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Pale and Proud: Why I won’t be getting a sun tan, no matter how much you tell me I “need” one

“You don’t have much of a tan!”
“Bit pale, aren’t you?”

I’ve lost count of the number of times this kind of thing has been said to me over the years. Every time I go on holiday, I return to a barrage of tongue-clicking comments about the continued pallor of my complexion, and my absolute failure to do the “normal” thing and get a suntan.

Make no mistake, it is a failure as far as some people are concerned. I’m sure they would argue otherwise, but the comments are always uttered in a critical, disparaging tone, and I am left in no doubt whatsoever that I am deemed to have failed. (I’m also left with the clear message that the person I’m talking to thinks I’m lying when I say I enjoyed my holiday. “Well, you don’t have much of a tan,” they’ll counter, the unspoken part of that sentence being “so it can’t have been that good, can it?”) I should have gotten a suntan, is the message. I shouldn’t have worn sunblock. “Oh, I never wear sunscreen,” my detractor will always say smugly, before turning away, secure in the knowledge that they’re much cleverer than me (and have much better holidays into the bargain).

pale and pround: why I won't be getting a sun-tan, no matter how much you tell me I need one

Why is there so much pressure on pale people to tan?

It’s not just me, either. Both Terry and my mother have been subjected to the “why don’t you have a tan?” comments this year, and they both have much darker complexions than I do. On TheFashionPolice.net last week, someone commented on a photo of Kristen Stewart saying, “She needs to get a tan”. Er, no. No she doesn’t. If she wants to get one, of course, that’s completely up to her, but she shouldn’t be made to feel like she HAS to have one just to conform to society’s current beauty ideal, which says that suntans = good and pale skin = bad.

People like my husband, of course, have an excuse for their “errant” behaviour: kidney transplant patients have a much higher risk of skin cancer, so for him, getting a suntan would be total madness, although that doesn’t stop people asking him why he isn’t browner. I, however, have no such excuse, and the fact that I’m a pale-skinned Scottish redhead just doesn’t cut it: I should be doing my best to change my skin colour, apparently, and if I don’t, people will continue to tut-tut at me in despair. 

I should be doing my best to change my skin colour, apparently, and if I don’t, people will continue to tut-tut at me in despair.

Well, let ’em. Because here’s the thing: I don’t tan. Ever. And I’m not about to start. I would no more lie out in the sun without  sunblock than I’d set myself on fire. Both would be crazy for me. Contrary to what appears to be the popular belief, a suntan is NOT healthy. Certainly not for me, anyway. I was raised to protect my skin, to avoid getting burnt, and to accept that I will never be a “golden” girl. I’m good with that. And let me be clear:  I am obviously not above using self-tanner if and when I feel like it, as readers of this blog are well aware. Absolutely not. I like my pale skin, but I also like my not-quite-as-pale skin (which is the most I get from self-tanners. Even with a freshly-applied tan, people will still ask me why I’m so pale), so I will hit the bottle from time to time, sure. I’m not a slave to it, though, and I’m also not above just saying “to hell with it”, and flaunting my pale skin.

I’m not ashamed of being pale.

I don’t see why I should be. It’s my natural colour, it’s the way my skin is supposed to look, and there should be nothing wrong with that. In fact there is nothing wrong with that, except in the minds of a few people who seem to believe that pale isn’t interesting, and that the only purpose of a vacation is to get a suntan.

This is why I’ve decided to cut back on the fake tan and embrace my lily white skin from now on: or for the time being, at least. I’m not giving up the bottle completely: I still have a few tanning/bronzing products to review, and I can’t promise there won’t be times when I’ll decide to turn my legs a patchy shade of brown. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using fake tan, after all, but I do think there’s something wrong with trying to make people feel bad for being pale, and so I’m going to be pale and proud. For a few weeks, at least.
Pale and Proud: Why I won't be getting a suntan, no matter how often you tell me to

why is there so much pressure on pale people to get a sun tan?

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132 Comments
  • Tara
    July 14, 2010

    Hallelujah! My family is Irish and Norwegian, so as I am sure you can imagine, I am quite pale. Growing up in the mid-west, all summer random strangers (and sometimes even people I knew) would make an issue of my lack of tan.
    “Do you go out during the day?”
    “Um, no. I tunneled here with the other mole people.”
    Around the time I was 16 or so, I decided that I would embrace my paleness (and the freckles I inevitably get over summer). I have to say, I have also gotten a lot of compliments on the “creaminess” of my skin.
    You’re lovely, don’t let those orange jerks tell you otherwise.

    • Dollface
      July 14, 2010

      Thank you! I’m glad I’m not alone 🙂 I actually find it quite shocking, to be honest: it’s just so irresponsible to urge people to lie out in the sun, and quite apart from that, we wouldn’t DREAM of telling people with naturally dark skin that they “should” be paler, so why on earth is OK to tell pale people to tan? Bizarre.

    • tims
      August 27, 2014

      I came across this blog while googling “how to avoid tanning too much” XD. I’m in the exact opposite situation, where people scold me and advice me against going out in the sun too much. I have a job that requires me to travel in this horrible sunny summer and being wheatish skinned I tan very easy. Hell with it..!… Am glad I got to read this blog….I guess pale or tanned you can never make people happy :/

    • Kitszanaweh
      March 27, 2016

      The story of my life! hahaha. “the beach is calling for you” “basement-tanned” “morgue-tanned” “glass of milk” “raw” (as uncooked)… Growing up in a tropical country being Galician and Norwegian descendant I had to hear all this every single day.

      • Kitszanaweh
        March 27, 2016

        uncook* sorry

  • Lori
    July 14, 2010

    I totally agree! Although I don’t self-tan either because I don’t like to cater to the pale is bad, tan is good norm. Also self-tanning is sort of a hassle, and I think I look more striking when I’m pale. 🙂 Once, my mother was picking me up at an airport at night, and when she drove up to me she said she knew it was me because I glow in the dark! Anyway, I think it’s good for people of all colors to embrace their natural skin tones. Rock on!

  • Karen
    July 14, 2010

    Amen from me, too! I don’t tan, and if I skip sunscreen, only end up burned red like your MAC lipstick! Not only is it decidedly not attractive, it hurts, and then peels, which is even less attractive. Never mind the skin cancer it would surely cause.

    I know someone who had skin cancer, and it too, was decidedly not pretty. And the scar she has from having it removed is also highly unattractive. I’ve got enough flaws without those, never mind that it can’t always be removed successfully to begin with, and even if it can be removed, it’s not like tweezing a stray hair here & there now, is it? It’s surgery, and/or radiation, and/or chemotherapy, which will make you feel like you got hit by a truck, from the accounts I’ve heard.

    So, thanks, but no thanks to anyone who thinks we fair-skinned folk “should” tan more.

  • Gill
    July 14, 2010

    I have often called people racist for “laughing” at how pale I am, you can imagine summer in Madrid all the looks and remarks I get like I need a few days at the pool or the beach to look “healthier and happier” but hey, how many of these people look 10 years younger than they really are because they dont go out in the sun, most look older with a tan, I know a 25 year old who has the skin of a 40 year old, face like an old battered handbag….why waste money on anti wrinkle cream, just use sunscreen (as the song says!). My mum is getting skin grafts just now for a malignant mole she had removed on her back and on her leg and now has to go through a load of tests to see if it spread…just not worth it, though they say the damage is done in your teens or before tho…

    • Dollface
      July 15, 2010

      Hello you! I would actually LOVE to see your reaction if someone dared to comment on your paleness – hee!

    • Floris
      September 1, 2010

      Hi Gill1 I live in Madrid too. Just arrived and my paleness is also very very noticeable! Where in Madrid are you?

  • Sammy
    July 14, 2010

    Good on you! If only every pale girl embraced the beauty and health of pale skin.

    I’m naturally pale. Couldn’t tan even if I wanted to. I always curse my stupidity when I forget to put on sunscreen. When asked why I don’t tan I always reply bluntly because I want to avoid skin cancer.

    Go with pale. Pale is far more beautiful then leather or satsuma.

  • Laura
    July 14, 2010

    My friends back in college all conformed to the tan all-year-round look. Not only did one turn the most cancerous red i’ve ever seen, but the other got dry patches all over her face from the excessive tanning. Knowing what it can do later on in life (and being chronically lethargic when faced with temperatures above 16 degrees celsius) I leave the sun well alone. Besides I think dark hair, blue eyes and pale skin look much more fetching together than orange perma-glow.

    • Willy
      May 24, 2018

      I have always wondered why the sun and heat make me unable to breathe and I just want to run out of it! I am in awe of people who can work out in the sun. I always wondered if this had something to do with my being very pale, anemic or dehydrated. My whole life I have been shamed in some form or another for having white skin. I was and am too embarrassed and ashamed to wear shorts because of white legs. I get very agitated when people talk about skin tone and darker skin being treated in prejudice. My grandmother was red headed and Irish and she too was made to feel she needed to be browner. I wonder where the skin shade shaming came from?

  • Morgan
    July 14, 2010

    All I have to say is…support my pastey bitches! 🙂

    I’m really pastey (or porcelain I should say), and I live in Florida (get ridiculed all the time), so nothing wrong being pale.

    _M

  • Amy
    July 14, 2010

    Hear, hear!! Your skin is lovely, and it suits you! I don’t know about you, but for me it’s been even easier to feel beautiful in my fair skin because there have been many more images of models and actresses with fair skin in the media. I’ve also found several more bloggers to follow who are pale of face and that helps even more – there’s something about seeing the average girl go about her life happy with a pale complexion that really helps my self esteem! With celebrities, it is nice because I can point them out to naysayers, but bloggers (and friends) I feel more like I’ve joined a club.

    Now if only I could get my red haired fiance to pile on the sunscreen – he says I’m nagging him when I remind him and always says he’s put it on but he tends to turn up with a sunburn anyway! I found some full spectrum SPF 110+ for him, so if he develops a sunburn and claims to have put that on I’ll know he’s fibbing.

  • Nicola
    July 14, 2010

    Hi Amber

    I am a natual blonde, blue eyed gal and it is safe to say “I do not tan, I am meant to be pale”! I only wish I had worked that out when I was younger and didn’t sit in the garden and bare my unprotected flesh in all hopes of becoming “tanned”.

    I love your skin colour, love it love love it! and just wish I had protected my lovely pale skin like you had so mine didn’t have the reddy hughes it now has due to sun damage!

    Think everyone should embrace there skin colour – think you may have inspired me to get my milky white legs (normally hidden) out next time its sunny and be proud of being pale!

    Quick Q if you dont mind- where do you get your sunblock from, I can only find factor50+, and with this, I still burn!

    Thanks muchly
    Nicola

    • Dollface
      July 14, 2010

      Thank you!

      I actually buy most of my sunblock in the States: it’s much, much cheaper there and in Florida they have lots of very high SPF stuff, which comes in a dry spray, which I like. I mostly use a Coppertone one which I think is SPF75, but it depends what’s on offer at Target! I normally buy some extra to bring home with me, but I didn’t this year because my luggage allowance was already maxed out, so I need to check and see if I can buy it somewhere here.

      At home the weather is so bad, though, that I normally only really need to use sunscreen on my face (at the moment I’m using this one) because the rest of me is covered up most of the time. With that said, if I don’t have any of my Coppertone stuff in stock, I normally find that SPF 50 is fine, as long as I re-apply it often enough.

      • Claire
        May 29, 2014

        Just watch out when you buy from the states because they don’t have the same uva regulations that you get in the eu (oh and for the record in the eu you can’t market anything as higher than 50+ so something labelled spf100 in the us would be labelled 50+ in the uk)

  • Dawn
    July 14, 2010

    I’m really pale; so pale, in fact, that people ask me on a regular basis if I’m unwell or about to faint. I can’t tan either and pile on the factor 50 when I’m outside as I play sports quite frequently and don’t want the burn which comes from being under a blazing sun for 3 hours.

    I don’t even use fake tanner either because it just looks like dirt on my skin, and it smells awful. Instead I’ve embraced my ivory skin and red freckles, and I think pale girls look very pretty.

  • Liz in Paris
    July 14, 2010

    Let’s hear it for us bidet beauties! I can’t tan either and find fake stuff too much hassle and too unnatural. People who have that as a holiday goal are just sad, IMHO. At least you can look back on your FL holiday with a shedload of great memories (at least I assume so). That’s always going to be more important than dedicating 2 weeks to getting a tan. Life’s too short for that!

  • Lauren
    July 14, 2010

    I think you look gorgeous! Pale and interesting.

    I’m also really pale – I used to St. Tropez religiously every summer but I’m fed up of the smell/stained bed sheets/hassle! I’m embracing my paleness this year however, and someone at work said to me “Don’t fancy getting a tan this year?” I replied “Nah, just don’t fancy getting skin cancer love”

    xxx

  • Rebecca
    July 14, 2010

    Well, I’m not as pale as you. That’s for darn sure. I live in Australia, so it’s hard not to be a little tanned when you can never remember to apply sunscreen before leaving the house. But I’m naturally very pale, and I like it very much!

    I do actually tan relatively easily, as I’ve discovered over the years as I’ve burned, but I don’t want to, because this is my look. The pale works with the brown hair, and the blue eyes, and the red lips and retro-influenced makeup and hair (sometimes). The only people who really comment on my skintone are my coworkers, who only do so to agree that my skin totally works for me, and allows me to wear all of the big feathery hair accessories we sell and look neat.

    So I wouldn’t say I have experienced any hardship over it! If I had I’d be the same though. Let your pale flag fly, I say.

  • M♥
    July 14, 2010

    Hey girl, don’t worry. Be proud of your complexion, health of your skin and the fact that you wear sunblock to protect it. I’m a black woman (but a paler complexion, say… Halle Berry) and I get that remark every summer as if I’m not having a good summer… I do, but I just tan quite slowly. But then again, to those who make those remarks I always tell myself they’re projecting or try to be boastful about their own successful tan. Nothing one wants to be compared to. Just be you, and be proud of it. Kudos!!

  • Heather
    July 14, 2010

    Amen!! Hallejuah!! I 100% agree with you. I have porcelain, lilly white, fair, pale skin with freckles and reddish-brown hair, and I know how it feels to be made fun of for it. I see it like, this is my natural skin color, I was born this color, why would there be anything wrong with that??

    It’s like, would someone go up to someone who was born with dark skin and ask them why aren’t they lighter, no they wouldn’t, it’s the same offensively to ask pale people why aren’t we darker. I don’t get the logic of why it’s ok to pester pale people, and not any other skin tones.

    I’m not interested in self tanners though either, because they are chemicals being absorbed into your skin, I’m fine with my skin color because I’m unique and don’t look like everyone else, and they are a lot of maintenance. 🙂

  • Steph
    July 15, 2010

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve always been pale as a ghost but having had M.E. for nearly eight years and spending a lot of time bedbound has made me paler than ever. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me I need to spend more time in the sun – or called me ‘Morticia’ on the grounds that all pale brunettes must be goths. I don’t tan and I don’t particularly want to – I’m paranoid about the risk of skin cancer and I don’t have the time or the patience for fake tan. I worship at the altar of Dita von Teese and all the other pasty beauties out there 😀

  • Robyn
    July 15, 2010

    Totally agree. I’ve had people scream rude comments at me for wearing shorts in the summer before-all because I wasn’t tan enough. This whole tanning thing is yet another of the extremely unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards we’ve adopted over the years, along with bleaching your teeth (or skin!), extreme plastic surgery, unhealthy body weights (I’m talking those gained through eating disorders, not just being skinny), and bleaching hair (one of the WORST things you can do to your hair, especially over a long period of time). It’s like we cant stand natural beauty anymore. I also don’t get why, as I live in a very racist place, people hate anyone with dark skin, but then also scream at anyone with pale skin. I don’t think there’s ANY way to please these people, so we shouldn’t try.

  • liz
    July 15, 2010

    Amber,I couldn’t agree more.
    I, like you have virtually no melanin ( I don’t even have freckles!) and embrace my paleness. A couple of years ago when returning from holiday in Cyprus I got some weird looks @ the airport. When I asked what was so funny I was told this is DEPARTURES! I had spent the previous 14 days wearing sunscreen, floppy hat and sunglasses, even wearing a t- shirt whilst swimming to protect me, so I didn’t burn. They seemed amazed that someone would come to Cyprus and return home looking as pale as I did.

    I wear a minimum SPF 20 on my face and neck, even in the Scottish winter and SPF 50 when the sun makes an appearance, but I occasionally get caught out. I burned my arms earlier this year on a slightly sunny day, when the temp was only 11C. My wonderful mother in law who lives in the US sent me some Neutrgena SPF 100 when she heard.

    I do joke with my co-workers that it willl be fashionable to be pale blue one day, and whilst they are rushing to Boots to buy their pale blue skin in a bottle , I will be one step ahead I was born with this skin and have 2 choices when it comes to it’s colour. I can either be pale blue, or tomato red, and frankly I’m sticking with the pale blue!!

  • Violet
    July 15, 2010

    I totally agree! I am also a pale girl and get truly sick of all the comments about how I should go get a tan because it just “looks better/healthier” or questions why I’m not tan. Whenever summer arrives I find myself repeating the same chorus: “I don’t tan, I wear sunscreen” and get lots of blank looks that plainly say I’m weird. It’s so annoying how many people act as if putting on sunscreen is something only OCD people take seriously or as if it’s eccentric behaviour. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pale skin, there was a time in human history when fair skin was considered a hallmark of true beauty and being tan was a no-no for fashionable ladies of society. Besides, who wants premature wrinkles or worse, cancer? No thanks, I’d rather have my pale hide and flaunt it!;)

  • Kirsty
    July 15, 2010

    I know exactly what you mean about being made to feel like you have ‘failed’ on a foreign holiday by not coming back with a tan. I always get asked “where’s your tan?” and usually reply that I was concentrating on not getting burned to which people often say if I burned it would be brown after! What a revalation that’s where I’ve been wrong all these years, must burn skin and risk cancer so that the end result is a bit of a tan, so worth it! The most I get is the alleviation of the Scottish blue tinge but it’s only something I really notice. I use fake tan sometimes as I don’t have that lovely alabaster skin you have, I have quite a lot of redness so it reduces that and makes me feel like less of the heffer I am!

    • Dollface
      July 15, 2010

      I always wonder how they’d feel if, when they returned from a vacation, we all looked at them in horror and went, “OMG, what on earth did you TAN for, don’t you own sunscreen?!” I might start doing that to the worst offenders, actually 🙂

  • Sheena
    July 15, 2010

    I once found myself horrified at the comments of some ex-colleagues who were saying that is was “wrong” that people wore skirts and shorts with pale legs and that they “just shouldn’t do it”. Why not? Surely it’s not that much of a crime to show off pale legs if you want to. I’m sure it came up again when we were talking about different shades of tights (“the darker the better” – who really wants their legs and arms/face to be dramatically different shades anyway… but that’s a whole other story).

    The same ex-colleagues are the ones that use SPF6 or less “tanning oil”, come back from their holidays looking like leather handbags and will likely end up with skin problems anyway.

    I don’t tan well and nor am I particularly bothered by this – I was born with pale skin so I am meant to have pale skin!

    • Dollface
      July 15, 2010

      Funnily enough, one of the things that inspired this post was an article on the Daily Mail website a couple of weeks ago (I know, I know, I shouldn’t read it, it never fails to annoy me!) about some celebrity who was on holiday, and was being chastised by the Mail for wearing a bikini “too early” in her vacation – i.e. when her skin was still pale. (The journalist did seem reassured by photos of the woman doing the decent thing and lying out in the sun, though.) It just enraged me: I mean, pale people get too hot and want to go for a swim, too! Are we supposed to wear turtle necks and long skirts/trousers in baking hot temperatures, just so we don’t offend someone with the sight of our natural skin colour? Shocking. And I know I keep coming back to this, but I just can’t imagine the (justified) outrage it would cause if a national newspaper wrote a story condemming a black person for daring to show their skin: such a double standard!

      • Moni
        July 21, 2010

        This has bugged me for quite some time: If you are should only show your bare arms and legs when they are already tanned, how are you supposed to get a tan in the first place? It simply won’t happen with your body completely covered. Surely I will not visit a sunbed or a tanning salon beforehand just to be “allowed” to wear short skirts! 🙁

  • Dollface
    July 15, 2010

    Thanks for such great responses to this, everyone! I’m so happy to know I’m not the only person out there who thinks there should be nothing wrong with being the colour nature intended you to be (whatever that colour is), and that it’s just downright irresponsible to encourage people to risk skin cancer in the name of beauty (or maybe just conformity).

    Thank you 🙂

  • Nicole
    July 15, 2010

    I am glad to see others like myself. My family is of Irish/German descent. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. My whole life I was made fun of called Casper and whitey. I applaude celebrities that step out with pale skin such as Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman and show being that pale can be beautiful. I went to high school with a lot of sun worshippers and I see them now and I am shocked by how much older some of them look because they lived in the tanning bed or lying out by the pool. I worked in a tanning salon several years ago and I was badgered to keep tanning and get dark because it looked good for the business. I did tan but I only got a hint of color, I was even used as a guinea pig for their new spray tan because I was paler and they wanted to see how dark it would make me! I am older now and when someone says something to me about my pale skin (usually family, gotta love them!) he stands up for me and says he loves me just the way I am! He said he thinks it is great because I look so much younger than other women my age and he doesn’t want me to get wrinkly way before my time. Society worries way too much about what others think. If everyone would just be happy with their own body and skin and quit comparing themselves to celebrities in the first place we would all be in a much better place.

  • annet
    July 15, 2010

    you are so right! i have spanish ancestors and my brother and father are very dark-haired, they turn chocolate brown as soon as the sunlight hits them… i’m more of a brunette with the skin of a blonde girl though. people compare me to my brother and think i’m sick because i’m so pale. my arms get a bit of color since they are exposed to sunlight a lot more (never without sunscreen though) and my face gets freckles. the rest stays milky-white. i actually like it a lot more than orange fake tan or tan lines, and my boyfriend loves my pale skin!

  • Charlotte
    July 15, 2010

    I am also v pale and have to put up with people telling me that if I just sat in the sun a bit more I would tan – er, no, I really won’t.

    I was also astounded when someone recently commented that I was so pale because I didn’t eat meat -as if paleness was some kind of disease! I have to admit to still feeling envious of those with a natural golden glow though!

    • Roisin
      July 16, 2010

      Charlotte – not eating meat is often seen as some kind of disease as well! I’m a pale vegetarian, so it get it both ways! I’m also naturally pretty pale and wear 50 spf at the merest hint of sun. I’ve had a few bad sunburns – one of them on my chest, and the skin has never quite regained its previous paleness. I’m okay with that, but it’s a clear reminder to me to always put on plenty of sunscreen. I like being pale anyway – it suits my colouring, and I don’t need to look like anyone else and I hate people feeling the need to tell me what colour my skin should be or what I should eat! x

  • Sandy
    July 16, 2010

    I’ve had the “where’s the tan then?” comments after returning from holiday too. They even said it to my son who was quite young at the time….yep, ok, I’m going to frazzle my sons skin just so you think we’ve had a better holiday!

    I like being pale, I do tend to get a bit of a colour in the summer but I’m still considered pale by those “normal” folks.

    I remember the days when I was flummoxed by skin foundations etc as I was too pale even for “ivory” colours. (When I worked in a dept store, Elizabeth Arden had this colour mix thing going on and were doing samples for everyone, as staff we mosied over for freebies but they couldn’t make anything light enough for me!! I’m sure these companies have realised now that there are paler than pale people out there!! I hope.)

  • Rock Hyrax
    July 16, 2010

    I have pale Celtic skin with eczema kept in check by immunosuppressants so I have to avoid the sun as much as possible. (That’s part of why I like cloudy days much better than sunny ones.) As I’ve got older I get fewer comments – maybe because my face doesn’t look like an old paper bag…

    I’ve heard you can get factor 100 sunblock in Tehran that comes with optional fake tan, though that’s probably a bit out of the way for most people…

  • G.G.
    July 16, 2010

    FWIW, I think you have beautiful skin!

    For a different perspe