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From Elizabeth Bennet to Barbie: Sun Tanning Through the Ages

From Elizabeth Bennet to Barbie: Sun Tanning Through the Ages Never mind the little black dress; Coco Chanel’s most lasting contribution to the world of style—and, unfortunately, to dermatology—may well be the suntan. For centuries, in a fashion statement freighted with racial undertones, women around the world coveted a fair complexion. Ancient Egyptians lightened their skin with myrrh and frankincense. Eighth-century Japanese women risked death, using lead and mercury as whiteners. Intent on showing they had never needed to labor under the sun, 18th-century Europeans followed suit, adding whale blubber for good measure.1 The Castilian nobles cultivated skin so translucent their veins showed through, making them the original “blue bloods.”2 The beauty and privilege connoted by porcelain skin was immortalized again and again in the Western canon: Shakespeare’s Othello strangles Desdemona, lest a bloodier murder method “scar that whiter skin of hers than snow.” Pride and Prejudice’s aristocratic Miss Bingley snubs Elizabeth Bennet for looking “brown and coarse” from traveling in the summer—an epithet with most unladylike connotations. Then came Coco, sashaying back from the French Riviera with the bronzage that launched a thousand melanomas. Her tan was of a piece with her leisure-class image: with the industrial revolution, workers had moved from the fields into factories, reversing centuries of epidermal symbolism. Pallor was for the indoor-dwelling poor; only those with means could toast themselves golden-brown. Physicians, meanwhile, touted sunbathing as a cure for everything from tuberculosis to acne, ushering in the era of the “healthy glow.” Sunscreen gained popularity among World War II soldiers, who protected themselves in the Pacific theater with foul-smelling red veterinary petroleum, originally intended for animals. Airman and pharmacist Benjamin Green combined “red vet pet” with cocoa butter and coconut oil and peddled it to civilians as what would become Coppertone.3 In 1953, the Coppertone girl—with her cocker spaniel famously tugging at her bathing suit bottom to reveal her deep tan lines—debuted with the slogan “Don’t be a paleface!” Her older cousin, Malibu Barbie, followed in 1971—followed by Sun Lovin’ Malibu Barbie, Sunsational Malibu Barbie, and Sun Gold Malibu Barbie. (The first Hispanic and African American Barbies appeared in 1980.) It was not until 1978 that the US Food and Drug Administration, amid rising concern about skin cancer, standardized sun protection factor ratings on sunscreen. Tanning booths arrived in the United States the same year. Sadly, it was a head-to-head battle with a clear victor: since then, of course, melanoma incidence has skyrocketed. Fortunately, there are glimmers of pop-culture backlash, from ghostly Twilight vampires to the ladies of Downton Abbey. In 2006, Cosmopolitan launched a “Practice Safe Sun” campaign, with instructions on everything from self–skin checks to “6 sexy sunscreen massages for your man.” Surely, even Chanel would approve. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Laura Fitzpatrick, AB, Weill Cornell Medical College, 445 E 69th St, New York, NY 10021 (ljf2004@med.cornell.edu). References 1. Sarnoff D. From pale to bronze and back again. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/tale-of-tanning. Accessed November 7, 2013. 2. Oliver H. Flying by the Seat of Your Pants: Surprising Origins of Everyday Expressions. New York, NY: Penguin; 2008. 3. Embrace the Sun. Coppertone sunscreen. MSD Consumer Care. http://www.coppertone.com/coppertone/sunderstanding/milestones.jspa. Accessed November 7, 2013. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png JAMA Dermatology American Medical Association

From Elizabeth Bennet to Barbie: Sun Tanning Through the Ages

JAMA Dermatology , Volume 150 (4) – Apr 1, 2014

From Elizabeth Bennet to Barbie: Sun Tanning Through the Ages

Abstract

Never mind the little black dress; Coco Chanel’s most lasting contribution to the world of style—and, unfortunately, to dermatology—may well be the suntan. For centuries, in a fashion statement freighted with racial undertones, women around the world coveted a fair complexion. Ancient Egyptians lightened their skin with myrrh and frankincense. Eighth-century Japanese women risked death, using lead and mercury as whiteners. Intent on showing they had never needed to labor...
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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
2168-6068
eISSN
2168-6084
DOI
10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.10436
pmid
24718429
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Never mind the little black dress; Coco Chanel’s most lasting contribution to the world of style—and, unfortunately, to dermatology—may well be the suntan. For centuries, in a fashion statement freighted with racial undertones, women around the world coveted a fair complexion. Ancient Egyptians lightened their skin with myrrh and frankincense. Eighth-century Japanese women risked death, using lead and mercury as whiteners. Intent on showing they had never needed to labor under the sun, 18th-century Europeans followed suit, adding whale blubber for good measure.1 The Castilian nobles cultivated skin so translucent their veins showed through, making them the original “blue bloods.”2 The beauty and privilege connoted by porcelain skin was immortalized again and again in the Western canon: Shakespeare’s Othello strangles Desdemona, lest a bloodier murder method “scar that whiter skin of hers than snow.” Pride and Prejudice’s aristocratic Miss Bingley snubs Elizabeth Bennet for looking “brown and coarse” from traveling in the summer—an epithet with most unladylike connotations. Then came Coco, sashaying back from the French Riviera with the bronzage that launched a thousand melanomas. Her tan was of a piece with her leisure-class image: with the industrial revolution, workers had moved from the fields into factories, reversing centuries of epidermal symbolism. Pallor was for the indoor-dwelling poor; only those with means could toast themselves golden-brown. Physicians, meanwhile, touted sunbathing as a cure for everything from tuberculosis to acne, ushering in the era of the “healthy glow.” Sunscreen gained popularity among World War II soldiers, who protected themselves in the Pacific theater with foul-smelling red veterinary petroleum, originally intended for animals. Airman and pharmacist Benjamin Green combined “red vet pet” with cocoa butter and coconut oil and peddled it to civilians as what would become Coppertone.3 In 1953, the Coppertone girl—with her cocker spaniel famously tugging at her bathing suit bottom to reveal her deep tan lines—debuted with the slogan “Don’t be a paleface!” Her older cousin, Malibu Barbie, followed in 1971—followed by Sun Lovin’ Malibu Barbie, Sunsational Malibu Barbie, and Sun Gold Malibu Barbie. (The first Hispanic and African American Barbies appeared in 1980.) It was not until 1978 that the US Food and Drug Administration, amid rising concern about skin cancer, standardized sun protection factor ratings on sunscreen. Tanning booths arrived in the United States the same year. Sadly, it was a head-to-head battle with a clear victor: since then, of course, melanoma incidence has skyrocketed. Fortunately, there are glimmers of pop-culture backlash, from ghostly Twilight vampires to the ladies of Downton Abbey. In 2006, Cosmopolitan launched a “Practice Safe Sun” campaign, with instructions on everything from self–skin checks to “6 sexy sunscreen massages for your man.” Surely, even Chanel would approve. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Laura Fitzpatrick, AB, Weill Cornell Medical College, 445 E 69th St, New York, NY 10021 (ljf2004@med.cornell.edu). References 1. Sarnoff D. From pale to bronze and back again. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/tale-of-tanning. Accessed November 7, 2013. 2. Oliver H. Flying by the Seat of Your Pants: Surprising Origins of Everyday Expressions. New York, NY: Penguin; 2008. 3. Embrace the Sun. Coppertone sunscreen. MSD Consumer Care. http://www.coppertone.com/coppertone/sunderstanding/milestones.jspa. Accessed November 7, 2013.

Journal

JAMA DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Apr 1, 2014

References