Thursday, 31 May 2007

Real Tans

Real tans:
Caspar. As in Caspar, the friendly ghost. This was one of my nicknames in High School, lovingly bestowed upon me because of the colour of my complexion: White, white, white, and unwaveringly unable to get a tan. Needless to say, it came as a surprise to me that the thought of Americans immediately conjured up the idea of suntans.

Where does this idea come from? I think about what images of tanned Americans I’ve seen. The one that arrives most readily to mind is Baywatch and Pamela Anderson. These are iconic images that have been transmitted all around the world: the beautiful blonde woman in a red swimsuit bounding across white sand beaches, equally ready to valiantly save the life of an unfortunate flabby holiday maker as to fall into the arms of another bronzed body wearing matching red shorts.

It’s a short move, when thinking about suntans as an identifying factor of Americans, to thinking about skin colour. My experience is admittedly biased, having come from a multi-racial family, and growing up in the ethnically diverse South, but the American population is undeniably mixed-race. I can’t help but wonder if this ethnic blending would result in more people in the USA having tan skin then in England.

Another obvious point is that many parts of the United States get a lot more sun than England does. And it changes the way we live. I can say, without feeling like I’m being at all reductive, that I love the sun. It has a very strong effect on my mood and on how I spend my days. I never realised how much it affected me until I moved to England. Where I grew up in Georgia, there is a lot of good sun all the time, even in winter. I was unused to the sun deprivation of January and February in England, and completely unaware how much it would affect me.

When I put on the makeup for this photo shoot, I felt the strokes of the brush underneath my eyelids, and I thought of them as the rays of the sun brushing my face.
After the make up was complete, we began assembling a picture. The stage lights, which we had rigged up in a small room, were hot on my face as I pulled myself close to them to get the desired look for the photo. We parted from the room, to take photos in other locations. The responses of people who saw me were mixed with humour and curiosity. I ran into someone I knew who was very surprised at how aged I looked, at how the application of the ‘suntan’ brought out lines on my face and gave the appearance of sun damage.

It struck me as strange how both my personal reactions to the sensations of wearing a “real tan” and those of others were very natural. It was very much like I was wearing the identity of being in the sun and a lifetime in the sun.

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