The Evolution of Skin Tanning

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The Evolution of Skin Tanning

One of Catherine’s insatiable obsessions in Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden is to darken her skin color. She accomplishes this by sun tanning at every opportunity possible, and naturally, her skin turns many shades darker. Catherine’s skin tanning fixation at the time the story takes place coincides with the premiere of skin tanning as a stylish and chic fashionable pursuit.

Traditionally, tanned skin was undesirable to the public. Prior to the industrial revolution, most manual labor was done outside under the sun where such constant exposure resulted in darker skin. Consequently, because manual labor was a staple of the lower classes, tanned skinned also became associated with the destitute and unprosperous (BBC). Not only was dark skin undesirable, but people craved for pale skin. The relaxed elite wanted to show that they stayed indoors because of the needlessness to be outside in the sun doing any type of work of their own. Thus, pale skin became linked with the wealthy and high class (The Tanning Taboo). This lead to practices by the elite such as covering most of their body when they went swimming and carrying around parasols to shade themselves from the sun (Sun and Clouds). The desire for paleness dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who would use lead paints and chalk to make their faces white and colorless as possible (Tanning). In 18th century France and Elizabethan England, royalty would go to such lengths as powdering their faces with toxins to get a pale hue on their faces (The Tanning Taboo). Until the 20th century, nobody desired bronzed skin in Europe or America.

A few events lead to the change in the public’s feelings toward tanned ski...

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...f Tanning” California Tan Heliotherapy. 14 November 2002.

- A website about tanning history from the 1920s to present.

Rutherford, Kim. “The Tanning Taboo” September 2001. The Nemours Foundation. 14 November 2002. <>

- The Nemours Foundation’s site aimed at informing kids about sun safety.

“Sun and Clouds - The Sun in History” The Chemical Heritage Foundation. 14 November 2002.>

- The Chemical Heritage Foundation’s site about the human/sun relationship.

“Tanning” Cool Nurse. 14 November 2002. <>

‑ The Cool Nurse website about safe tanning that also reveals the development of the tan.
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