Are we risking our lives for fashion?
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF
While on vacation in the 1920’s, fashion icon Coco Chanel accidentally was sun burned, an accident that changed the course of fashion history. The suntan, previously associated with peasants and outdoor workers, was now deemed fashionable, luxurious and coveted. To emulate Coco Chanel, Westerners put away their whitening make-up, dropped their umbrellas and hats, stepped out from the shade and consciously tried to tan.
Almost one hundred years later, this desire for a tan has become an entrenched part of Western culture. Many Westerners go to great lengths, spending significant time and money, seeking ‘the perfect tan’. Today, indoor tanning is a multi-billion dollar industry, bronzing make-up and creams are staple products, and beach, pool and vacation culture all centre around tanning.
The notion of a tan as nothing more than a social and cultural construct was something I never considered until I went on a trip to China and Vietnam many years ago. I was surprised to observe that tanning was not the norm in these places. In fact, in both countries, people went to great lengths to avoid a tan. This was illustrated most strikingly while I was on a beach in Vietnam. The Westerners were actively tanning in their bathing suits while the Vietnamese wore large hats, long clothing and even gloves and face masks to shield themselves from the sun. And at the airport in Hong Kong, make-up counters sold skin lighteners instead of skin bronzers.
These Western and Eastern examples illustrate the enormous impact that fashion and social conventions have on skin care. Unfortunately, for us in the Western world, our desire for a tan comes at a severe health cost.While most Westerners equate a tan with beauty and leisure, health experts equate the tan with skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the number one cancer in Canada, and melanoma, the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing in incidence.
At DCMF, we know that people will only start protecting their skin when they believe they need to. We realize that, most dauntingly, our awareness efforts have to be compelling enough to challenge 100 years of fashion and cultural history. But we know that healthy un-tanned skin is beautiful and we are up for the challenge.