).
posted by limeonaire at 8:49 PM on August 17, 2012

this kind of super-tanned look has become the dominant image for what's attractive

I must be getting old, because I still think it looks comical. I mean, come on, yo, the ozone layer might not be dissolving away anymore, but skin cancer still sucks. And we can all tell you didn't get that level of tan by laying in the sun, because if you did, you'd be all fried up and wrinkly. I've seen those people and they're not pretty.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:59 PM on August 17, 2012

My response to most questions about why I don't expose more of myself to UV is "I'm working on my 'fade.'" Porcelain is beautiful, too.
posted by Graygorey at 9:25 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have literally never seen one of these super tanned people IRL, but I live in the Midwest.
posted by desjardins at 9:26 PM on August 17, 2012

I tried to get some sunscreen in Beijing but it was crazy expensive, like 12 USD for a travel size container. The sales lady tried to convince me over and over to get the skin-whitening lotion instead - much cheaper and more beautiful! I was concerned at how cost-probihitive sunscreen is, but practically all the young women in urban China carry parasols around everywhere. They're far better protected than I am on a daily basis. The things we won't do when it's *just our health, but if it's for beauty...
posted by estlin at 9:31 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've seen people wearing face visors around here to protect against the sun. There's a picture here: Solar Face Shield. They look pretty funny but I can see how they'd be effective. The thing that I find amazing is that I see people wearing them even in the winter on cloudy days. That's very dedicated.
posted by fansler at 10:09 PM on August 17, 2012

I get the most conflicted feedback about my skin all the time. I used to be quite tan as a kid but now I am pale and my mother regularly scolds me for not getting any sun. "You'll die of cancer and a Vitamin D deficiency like your grandmother did!" she tells me, even though she has miraculously avoided skin cancer despite having tanned an burned regularly as a young woman while taking accutane and wearing no sunscreen.

Then I get to work and the women there tell me that I will wrinkle less if I stay out of the sun regularly, encouraging me to sit in the shade with them whenever possible.

Then I go to the beach with guyfriends who impress upon me tr importance of consistent skin tone so I go tanning at a nude beach just to make sure I am tan all over (or just plain pale again). Tan lines are the big turnoff to this crowd.

All I want is clear skin and rosy cheeks but nobody seems to care about that anymore.
posted by Hello Darling at 10:57 PM on August 17, 2012

I have aristocratic, alabaster skin. Jessica Mitford, who hung around with my mother back in the last century, used to call me 'The Alabaster Baby'
Another term, out of 'Gone With The Wind' 'an interesting pallor'
Young ladies tried to look more pale, but it was associated with 'consumption' (TB) and Americans always have thought a slight tan indicated a healthy, athletic, out-door life.
I don't care, I am pale, comes With being pretty much mostly White. I refuse to give a damn about such thins anymore.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:23 PM on August 17, 2012

I'm of the opinion that everyone should have their skin whatever dang color they want it to be, including super tanned if they choose. I'm not going to police anyone about how they might get skin cancer -- they could just turn around and tell me all the reasons I'm going to die because I'm fat. Risks are well publicized, and people make their own choices.

However, I will throw in my little anecdote: my mother was very pale. Her four-years-younger sister spent a lot of time tanning. When my mom passed away at age 59, guess which one of them looked older?

Of course, not that there's anything wrong with the look of being old, but looking in your 60s when you're in your 50s doesn't seem fun to me...
posted by whitneyarner at 11:50 PM on August 17, 2012

I prefer to call my skin tone "Consumptive Victorian". I life in the SF Bay Area now (where we don't do that sun nonsense), but I come from Tennessee, Land of the Bronze. The last time I was home during the summer, women kept touching my skin and inquiring how it looked like that. But oh, oh! One day I will be old and lacking in wrinkly, sun-damaged skin, and then, how I shall laugh (from beneath the shade of my umbrella and hilarious sun hat).

Also, for pale persons struggling with makeup, check out NARS foundation in Siberia (haha, very funny) and Make Up For Ever HD in 107, 110, or 115.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:51 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't get where the idea that one particular skin tone is intrinsically more attractive than another, aside from issues that stem from actual racism of course. There are absolutely gorgeous people at every single point on the spectrum of possible human skin colors; this seems self-evident to me. How is that even in question?
posted by Scientist at 12:02 AM on August 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

This topic also reminds me of the reaction of my former roommate's black boyfriend when she had just returned from a vacation in Aruba, and she held her (still very pale) arm against my (extremely pale) arm and remarked about how much darker she was.

His reaction, naturally, was a lot of very slow shaking of his head.
posted by whitneyarner at 12:04 AM on August 18, 2012

I, too, am a member of the Belly Of A Blind Cave Fish Brigade. I used to worry about it, feel self-conscious, wrap myself in layers to hide it. When I was sixteen I sprouted a second-degree sunburn - blisters across my nose and cheekbones like some kind of scorched raccoon, and all across my shoulders and back too - and once that healed I had decided that the pain involved in Getting Some Sun was just not fucking worth it. (I live in Florida and I got every single dominant pasty-pale Baltic gene; I was a bad bad person in a past life.) Still have reddish marks from that. The skin feels different.

Mostly I can go about my life without commentary. Much more than I did at sixteen, anyway. When people speak up though, it's utterly bizarre. Why are you so pale? How come you don't tan? Don't you want to? I used to answer honestly, but the natural progression of that conversation was that whoever asked would try to 'help' me overcome this melanistic deficit, so I gave up on that.

Why are you so pale? Sheer force of will. Next I'm going to make my eyes purple.
How did you get that white? I bathe nude by the light of the full moon.
Why do you look like that? It's a family thing, we didn't get away from the Soviets before catching this weird engineered Soviet skin disease. Reunions are crazy, let me tell you.
Don't you ever go to the beach? The what? What's a beach?

A little smartassery goes a long way in persuading nosy strangers that I do not want their damn input about my pallor.

I'm with b33j. Variety is awesome. People being jerks about it sucks.
posted by cmyk at 12:09 AM on August 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Officially joining team "Variety is awesome. People being jerks about it sucks." It's really pretty amazing how it's a think where, like all those super fun societal beauty standards, no matter what you do, you can't win. A world where fake tanners and skin lighteners are both booming businesses is just epically fucked up.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:13 AM on August 18, 2012

And hair colours and cuts, I like traditional and outrageous, natural and absurd. I like curly and wavy and kinky and straight and dark and light and dyed and not and dreads and mohawks and faux hawks and bobs, ginger, auburn, red, blonde, ash, grey, white, brunette, black, blue black - what's not to like???

Yeah ... the faux hawk.

A mohawk should require some level of commitment.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:44 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, what a tremendous set of false assumptions!

"Tan = good-looking" probably peaked in the U.S. around the 1950s. It's as outmoded as "gentlemen prefer blondes." If tanning is mentioned in the media these days it's usually the subject of mockery, ie Snooki or "tan Mom."

Aye, but the linked articles don't discuss the US. Over here, TOWIE - kind of like Jersey Shore with a few more braincells - has led to an increase in people getting tanned, not so much mockery. I don't know what 'tan mom' is. It's definitely something that's skyrocketed in popularity over the past ten years - when I was a teen in the 90s, girls were orangey thanks to cheap foundation, and going on a sunbed was for old people. Now fake tan is cheap and everywhere. I would bet you can even get it at Poundland these days.
posted by mippy at 2:22 AM on August 18, 2012

I have literally never seen one of these super tanned people IRL, but I live in the Midwest.

I think super-fake tan is a big fashion in Essex and Liverpool more here, I suppose like the Jersey thing in the US. I have seen girls on the Tube who were super-tanned - I noticed an Asian girl with bright red hair and thought it looked really cool and wondered how she'd got it so bright on dark hair, then I saw her white hands and realised she wasn't actually Asian, she was just wearing a fuckton of tan.

The skin-whitening thing is really strange and depressing. Is it a thing in Japan as well? Seems odd that it could co-exist alongside ganguro girls.
posted by mippy at 2:30 AM on August 18, 2012

I have literally never seen one of these super tanned people IRL, but I live in the Midwest.

Come over here to the French Riviera. I'm going back to work on Monday after three weeks of vacation (yep we really do that in real life) and part of my preparatory grumbling is due to knowing that I will be met by other returning vacationers who have gone from caramel to milk chocolate over the same period of time, while I have remained the same alabaster. And every single one who has tanned will cluck and smirk faux-politely while asking me, loudly enough for others to hear (as opposed to other times when they speak normally), "Ohhh, fraula, you didn't get a taaan?" then giggling when I smile and say "I don't tan."

But then, I'm 36 and people here still assume I'm 25 – as in I have issues convincing people that yes, I really do have 15 years of job experience and not 5, and even some newer friends who know my age forget that I'm coming up on 40, not 27 – while the ones who used to ask so smugly are toning down their volume, noticing that everyone assumes their age correctly. Schadenfreude. Not a noble sentiment, but after years of being smugged about my skin tone, it is a guilty pleasure.

I gave up on foundation about a decade ago. It's freeing!
posted by fraula at 2:39 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm really pale too, and never tan. Essex is the New Jersey of England, so there are tanning shops (both sunbed and spray) all over the place (a dozen at least within a mile of my home) and I'm definitely in the non-orange minority.

Coupled with that, I have psoriasis, which can really be improved by exposure to sunlight but because I burn so easily, it's not an option I can take advantage of. I wear light, seersucker shirts with 3/4 sleeves on the rare UK days (like today) where the temperature is in the 80s.

As fraula said, because I don't sunbathe (and I always use sunblock on my face) I look years younger than my 53. I really dislike having legs the colour of uncooked pastry when I go on a night out, but Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs is my friend here.
posted by essexjan at 4:22 AM on August 18, 2012

I have literally never seen one of these super tanned people IRL, but I live in the Midwest.
I do too, and I've seen plenty of hyper-tanned idiots around here. Granted, they stick-out like sore thumbs, but they're here. It's creepy as all hell, too.

Pale rocks.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:14 AM on August 18, 2012

Pale skin is rad. Like, for real. Coco Chanel should have stayed in France.

Other skin tones are bringing their own excellent thing, but sincerely, thank you pale ladies of the world for doing what you do and fighting the Beautocracy.

-Digging on alabaster dolls, etc. since All the Way Back.
posted by Poppa Bear at 5:32 AM on August 18, 2012

I have literally never seen one of these super tanned people IRL, but I live in the Midwest.

I met a dentist or orthodontist or something like that last winter who was so crisped and cooked that he looked like a piece of that cheap jerky you buy at the gas station. My guess is that he uses a tanning bed most of the year and vacations in tropical places, to maintain that kind of orangy-brown look all year.
posted by Forktine at 5:34 AM on August 18, 2012

*raises hand* I'm another porcelain person! I haven't tried to tan since I was in high school, because all I got was the boiled-lobster look (one time I actually burned myself into a fever and that was the last time I tried to tan). I've spent from my twenties on cultivating the pale and interesting look and now that I'm 48 it has paid off. I look a lot younger and my skin looks much better than my contemporaries who were determined to look "sun kissed." I also don't smoke. Tanning AND smoking is a guarantee of that "old leather handbag" look.

As Fraula said, schadenfreude is a beautiful thing. Ha ha HA, you who put on sunglasses when I walked by in shorts because I blinded you. I now look 15 years younger than you and no-one jokes about me looking like an old lizard.

I have the combination of very pale skin and very dark brown eyes. It does not take a lot of makeup to make my eyes absolutely pop. I also dye my hair blonde and it adds to the pale, ethereal effect. I used to pull off the Snow White pale-skinned brunette look, but as I age, it looks too hard. And the blonde hair and pale skin really emphasizes my eyes, which is what I want.

More foundation tips for fair ladies: The best mineral foundation I've found is Jane Iredale's. It comes in a wide variety of warm, neutral and cool undertones. I use the lightest cool shade. Foundations have gotten so vastly better than when I was a teenager and mammoths roamed the plains - the drugstore foundations which I could afford were in such limited shades and all too dark and yellow. Boo. Things have improved so so so much; I attribute it to whoever thought of undertones as well as shades. Now I can walk into a drugstore and see cool or warm porcelain or ivory shades and L'Oreal has three. I wish that had been true 30 years ago.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:01 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Italy, a shop clerk asked my bronzed, tab, Floridian friend if I was sick. He couldn't imagine why my legs were so pale except for grave illness. And yeah, I'm not porcelain, more like a lightly veined marble or Gorgonzola. Useful for having blood drawn, though, I'm basically a lesson in the circulatory system. My best friend growing up was Indian and her parents were so mad whenever she'd go dark in the summertime. It's all unfair! I would totally buy Cave Fish foundation, though, that would be way better than 00 Pale...
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:15 AM on August 18, 2012

Now I can walk into a drugstore and see cool or warm porcelain or ivory shades and L'Oreal has three. I wish that had been true 30 years ago.

Oh God, yes. I almost fell to my knees in gratitude when I found Maybelline's "Vanilla Rose" mineral powder (recently discontinued but I've stocked up via eBay) - perfect for my pale yet pink-ish skin.

In the UK, the best mineral foundation I've discovered is LilyLolo. If you're not sure of the shade you want, you can order sample sizes, which is brilliant. LilyLolo sell that lovely green colour-correcting powder (to tone down pink) that gives me a neutral base. Physicians Formula in the States also does colour-correctors in both green and lilac (for too-yellow complexions).
posted by essexjan at 8:01 AM on August 18, 2012

Yes, won't someone think of the poor really white people? Every day, I learn of a new bullshit way to claim victimhood (and yes, I'm one of you, victims, so don't yell at me). I find the white privilege more than makes up for being the pale one. This is really silly.
posted by norm at 8:22 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's possible to be irritated by one thing while simultaneously acknowledging much larger problems.
posted by desjardins at 8:48 AM on August 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

norm, I don't think anyone's claiming they're oppressed because they're pale but people who wouldn't dream of saying to someone "Wow! You're so black! Can people see you in the dark?" think nothing of saying to me "Wow! You're so white! Do you glow in the dark?" If you cut me do I not bleed, etc...
posted by essexjan at 8:54 AM on August 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh fuck no! People, people... I love you all, just the way you are. ::hugs::
posted by Splunge at 9:57 AM on August 18, 2012

> And for the record, it's "alabaster" skin.

Mr Corpse, who meant well, once complimented me on my lovely ambergris complexion.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:01 AM on August 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

"Tan = good-looking" probably peaked in the U.S. around the 1950s. It's as outmoded as "gentlemen prefer blondes."

Then what's with the sudden profusion of tanning salons? I'd never heard of such a thing before maybe five or six years ago, and when I first saw a "Desert Sun" with its row of bikini-model posters in the windows I thought it must be some kind of gym. Now they're everywhere, to the point that the city of Seattle has added a special occupation tax on them.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:27 AM on August 18, 2012

Huh. I spent my whole life, up until my late thirties, being constantly told how pale I was. I never had an issue with it; but now in my early 50s, probably due to sunburns in Greece and Israel when I was young, I've developed brown spots that scream 'sun damage' on my cheekbones and I've resorted to dabbing a magic potion ("Gigawhite") on my face to try and reduce them. Never cared about tanning, always hated lying in the sun.
posted by jokeefe at 10:42 AM on August 18, 2012

Another pale-doesn't-tan-just-burns here. I grew up in Southern California in the '70s, so, yes, it was a big deal not being able to tan. I tried and tried, but it never worked. And the irritating thing is that people who CAN tan don't believe you when you say it doesn't work for you. I used the stuff that turns your hands orange, the whole bit.

Now it doesn't bother me so much. I'm pretty consistent about using my sunscreen--I have Rosacea, the scourge of the Pale Faced, so I have to be--and at least the pink cheeks give me some color. I use a little self-tanner on my legs, but I don't obsess about it like I used to. My hair is mousy-brown with a lot of grey, so I dye it red so it goes better with the skin on my face.

And I'm very aware of the benefits of avoiding the sun. My mother has Vitiligo so has stayed out of the sun for many years--she looks 10-20 years younger than her age.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:22 AM on August 18, 2012

> "Tan = good-looking" probably peaked in the U.S. around the 1950s. It's as outmoded as "gentlemen prefer blondes." If tanning is mentioned in the media these days it's usually the subject of mockery, ie Snooki or "tan Mom."

You think that it hit its peak in the US before Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), let alone Malibu Barbie (1971)? I would say that it probably peaked in the late 70s/early 80s, where foil reflectors and baby oil intersected with tan accelerators and the launch of the tanning bed industry, and the energy crisis gave way to massive economic growth and the glamour of the financier and his yacht.

I do think that there are two tanning-related issues getting a little conflated here. There is a currently a very faddish wave of an extremely unnatural super-dark tan as a fashion statement, which has apparently hit the UK hard. And then there is the more ordinary standard that pale, untanned skin for white people is unattractive and unhealthy-looking and even somewhat inappropriate to show in public.

I assure you that the latter belief is alive and well, though as a fair-skinned person in the US, I feel that it has actually gotten quite a bit better in the last several years. (It seems that the horror of exposing one's pale calves to the world is not widely considered to be vomit-inducing anymore!) But this is a much more ingrained and insidious thing -- a sister to the skin-lightening creams -- reinforcing that however women look naturally, it's the wrong way for them to be attractive.
posted by desuetude at 1:11 PM on August 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Eyebrow's roommate from New Zealand was probably extra-conscious of melanoma, our rates are so high.

Anecdotally, this difference in UV levels was brought home to me when my sister returned from a year bumming around Europe with a perfect bronzed-all-over deep Greek Islands tan, spent two hours out in our sun and burned like bacon. Nasty.

I was a goth-inclined teenager and tragically, (I can almost laugh about it now), life dealt me a medical condition that forced me to tan.
UV treatment is still the best method I have found for keeping my Super-powered Mutant Skin (aka psoriasis) under control.
posted by Catch at 3:09 PM on August 18, 2012

Won't it be ironic if the recent rise in awareness of the dangers of UV exposure result in a big spike in people suffering from auto-immune disorders? A bunch of serious auto-immune diseases are strongly correlated with lack of UV exposure.
posted by Justinian at 5:33 PM on August 18, 2012

As the lone pale bunny amongst a passel of tan and olive-toned siblings and cousins, it was pointed out to me early on by my great-grandpa that I didn't fit in with the others. "Why are you so white? Look how brown those other babies are!" I was about three at the time and it's the first time I remember feeling ugly.

Having my blinding white legs made fun of by peers who got effortless "Malibu Barbie" tans just by playing outside all summer, and being deviled about "needing some color" by my olive-skinned grandmother, I spent much of the seventies and early eighties laying out in the sun with no sunscreen hoping to get a bit of color. Mostly I just burned and peeled.

Thanks to all of that, even though I gave up on trying to tan and started staying out of the sun since my mid-twenties, I have lines, sunspots and probably-precancerous flaky patches on my skin now, so I don't even get the last laugh on my sun-worshipping peers who look every bit of their age or worse. Pisses me off, but when I was a kid/teenager nobody gave a shit about sunscreen. The damage was probably mostly done by the time I ever heard about skin cancer being caused by the sun.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:48 PM on August 18, 2012

Oh! I must tell you about the worst sunburn I ever had. I was visiting Washington DC in April and it was mostly cloudy but warm enough for t-shirts. I didn't put sunscreen on, because April. Plus I was 18. It just never occurred to me.

I stayed with a friend in Georgetown. She noted how red my face looked when I arrived back at the room after a full day of sightseeing. I woke up the next morning and could not open my eyes. They had swelled shut. I was pretty damned hysterical - I woke up her dorm mates with screams = but after about an hour of applying cold washcloths, I could see again. I didn't go to a hospital or anything and somehow made it through a 14 hour car ride home.

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that was my last sunburn, and it was nearly 20 years ago. I remember having a few before then, but none after. Guess I learned my lesson the hard way.
posted by desjardins at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2012

The idea that "your skin is the wrong color" definitely hurts, even if it doesn't come along with any real oppression, if it is coming along with the message that you have to be pretty before any other good thing will happen. That's marketing; you have to break some eggs and some young girls' hearts to make omelets.

I'm another one who has lived with this "your skin is the wrong color" thing, being so covered in freckles that there is no "right" foundation for me. I experimented with that in junior high and just looked like a blotchy ghost. At this point I'm way too offended by the idea that I need to change any part of my face to be acceptable to be interested in makeup.
posted by bleep at 7:48 PM on August 18, 2012

I think that's the thing, here: for women, nobody has skin that is 'right,' or hair that is 'right,' or bodies or clothes or anything else that is 'right.' This intersects with race in that some are more not-right than others, and then multiplies internationally in that 'right' in one place is 'wrong' in another. I'm sure the swimming mask wearers in China would be gobsmacked by the lifelong tanning devotees over in Clearwater Beach.

We are told this so we'll buy the latest this and the newest that, all of them invented to solve a problem that never existed. We're judged and found wanting when we're perfectly fucking fine the way we are.

Be who you are, be what you are, be awesome about it, and if someone gives you trouble, recognize that for what it is: a sign that they're still caught in the wrong-wrong-wrong cycle.
posted by cmyk at 8:48 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wish I'd run across this before today:

Get your greasy fake-tanned hands off my alabaster assets.
posted by vers at 6:31 AM on August 19, 2012

I get most of my makeup online nowadays, as Asian foundations are usually warm tones and look rather strange on my cool-toned skin.

Mineral make-up can go from very fair to very dark, and often websites offer sample sizes at very reasonable prices. One site I like is Pure Luxe (two of the local sites I used to buy from seem to have closed down, alas). For those who like to try some DIY, have a look at Coastal Scents, their prices are quite reasonable (their overseas shipping rates, OTH, are pretty abominable).
posted by Alnedra at 7:36 AM on August 19, 2012

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