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13 April 2012

Getting One's Hide Tanned on Campus

Student Health Services here on campus is offering very cheap spray-on tanning to students. It's subsidized through student fees, and the health folks are offering it as a UV-free alternative to actual tanning--and just in time as a swanky, new tanning salon has opened downtown. In theory, this is good, right? Faux tans don't increase melanoma rates the way UV tans do. Is it good, though, to perpetuate the valuation of tanned skin (on white people)?

Let me lay out a couple of arguments to put this in perspective. First, many have argued that owning and wearing faux fir is contrary to the animal rights cause against firs because it still maintains that firs--even if fake--are valuable and desirable. It would be better to shift our tastes and behaviors altogether, so goes the argument. Second, there has been some legal hairsplitting over certain types of pornography. Clearly, possessing images and videos of real rapes or child molestation is beyond the pale. What about the possession of simulated rape porn or porn that features adults who look exceptionally young or who are dressed to look young? What about animated porn that depicts rape or pedophilia? Unarguably, the fake smut is better than the criminal stuff, but I bet few of us are comfortable arguing that fake rape and fake kiddie porn is acceptable.

Fakes of whatever type may eliminate direct material harm, but they symbolically perpetuate problematic cultural valuation. While it may seem relatively trivial compared to my other examples, tanning is a dangerous practice (for white people). Instead of fetishizing tan skin, we would do better to discard this odd practice altogether.

(In case you didn't notice from the parentheticals above, the valuing of tan also perpetuates white privilege.)

1 comment:

  1. Well, it may be analogous to providing condoms to students for free in that this is obviously a health risk for lots of our students. I assume it is mainly the women who tan, and one need only count the number of tanning beds in M'ville to realize that this is really a problem.

    I personally find it problematic from cultural capital standpoint as well. Lots of things are inverted in regards to cultural capital: the fetishizing of the word 'university' in our school name, for example, and the cheery carroty gleam of skin are the two examples I think of most. These things are simply déclassé.