Fake tans and their real consequences

While many white women tan their skin, they still carry white privilege.

(Alanna Jimenez / Daily Trojan)

From tanning beds to tanning lotion, fake tans are a sensation for white women. While they can place a cute sticker shape on their hips at the beach to view the progress of their tan, Black and brown women are told different narratives about their darker complexions. While many white women intentionally tan for a darker complexion, Black and brown women are continuously told to lighten their skin and are made insecure of their skin color. 

Tanning is often viewed as a normal way to alter one’s appearance to feel cute: the sunkissed look. However, this look seems to only be desirable when it is sported by white women. While white women fetishize brown skin — the same skin color Black and brown people are mistreated for — they still benefit from white privilege. Celebrities like the Kardashians, Ariana Grande, Paris Hilton and more choose when they want to look white and when they don’t. They want the skin color, but never the trauma that follows from being born with it. 

Beauty standards have historically been, well, white: button nose, pale skin, straight hair and an oval face. As an ethnic woman, I know what it is like to want to change yourself, trying to scrub the brown off your skin, only for pale women to apply a fake tan and call it “latte makeup” with a sun-kissed bronzer. 

Media has encouraged tanning for pale-skinned people, but on the other hand, Black and brown women are encouraged to bleach their skin. This is widely viewed as self-hate — it only seems to be okay when white women alter their skin. 

Through major celebrities, tanning, lip filler and plastic surgeries that peddle ethnic features have become far more normalized. Lip filler by the Kardashians caused lip kits to sell out for women to achieve plump lips, but that is a feature women of color possess. These alterations in appearance appease a desire to look “exotic,” making themselves look ethnically ambiguous, while ethnic women are told that they don’t look white enough. They hold their white privilege, without the historical trauma and racism carried in the tanned color of their skin, meanwhile adding to their “exotic” look.

The concept of tanning has always made me uncomfortable, as I had to hate my brown skin as a young girl and try to change it. Yet now, tanning is a fun activity for me to achieve the skin color I tried to wash away because of colorism. 

Confidence is always a beauty to behold, and we should encourage feeling good about ourselves in every way. However, tans continue to build the narrative that brown skin is only socially appreciated on white women. First, pale skin was the standard, and now a “sunkissed tan” is the standard, but not when you are born with it. 

This trend of beauty standards built on the features and innovation of women of color have a hold on our society, yet discrimination against those same women persists. Fox eye trends, brown lip liner, full lips and Black hairstyles are given love in the media when a white celebrity promotes them. It is uncomfortable to see Black and brown women told a different narrative about their features white women grasp to achieve their “exotic” look.

For Black and brown women, there’s nothing wrong with your skin color. No change should be made to erase the skin you were born with. Our features carry beauty, and our skin tells the story. 

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.