Tag Archives: health

[Never Say Diet] Tanning is Another Health/Beauty Conundrum

iVillage Never Say Diet Virginia Sole-Smith Tanning

Or so I realized when I went to write today’s Never Say Diet post about new research on tanning addiction and instead started having the same conversation I’ve been having all week about beauty standards that get conflated with “health,” except that they’re actually not always that healthy for us.

In other words, see also thin is not a synonym for healthy and me asking y’all how you define health (there are some really interesting responses btw — keep ’em coming!). It’s making me realize that maybe what I should be asking is: How do you define beauty?

Except that feels like a way harder question, because it’s so hard to know how much of it is culturally determined vs. your own individual preferences. And because even when we push back against cultural beauty standards, we often do so by making the argument that beauty = health. As in, don’t diet excessively/have plastic surgery/get crazy tan lines like the woman in that photo up there because it’s so bad for your health.

Which makes sense. Probably almost everyone would agree that being healthy is more valuable in the long run than being pretty. Except I’ve noticed that those who reject that plastic beauty ideal in favor of “natural beauty” are often nevertheless still saying that health and beauty are one and the same. They just get their “healthy glow” from vegetables and yoga instead of tanning booths.

Of course I see why that’s better — but I’m still worried about making health and beauty synonymous. It’s all good when it’s getting you to eat more vegetables, but it can so easily lead to doing beauty work (dieting, tanning, chemical peels) in the name of “health.” And that’s how we end up with people who think base tans really are preventing skin cancer or the current cultural vogue to disguise size bias, in all its ugly manifestations, as a pious concern for obese people’s health.

Is this just because striving for health alone is so boring that we need the pretty stuff for more instant gratification? Perhaps beauty really is, in some ways, as fundamental to our well-being as physical health? Or we’ve just managed to layer both health and beauty with so much morality (you’re disciplined/responsible/good if you achieve them, lazy/irresponsible/bad if you don’t) that they really are inextricable at this point?

Yup. I’m genuinely puzzled by this one. If you’ve got some insight, please do share!


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