May 22, 2008

Love the skin I'm in?

I have to admit, I like having red hair. But, of course, having pale skin comes along with it. As I was lying outside by our hotel pool today, I started thinking about my skin as the sun was beating down upon it.

When it comes to my skin, I think I was born 100 years late. It's quite ironic how the trends of being pale or being tan have completely reversed within the 20th century. It used to be that pale skin was all the rage. It was a sign of status; girls with pale skin were categorized as "rich" because they could afford to stay indoors all the time, never having to lift a finger. Those that had tans showed that they worked out in the sun all day, as the "laborers" or the lower class. Pale, porcelain-like skin was what every woman wanted. Within the past 50 years or so, this mindset has completely changed. Now everyone wants to be TAN. And just as being pale was, being tan has become a symbol of status. It shows that a person can afford to spend lots of time lying by the pool, at the beach, or vacationing to exotic locations -- the lifestyle the "rich" enjoy. Tans are part of our society's "ideal" beauty. I've found myself thinking sometimes, "If I lived 100 years ago or even less, I would effortlessly have the ideal shade of skin." But this is not to be (sigh).

I burn like the dickens. I have had many, many severe sunburns in my life. Especially when I was younger, I'd burn so badly, I'd end up with painful, nasty blisters on my body. And then there's the peeling -- oh joy. I feel I did luck out a bit when it comes to being a redhead with fair skin, however. For example, my brother, also a redhead, burns easily and severely, but the sunburn fades and his skin returns to its regular shade of white. He can retain no "color" whatsoever besides bright red. I, on the other hand, can burn and have it turn to a slight shade of tan. Well, tan for a redhead, anyway. And a lot of time spent in the sun yields me a fair amount of color and, naturally, lots and lots of freckles.

I am still holding out hope that our societal preference for tan skin will fade (pardon the pun). With all the research and emphasis we have currently on the effects of the sun causing early aging and skin cancer, I feel that a new trend just might be on the horizon (although I am discouraged by the rising "self tanning" market). I know that I personally am at exceptional risk for getting skin cancer because of my pale skin. I have even read on several occasions that scientists have determined that redheads have a genetic defect that prevents them from producing melanin, the substance in the skin that causes it to "tan" in order to protect itself from the sun's harmful rays. I also have had many severe burns in my lifetime, which also puts me at a higher risk. In fact, almost two years ago, a fellow classmate of mine from high school died of skin cancer. His name was Adam Tilly -- about the sweetest guy you'd ever meet and he was, like me, a redhead.

I love being outdoors but I know the sun is dangerous. I've sworn off tanning booths forever and sunscreen is my best friend. So maybe I won't get as tan as I have previously in my life, but hey, I'll be safe. And I'm still praying that someday the "porcelain" skin look will come back full force. It would be healthy for all of us and it's something I most definitely could maintain effortlessly. Until then, I'll be trying to talk myself out of self-tanning since it always makes me look like an Oompah-Loompah. Definitely not the look I am going for.

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