Tanning While Brown

Embracing the sun as a South Asian feels like taking a political stance against shadeism — but it also has its consequences.

Beach 1

Ishani Nath


December 4, 2019

“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.