An image of a tanned woman shatters behind a woman shouting.

Tanned Skin, the Media, and the Advocacy That Will Change Everything

Nothing changes if nothing changes. I have heard those words many times over the last few years, and I even have a t-shirt bearing the same quote. The words are simple, straightforward, and oh-so-true. When you think about it, you can apply them to literally any situation.

Stuck in a rut? Change something. In a relationship that isn’t going the direction you expected? Make a change. Feeling like you should be doing more with your life? Take a leap and plan to make one small change at a time. Nothing changes if nothing changes. This rings true especially loudly for me when it comes to sun worship.

We can’t make the big changes alone

If we are going to make a serious dent in the number of people diagnosed with skin cancer each year, changes need to be made and on a much larger scale than most of us realize. Granted, awareness is growing and advocates are coming forward.

The glorification of tanning needs to end

There are more products on shelves with SPF than ever before. What we need, however, is a major change in the way tanning and sun safety are addressed in movies, television shows, advertising, and the fashion industry. We tend to become what we watch, and we are still watching the glorification of tanning all around us.

I’ve done some major changing of my own

A skin cancer diagnosis changes you. It will make you much more conscious of the tan bodies around you and on the big screen. I discovered that I am almost hyper-aware of sunburned faces and tan lines. Full disclosure: I now find the sight of intentionally tanned skin almost offensive. I loathe hearing anyone talk about getting a base tan or tanning until they burn. It’s especially irritating to watch tanned bodies prominently displayed in the media and glorified over their pale counterparts.

A seemingly innocent remark in a movie

I have been advocating for sun-safe practices since being diagnosed with melanoma in 2007. Not often am I surprised when I see a high value put on having tanned skin. I caught myself doing a double-take last week, though. While watching Disney’s Frozen with my third graders, one line in Olaf’s two-minute rendition of “In Summer” stood out like a sore thumb to this scarred-up sunscreen fiend. He sings of “probably getting gorgeously tanned.”

It got under my skin

It was an innocent enough comment, and in passing, most viewers may not think twice about it. To me, however, it speaks volumes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know the couple of seconds it took for the world’s favorite snowman to sing that line was not enough to change the lives of my third graders. There is much more to the story. That fleeting moment in time is one of thousands seen or heard in the media every day, and it’s the cumulative impact that gets under my skin--no pun intended there at all.

The skin cancer crossroads

If you are like me, dealing with skin cancer, and hoping beyond hope for increasing awareness, you have noticed the number of celebrities coming forward lately to talk about skin cancer. The last decade has seen several stars reveal their own experiences to fans via social media. This may be where things begin to really change. We are currently at a point where tanned skin is still valued, but those in the best place to help make the biggest changes are growing cognizant of the danger of changing nothing. Thank goodness.

All in good time

Everything takes time--that’s another great saying, isn’t it? We will get there. It might be slow, but skin cancer awareness is growing, and a change is going to come. Advocates< are making sure of it. Keep the words “sunscreen” and “protection” coming out of your mouth. Refer to SPF whenever it’s relevant. Point out that tanned skin is really damaged skin. Just like the comments and visuals in the media, our comments are cumulative, too. Nothing changes if nothing changes, y’all.

How do you advocate for changes in attitudes about tanning?

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