Pale and Proud: Why I won’t be getting a sun tan, no matter how much it annoys people

pale skinned redhead

“You don’t have much of a tan!”

“Bit pale, aren’t you?”

I’ve lost count of the number of times this kind of thing has been said to me over the years. Every time I go on holiday, I return to a barrage of tongue-clicking comments about the continued pallor of my complexion, and my absolute failure to do the “normal” thing and get a suntan.

Make no mistake, it is a failure as far as some people are concerned. I’m sure they would argue otherwise, but the comments are always uttered in a critical, disparaging tone, and I am left in no doubt whatsoever that I am deemed to have failed. (I’m also left with the clear message that the person I’m talking to thinks I’m lying when I say I enjoyed my holiday. “Well, you don’t have much of a tan,” they’ll counter, the unspoken part of that sentence being “so it can’t have been that good, can it?”) I should have gotten a suntan, is the message. I shouldn’t have worn sunblock. “Oh, I never wear sunscreen,” my detractor will always say smugly, before turning away, secure in the knowledge that they’re much cleverer than me (and have much better holidays into the bargain).

pale-skinned scottish redhead

Why is there so much pressure on pale people to tan?

It’s not just me, either. Both Terry and my mother have been subjected to the “why don’t you have a tan?” comments this year, and they both have much darker complexions than I do. On last week, someone commented on a photo of Kristen Stewart saying, “She needs to get a tan”. Er, no. No she doesn’t. If she wants to get one, of course, that’s completely up to her, but she shouldn’t be made to feel like she HAS to have one just to conform to society’s current beauty ideal, which says that suntans = good and pale skin = bad.

People like my husband, of course, have an excuse for their “errant” behaviour: kidney transplant patients have a much higher risk of skin cancer, so for him, getting a suntan would be total madness, although that doesn’t stop people asking him why he isn’t browner. I, however, have no such excuse, and the fact that I’m a pale-skinned Scottish redhead just doesn’t cut it: I should be doing my best to change my skin colour, apparently, and if I don’t, people will continue to tut-tut at me in despair.

pale skin and red hair

There’s no such thing as a “healthy” tan…

Well, let ‘em. Because here’s the thing: I don’t tan. Ever. And I’m not about to start. I would no more lie out in the sun without total sunblock than I’d set myself on fire. Both would be crazy for me. Contrary to what appears to be the popular belief, a suntan is NOT healthy. Certainly not for me, anyway. I was raised to protect my skin, to avoid getting burnt, and to accept that I will never be a “golden” girl. I’m good with that. And let me be clear:  I am obviously not above using self-tanner if and when I feel like it, as readers of this blog are well aware. Absolutely not. I like my pale skin, but I also like my not-quite-as-pale skin (which is the most I get from self-tanners. Even with a freshly-applied tan, people will still ask me why I’m so pale), so I will hit the bottle from time to time, sure. I’m not a slave to it, though, and I’m also not above just saying “to hell with it”, and flaunting my pale skin.

I’m not ashamed of being pale.

I don’t see why I should be. It’s my natural colour, it’s the way my skin is supposed to look, and there should be nothing wrong with that. In fact there is nothing wrong with that, except in the minds of a few people who seem to believe that pale isn’t interesting, and that the only purpose of a vacation is to get a suntan.

This is why I’ve decided to cut back on the fake tan and embrace my lily white skin from now on: or for the time being, at least. I’m not giving up the bottle completely: I still have a few tanning/bronzing products to review, and I can’t promise there won’t be times when I’ll decide to turn my legs a patchy shade of brown. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using fake tan, after all, but I do think there’s something wrong with trying to make people feel bad for being pale, and so I’m going to be pale and proud. For a few weeks, at least.

pale skin