Tan Lines and Barbie Lies

Hi my name is Krystal, and I’m a tanorexic.

No, really.  I have thrown that term out there before for a laugh and it does sound funny, but I am a legit tanorexic.  What does that mean you might ask?  For kicks, I looked up the definition on wikipedia.  Because all real answers come from wiki of course.   Here’s what it says: “Tanorexia is the term often used to describe a condition in which a person participates in excessive outdoor sun tanning or excessive use of other skin tanning methods to achieve a darker skin complexion because they perceive themselves as unacceptably pale.”  The part of this definition that hits home for me is, “they perceive themselves as unacceptably pale.”  I am fair skinned.  I come from a fair skinned family.  I have brown blonde hair (ok ok fine, it’s really brown), blue eyes, fair skin and freckles.  I love the color of my eyes, I’m fine with the brown hair (but I love my highlights and I have a hair stylist for a sister- score!), but it’s the color of my skin that has always bothered me.  I think it dates back to one instance from my teenage years that stands so clear in my memory, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shake it.

I was 15 years old at a church youth group pool party walking around, a bit insecure, in my new little bikini (which I soon learned was apparently unacceptable at church functions).  The boy I had a crush on was there so I was all awkward and nervous but trying to impress him nonetheless.  I thought we were flirting, thought maybe he was into me as well, until he said the thing that I will never forget: “You know Krystal, you would be hot if you had a tan…”

You would be hot if you had a tan. Poor kid was probably just trying to be honest and didn’t mean to screw up my body image for life or anything; but what he said communicated this to me, “I am not hot because I am pale.  If I weren’t so fair skinned, I would be hot.”  And that pulled out a voice inside of me that was already saying, “You will be wanted, desired, and valued if you are attractive.”  So on that very day that little voice deep inside of me began to say, “You will be wanted, desired, and valued if you are attractive.  In order to be attractive, you need to have a tan.”

Here’s the thing though, with fair skin like mine. Tan is not an option.  Even with the sun, you have 2 choices of skin color: pale white, or red (ouch).  That’s it.  So for the rest of my 15th year of life I went on believe that I was unattractive.  When I turned 16 I got a job and pretty quickly started paying a monthly payment at a tanning salon to use their tanning beds.  I would go almost every single day for up to 20 minutes.  If I ever get skin cancer, that is probably why.  I paid money to destroy my skin.  I will always regret that. But something happened after using the tanning beds day after day for several months: I had the smallest hint of a tan!  And by smallest, I mean smallest.  You could still barely see it.  So after awhile I began my obsession with self tanner.  Now that actually worked to change my skin color!  When I say obsession, I mean obsession.  It got way worse in college.  I went to Elon University.  If your not familiar with Elon, it just might be the home campus of the most beautiful collegiate women in America!  I have seriously wondered at times if they go around the states specifically recruiting models. Girls would walk to class in their high heels, which I must admit I kind of loved because I’ve always liked wearing heels, so I was thankful for the excuse to wear them to silly places like accounting class or the library without being made fun of.  But still, I felt like the walk to class was a walk across a  runway for most women.  Another characteristic of most of the “Elon Models” we will call them, is that they had gorgeous tans. This may or may not have been due to the fact that one of the local tanning salons (A+ Tans, holler!) accepted “Pheonix Cash” that was on our “Pheonix Card” that paid for our meal plans on campus.

Anyway my point is, I am a tanning addict.  I have been obsessed with self tanner, and when I look back at pictures from college my face screams, “ORANGE!!!!!”  I seriously look like I had been dipped in pumpkin paint or kidnapped by Oompa Loompas.  It’s scary.  I am embarrassed for my college self and I wish I could go back to my 20 year old self and say, “Girlfriend, chill out with that stuff. It doesn’t look good, and you smell like chemicals. ”  But I totally didn’t see it then.  I thought I was keeping up with all of the pretty girls in my sorority.

So where does that leave me today?  Friends, it’s an addiction.  I still find myself grabbing bottles of that orange potion at Target all the time.  My husband recently told me that he was going to hide all bottles of self tanner from me so that I can accept my naturally fair skin.  And I’ve been trying to.  But I must admit that when I look in the mirror, I have a hard time seeing that evil pale skin looking back at me.  As if fair skin is the devil! (No, I don’t really think that, but I act that way sometimes).

So how do I change this?  My husband can hide every bottle of self tanner in the world but the truth is, this is just a symptom of a larger disease.  A heart disease.  A disease that causes me to believe that I am not enough just the way I am. And I have much evidence to believe that I am certainly not alone in suffering from this type of heart disease. Did you know that 70% of women feel depressed, guilty and shameful after looking at a fashion magazine for only 3 minutes? 3 minutes!  7.4 million Americans spend a small fortune on cosmetic surgery annually.  And no wonder, because we are surrounded by false images that our culture tells us are “beautiful,” images that would be impossible for us to attain without surgery!  Our culture is under the “Barbie” spell.  It points us to her figure, but fails to tell us she’s a lie. If Barbie were a real human being, she would need some major reconstructive surgery just to survive!  To have the proportions she does, she would need to be anywhere from 6 feet 2 inches to 7 feet 5 inches tall!  She would need to have 2 ribs removed along with several major organs.  The gap between her thighs could only be the result of a major bone deformity.*  This is what she would look like: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/42595605/ns/today-today_people/t/life-size-barbie-gets-real-women-talking/#.Txrit4HT31U .  Our culture continually puts out images that are unattainable and we want what we cannot have.   How ironic is it that in India they use skin bleaching to try to achieve fairer skin? (http://www.thegrio.com/opinion/skin-lightening-is-serious-business-in-india.php) And here I am buying a tan in a can.  Perhaps this is the solution to all of our beauty dilemmas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKz1WgyFAcw.

So where do we go from here?  The sickness is obvious, but how do we heal? Well, you know when you go to the doctor and they tell you to eat healthy and exercise?  Fellow beauty addicts of any sort, that’s what we need to do.  Metaphorically.  (I guess we should do it literally too 🙂 ) But I’m talking  “Eat healthy” by consuming better, truer ideas about our purpose and worth, and “exercise” by putting these true ideas into practice by the way we live.  Ideas that are ultimately found in God’s Word.  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Call me crazy, but all of these beauty magazines, ads and TV shows are not exactly promoting things that are “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these things are evil or even that we shouldn’t look at them.  But if we’re putting the messages they hold into our heads and not counteracting them with truth about these issues, it is going to affect our hearts and eventually cause this crippling disease.

For me personally, I have decided (for now) to stop watching TV as much as I do, and to particularly stop watching the show “Bachelor” this season (don’t worry, I fully intend to watch next season of the Bachelorette with Emily Maynard!).  Instead of watching TV when I have down time, I’ve been doing a lot of reading.  Reading about marriage, about motherhood and understanding infants, about saving money, caring for the poor, and fighting against racism.  Reading that is edifying and develops me more as a person and grows me in wisdom and understanding.   I have decided to stop watching the Bachelor simply because (WARNING: Spoiler Alert!) Reality Steve says that he picks Courtney in the end.  And Reality Steve is always right.  And Courtney just happens to be a model, and also just happens to be awful.  First of all, Ben picking her just feeds these cultural ideas about what men want (I’m pretty sure he picks her solely based on the fact that she is a model.  Because he talks about her being a model all.the.time.).  But second of all, like I said, she is awful and I just don’t feel like watching her or the other women on the show for a whole season.  I might legitimately become dumber if I do.  Except for Emily.  She’s cool. And down to earth.  And is getting her PhD.  From UNC of all places,  so that’s cool  :).  Although I pretty much just enjoy watching that show to laugh at it, I am just going through a little phase where I’m going to be overprotective about the stuff I am putting into my head, at least until I know that there is more truth then lies in my head about beauty.  Plus all the girls on the Bachelor have very obvious spray tans.

Lord help me if I don’t treat this heart disease before my daughter gets older!  I pray that she is not affected by these things to the degree that I have been, and hope that I have learned enough by then to help guide and teach her as she is exposed to the toxicity of the media as well.

* I found these statistics  in the book, “Wanting to be Her” by Michelle Graham


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Lauren says:

    I love my fair skin. Everyone is constantly telling me how gorgeous and flawless my skin is. And I know that if I take care of it, I will look younger, while my peers experience wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer.

    You are beautiful the way God made you, fair skin and all 🙂

  2. Your Mom says:

    You ARE beautiful just the way God made you! Inside and out! I think the girl on the horse in the Bachelor is what did it for you! She looks awful! Yes, please keep Riley away from self-tanner! She, too, is gorgeous just the way God made her!

  3. Sarah says:

    You’re definitely right about people wanting what they don’t have! You’ll notice a surprising number of Hispanic girls wearing long sleeves in the summer because they don’t want to get tan, while the white girls are laying out with baby oil on their skin to try and achieve the skin color the Hispanic girls are trying to get rid of! You’ll hear black women tell parents of ‘ideal’ light-skinned black girls to ‘keep those kids out of the sun…don’t let them get dark!’, while white girls are told to get some color cause they look so ‘pale’. Scarlett has what most Americans (and modeling companies, and toy makers, and creaters of Disney films) seem to think is the ideal coloring, yet she will probably still struggle with liking her coloring when she gets older. I hope I can help her (and girl #2) to love the way they look, no matter how light or dark they may be.

  4. Katherine says:

    Thanks for sharing your struggle Krystal. Thank God for children, helplessly watching our every move with the desire to imitate and please us- motivating us to change. I fear passing on things I have seen in me too. We’ll help each other move away from our idols. The good news is the body of Christ is full-figured and colorful. 🙂

  5. Sarah Jo says:

    White is the new tan! (I get that wrong all the time, saying “Tan is the new white!” because subconsciously, I want to be bronzed year round too!) I can totally relate and have only my husband to thank for backing me off my tanning cliff. And I got my love of the tanning bed living in Roxboro, too. Must be something in the water! Watching your humility in your struggle will teach your child how to suffer and deal well with her inevitable idols. Not saying you shouldn’t try to blot it out, but know that God uses our failures for His glory.

  6. MK says:

    I loved this post because I went through the same thing and blogged about it a year or two ago when I gave up tanning once and for all. I still go through phases where I see other girls that clearly tan or spray-tan and I feel like I’d look so much more attractive, but like a previous poster mentioned, I also get complimented often on my fair skin and also how nice it is. I have seen friends of mine age themselves by at least 10 years through tanning beds and I swear some of them have a permanent layer of spray tan residue on their skin! It really is crazy how one small comment can stick with us forever. I keep telling myself “get healthy” instead of “get skinny”…or at least TRYING to tell myself that, because I know that the latter isn’t a good example to my son, to other Moms, and isn’t the person I want to be. Being a woman in this time is tough, there is no way around it. It takes a STRONG person to ignore all the Hollywood media stuff and be confident in who they are, tan, pale, thin, athletic, long hair, short hair, whatever it is. I think that tuning out of a lot of those shows in a step in the right direction and kudos to you for doing something about it. I have always thought you were absolutely gorgeous and, from what I can tell from your pictures, that has not changed one bit 🙂

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