Saturday, July 10, 2004


Its really interesting that our skin tans. As the summer progresses I am sure that most of us here are seeing a change in our skin color. If we are outside at all, we can't help but get a bit darker (or burnt) even if it ends up being just a farmer's tan.

Why does our skin tan? Well, the rays from the sun are harmful to our skin. So in order not to burn, our skin protects itself. The melanin in our skin reacts to the sun rays and makes our skin a few shades darker. This way we can avoid getting burnt by the sun.

In our society, a good tan is equal to a healthy look. If someone is tan it somehow looks better to us most of the time. It seems to accentuate light colored eyes (blue and green) and seems to bring out highlights in light hair. So every summer Americans pursue a good tan. It could be in a tanning bed or at the pool. Maybe it comes from doing yard work or going for long runs. Either way, most of us agree that a tan body is somehow more beautiful than one that is not. Tan skin has a way of hiding flaws that are otherwise very apparent with pale skin.

But when I put these above thoughts together I am left with a strange concoction. Our society sees the result of a physiological defense mechanism as something desirable. Our body's response to harmful sun rays is something that is sought after. Thus, harm is pursued in order that our bodies' will put up its defenses and grant us something "beautiful."

The equivalent, with another body part, would be this: Our eyes respond to light by shrinking the pupil and exposing more of the color part of the eye. Tanning would be the equivalent of shining light in our eyes all the time so that our eyes are more colorful and thus more "beautiful." Regardless of the harm this would do to our eyes, we would spend hours of our days staring into bright lights. What? Does this make sense?

Now, I am not condemning those who are tan. I myself am tan right now. My skin tans fairly easily and I certainly haven't avoided the sun this summer. I simply wanted to point out the silliness of this ritual of tanning. I make no self-righteous claims that I am somehow beyond this silly ritual. It just dawned on me how weird we all are in regards to our own skin.


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