Tanning While Brown

"Give a June tan for Christmas" (1952 Westinghouse Sun Lamp ad)

“I want to get crispy.” That’s what I kept telling people in advance of my recent vacation to Jamaica. I was going to sit on the beach, sip mimosas, and suntan as if I were a Kardashian.

Growing up in a sun-loving Canadian culture, tanning felt like a way to fit in. A 2009 study of Chinese Americans in California noted that even though traditional Asian cultures valued light skin because they associated tans with manual labor, the more westernized individuals felt, the more likely they were to feel that tans were attractive — since it is associated with leisurely lifestyles in the West — and actively lie in the sun.

Though this study looked specifically at Chinese Americans, this sentiment seems to also apply to some South Asians in the diaspora. I recognize that tanning is itself a privilege — afforded to folks with lighter skin and the lifestyles to afford beach vacations. At the same time, tanning was literally my way of throwing shade at problematic “Fair & Lovely” beauty ideals within the Indian community, while also attempting to blend into North American culture where bronze skin is considered beautiful. Yet, until recently, I didn’t consider the consequences of my sun-seeking behavior. 

My skin has always tanned quickly; I would get visible lines just from playing outside at recess or spending the day at an outdoor shopping mall. I wore these marks like badges of honor. They were proof that — contrary to my white friends’ assertion that it is impossible for

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