Sun tanning wasn’t always popular. In past civilizations light skin was a sign of high social standing and was deemed highly attractive by the fashionable elite. Tan skin was a sign of lower social status as lower-level workers often had to work in the sun and they had darker skin tones as a consequence.
Some people even went so far as to use lead-based cosmetics and arsenic to whiten their skin and appear more attractive, but you could imagine how that went.
You’ve probably seen images of pre-Victorian and Victorian England where men and women would powder their faces to look almost white. Also, Japanese Geisha are a good example of people using cosmetics such as paint to make their skin appear lighter and even white. Some people in India will even get skin bleaching procedures done to make their skin appear lighter to distinguish themselves from the darker-skinned lower castes. Some of these practices continue on today, though in other cultures, especially the Western culture, the sun tan has come to be seen as physically attractive, fashionable, and healthy. How did this come to be?
Many historians point to an interesting event in the 1920’s that seemed to have started the trend. Coco Chanel, the famous fashion designer, accidently got sunburned while out in the French Riviera. Coco’s fans ended up really liking her new tan, and sought to emulate her looks by tanning themselves. From there, the sun-tanned look became fashionable and attractive.
In the 1940’s, fashion trends and magazines really began to emphasize the attractiveness of the tanned look, showing women tanning while wearing more revealing swimsuits and using tanning lotions. After that, the bronzed look became the definitive fashionable look.
Today in the US, people still find the sun tan to look physically attractive and fashionable. Many people also comment that a tan makes a person look healthy and vivacious, which could have to do with the dosage of Vitamin D tanners get.
Nevertheless, the tan seems to remain a highly desired look, which has created a billion dollar business catering to the tanning needs of the consumer. New technologies like tanning beds, spray tans, lotions and more continue to advance and the tanning industry continues to flourish despite legislation!