History of Western obsession with tan/dark skin

Mar 2014
Rich people that have a lot of free time spend in on the beach or playing golf, they get tan. Milled class or poor people spend most of their life in offices and cubicles pounding on the keyboard, they get pasty white. Everyone want to look rich and successful. Although overall this thing about tan skin is less powerful in Europe, than white skin in Asia. At least in my opinion.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
It used to be that a tan was the mark of the working class. The upper crust was pale, pale, pale and proud of it. (It's part of the idea behind the "blue blood" of the aristos. They were pale and so you could see the blueish veins. Commoners had a tan on veins and all.)

The shift to tan-is-terrific was part of the 1920's. Started with the smart and literary set of in particular Americans summering in southern France.
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Aug 2010
Welsh Marches
It's hardly an obsession, I don't think that most people could give a damn whether or not anyone has a suntan! It is true that the lack of it used to be a sign of status, that is why ladies carried parasols.
Jun 2016
England, 200 yards from Wales
I suppose the whole thing reversed when the workers moved from being mostly in agricultural work outdoors and hence tanned (so pale skin was a mark of the upper class) to being mostly inside in factories, shops and offices, and therefore paler (so the upper class could stop shading themselves so much with big hats and parasols, and let a tan differentiate them from the wage-slaves) . When did that happen? Late 19th to early 20th century I'd guess?

How effectively did Victorian Brits in India or Africa shade themselves to preserve their pale skin?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
It’s clear that this is an obsession in the West, so I want to know what the history of it is.
It is not unique to just the West. There is a current thread about India's obsession with light color skin, and if you look at Bollywood stars, they seem to me to be on the average lighter skin than many of your typical citizens of India.

As said, darker skin was a sign of a tan, that a person spent too much time outside exposed to the sun, like a peasant, and was associated with lower status persons. This seem to apply more to women than to men.

It was prejudice further reinforcemed in the West when darker skin color became associated with black slaves and other peoples regarded as socially inferior and less advance. But the prejudice existed before than. One of he criticism of Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine in Pride and Prejudice, was that she was "too brown", i.e she spent too much time outdoors pursuing unlady like pursuits, and didn't sufficiently shield herself from the sun.

When most people began to live in cities and work indoors, a tan in the 20th century became a sign of status, that you had the wealth and leisure to be outside to acquire a tan, to imply you live a healthy lifestyle outside instead of being holed up indoors all the time.
Feb 2019
Laniakea Supercluster
Well, it's far from being clear there is an obsession.

What are You refering to, what period, were You put "the West"?
The period I’m referring to is the present, the West I’m including Europe, Australia, and the Americas. I don’t know if it’s an obsession in Europe or Australia, but here in the US it seems to be. People getting spray tans, going to tanning salons (they don’t seem to be as popular anymore though), going to the beach just for a tan (often laying out in the sun too long, which isn’t good for you). It’s not an obsession for everyone, but it seems to be for a lot of people.
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Feb 2019
Laniakea Supercluster
It is not unique to just the West. There is a current thread about India's obsession with light color skin, and if you look at Bollywood stars, they seem to me to be on the average lighter skin than many of your typical citizens of India.
I already knew that India and East Asia also have the obsession with light skin. When I used to be a weeaboo and koreaboo, I was obsessed with light skin and always tried to block myself from the sun, now I don’t really care what color my skin is. Also, that thread is what inspired me to make this one.
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
As others have said to have pale skin (for instance in 18th century Britain or the Roman period) was a sign of someone who did not have to work out doors and therefore acquired a tan. A Roman lady always went out with a shawl to keep herself covered and avoid a tan.

In a similar way to our eyes the 'great beauties' of the 17th and 18th centuries would seem to be 'carrying a little weight' (not overweight) because thiswas a sign of having more than enough food.

Tanned thin people were those who worked out doors and didn't have enough to eat.

Today a tan is a sign of being to afford holidays in the sun and not be stuck in a factory/office all day.
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