Tanning Without the Toxins for Women’s Liberation?


A Houston salon is home to the next big eco beauty trend: fake tanning using beet-based dyes. According to a recent story in CultureMap, a Houston entertainment site, a “body hueing” salon called Throwing Copper has developed a spray-on solution from the deep red root. The so-called “green tanning” trend is a boon for those who want a sunless tan without the harsh chemicals. But Throwing Copper has also managed to conflate bronzed skin with women’s lib, a claim that’s as artificial as it gets.

According to the CultureMap story, Throwing Copper owners Samantha Buchanan Curry and Stephani Adams were inspired to join the tanning trade by Coco Chanel, the frontierswoman of modern female couture. As the story goes, Coco Chanel ushered in the bronzed era in 1923 when she disembarked from a yacht in Cannes with perfectly tanned skin, rousing women to ditch their umbrellas in the summer months. While Chanel’s storied sunburn may have galvanized the tanning trend, cultural mores surrounding skin tone had been in flux for decades. Pale skin was once a characteristic of the elite, a way for privileged individuals to differentiate themselves from day laborers and farm workers who toiled under the sun. When the industrial revolution brought low wage jobs indoors, pale skin transcended socioeconomic lines. Around the same time, white aristocrats began sunning themselves while on vacation in the French Riviera. And doctors began recommending tanning as a remedy to cure tuberculosis and other illnesses.

Coco Chanel may have initiated a tanning craze when she stepped off that boat. But she did not initiate women’s liberation, as Throwing Copper’s Curry and Adams would have you believe. According to the spa’s web site, Chanel’s tan empowered women. “Chanel revolutionized fashion trends by designing women’s clothes that revealed more skin, and in the process redefined social norms by making it ‘au courant’ to acquire a sun tan. Women stepped out of the house and started enjoying outdoor life”¦”

Chanel’s menswear designs for women upended gender norms in the fashion world. But her tan? It was the promise of paid employment – not the promise of bronzed skin – that propelled women to step out of their homes. The only thing that sunbathing has brought us – aside from melanoma – is another pointless beauty standard.

But if it’s one you adhere to, best to take Curry and Adams’ advice and go green. A fake tan without the chemicals is better for your skin and the environment. It just won’t guarantee gender equity.

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