June 22nd, 2010
Americans, especially young women, continue to spend too much time sunbathing and in tanning beds, though well aware of the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. Why?
“In the 19th century, middle- and upper-class wives and daughters stayed safely indoors. When venturing out, they carried parasols to protect their skin and their social status. Farmer’s wives and daughters worked outdoors,” says history professor Simone Caron. “At the turn of the century, the ‘new woman’ emerged. She was college educated and engaged in sports, such as tennis, bike riding and golf. A tan became a sign of a fit and educated woman. Pale skin began to represent either the older generation or sickly factory workers. Tan skin today is associated with ‘youth,’ so everyone wants to be tan despite the health risks.”
Cases of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, have increased among women in their 20s in the past 5 years. According to an article in the New York Times, When Tanning Turns Into an Addiction, people may be drawn to tan not just for the social approval but because it feels good. Studies, such as the one conducted by researchers at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, suggest pleasure-giving endorphins in the brains of UV abusers may stimulate tanning addiction. In addition to the cultural appeal of tan skin, mood enhancement and relaxation may make it difficult to resist the dangers of sunbathing and tanning bed use.