A quick Google search of tanning salons in the Champaign-Urbana area comes up with about 17 listed locations. Not to mention, six of these tanning factories are within walking distance from campus. My apartment alone is within three blocks from two different tanning salons. I just can’t understand their popularity. Granted — I’ve never given them any business. It’s something that has perplexed me ever since I arrived on this campus. Little tanned outlines of playboy bunnies peeking out of low-slung pants weren’t new to me, but the sheer numbers of these bunnies — with the occasional heart or star — was astounding. Young women and, even men, flock to places like Solar Tan, Electric Beach or Classic Tan to get their tan on.
Listen. I get it — looking tan can make you appear healthier. It’ll appear like you frequent the Virgin Islands every weekend during the winter. Some even say you look slimmer with a tan. Maybe you can even look like Jessica Biel — buff and bronze. And anyway, what’s so great about being your natural skin color?
Despite the wonderful advantages of fake tanning, I just can’t help being annoyed by the whole industry. It’s an establishment completely devoted to changing your appearance, and not surprisingly it’s an extremely lucrative one. Given the harmful effects of UV rays, I’m continually surprised at how popular tanning beds — concentrated coffins of UV rays — still are. It’s not like people put SPF on when they hop into a bed; that would defeat the purpose of the whole thing. The other option, spray-on is less harmful, but the cost is wearing all-over body make-up.
While some men definitely frequent tanning salons, an overwhelming number of salon patrons are women. Tanning salons specifically target women — many keep magazines like Cosmopolitan in the waiting areas. You can read up on 128 ways to pleasure your man while you wait to get some melanoma. Posters of bikini-clad models line the walls of some salons, reminding young women what they should strive to be. Everyday, girls walk into artificial browning salons so they can all look the same. How can a place like this promote anything but a negative body image?
More than anything, the tanning salon overtly perpetuates an ideal female body that is nearly impossible to achieve. A beautiful woman must be perfectly tanned, thin yet curvy, toned yet not muscular, and obviously — white. Logically, the people who feel the need to get a tan are of lighter complexions. Tanning salons don’t overtly exclude minorities, but they operate within an entirely white sphere. It’s okay, even desirable, to be tan, however it’s important to not be too dark.
Please don’t think I’m simply over-analyzing something trivial and worthless. It’s important to examine all aspects of popular culture, no matter how seemingly banal. Tanning salons don’t exist just “‘cuz”. It’s part of a larger dominant ideology. They are there for a reason, and apparently people love that reason. I still don’t really get why people go tanning so often, often to the point of an orange/pumpkin kind of glow. It all seems more harmful than anything, if not for your body, at least for your body image. But maybe I’m not being fair. I’ve never actually laid under the healthy ‘natural’ 600-Watt glow of a tanning bed. Maybe I’ll go get my tan on and report back about how great I feel.
Or, maybe not.