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What's So Wrong With Being Pale?

Updated on January 23, 2011
A slightly old picture of me. Being pale.
A slightly old picture of me. Being pale.

She's delighted to be pale.

The thought of sitting out in the sun horrifies her.
The thought of sitting out in the sun horrifies her.

Let's Get White Down To It

Sometimes, I look down at my paper-white calves and frown. I’m so pale! Thankfully my skin is thick and not translucent, but still I look upon them with dismay occasionally. It is not good, we’ve been told, to be pale. It is especially not good to be pale and curvy, and GOD FORBID you are pale and have cellulite, lest you look like sour cream.

But why is it so bad to be pale?

I couldn’t tell you why, but it is a relatively new phenomenon. For hundreds of years, being pale was a sign of nobility, refinement and wealth. Women would walk around outdoors with umbrellas, to prevent their skin from tanning or freckling. It was chic to be pale. It was fashionable. It was beautiful. Rich people didn’t have to work in the fields, they could stay indoors and pursue ladylike activities such as sewing, embroidery, music, dance, and drawing (not that I’m promoting sexism here). Poor people had to farm and work outside for a living. Ever heard of the term “farmer’s tan?” Only peasants were tan. To a Victorian woman, the thought of people paying to lie down in booths and become tan is ridiculous, unthinkable. Preposterous. It would be the modern-day equivalent of paying to gain weight. (And that’s a whole other article, right there. But maybe some other day).

“What a horrifying thought,” she might say.

In Asia, in countries like Japan and especially India, women actually buy creams to bleach their skin a lighter colour, in following with their beauty ideal. This phenomenon is not new – women have been known to apply lead-based creams (which, yup, led to lead poisoning [haha, “led to lead”]) and powder themselves with arsenic in eras gone by. Clearly, this obsession with tanning is a very North American thing. So how did it come about?

The lovely Coco Chanel

Why didn't you think to put on sunscreen?
Why didn't you think to put on sunscreen?

Why We Love Tans

Apparently, in the 1920s the lovely Coco Chanel came back from a vacation on the French Riviera sunburnt, and her fans liked the look so much they started to pine for darker skin. Also around this time French singer Josephine Baker (La Baker) was wildly popular, and her “caramel” skin inspired her admirers to want to look more like her, hence the beginning of the tan as healthy, attractive and luxurious.

In the 1940s, with the advent of the bikini (1946), advertisements appeared in women’s magazines that encouraged sunbathing. Baby oil was used to speed up the tanning process throughout the ‘50s, and Coppertone started producing sunscreen in ’53. Also around this time the first self-tanner was created, which lent an unsightly orange colour to the skin.

In 1971 Mattel came out with Malibu Barbie, and with her deeply tan skin, sunglasses, and her own bottle of sun tanning lotion, it didn’t take much for girls to want to emulate her (women have been trying to look like Barbie for decades). In ’78, SPF 15 sunscreen and tanning beds appeared, creating what is now a $5 million tanning industry which has grown in popularity immensely over the years, from 10,000 tanning outlets in the ‘90s to over 50,000 today. And here we are – obsessed with being tan, because if you’re not tan, there must be something wrong with you. You don’t go outside. You don’t do things. You can’t afford to go vacationing in Cuba over the summer and so you stay inside the house all day and do nothing because you’re socially inept. No one ever stops to think “Hey, maybe she’s just pale.”

Ginger women are pretty.


I recall a summer or two ago when I was innocently reading the newspaper at the kitchen table one morning when my dad looked at me and said “You look pale. Why don’t you go sit outside on the balcony for a bit and get some sun?” Needless to say, I was shocked. My own father telling me to go outside? This illustrates our distorted image of pale people. I am not a social reject because I’m fair, I’m just pale! Yes, I go outside like everybody else, but when I do, I put on sunscreen, lest I burn. It’s a very simple concept, people.

Getting mocked about being pale bothers me just a bit, but you learn to laugh it off. You roll with the punches. Hell, sometimes I even make pale jokes about myself, and ever since I’ve dyed my hair ginger, it seems all the more appropriate. I will say I get a kick out of going to the beach wearing shorts, sticking out my calf and saying “look at my leg, you’ll go blind.” I have thought to myself that they could probably place a whole bunch of naked pale people on the North Pole to help reflect more light back into the atmosphere as more and more snow and ice melt because of global warming. Climate crisis: solved.

My two cents

But in all seriousness, it’s not a big deal to be pale, and although I admit I have had fleeting thoughts about perhaps going to a tanning salon or buying some self-tanner, I never condone these thoughts for more than a few seconds. Yes, I’m sure I would be perceived as more attractive or whatever, but it’s just not worth the skin cancer and premature aging, and as for self-tanner, it seems rather messy, and a huge waste of time. I could be doing something else. Plus, I happen to think pale skin is pretty. I love ginger women, I think they’re gorgeous. And pale skin is ideal for makeup because the colours contrast so well with it. I know what makeup and colours work for my skin tone, and I go with that. There’s really no sense in spending time and money attempting to change something that doesn’t need to be changed. Being pale makes me unique. It is a part of me. And hey, one of my ex-boyfriends said that part of the reason he was attracted to me was because I’m so pale. He loves pale chicks. And hey, so do I.


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    • profile image

      Vampira 10 months ago

      I've learned to embrace it too. I just can't be in the sun for more than 10 minutes so I only go outside at night...hence the Vampira jokes. Blonde hair and green eyes come with a price....pale skin. Thankfully my husband loves it. He refers to the line in the song Creep. 'You're just like an angel. Your skin makes me cry.'

    • Jennifer Mugrage profile image

      Jennifer Mugrage 2 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

      Hey, thanks for this post, fellow pale girl.

      Although, technically, what we are is "fair-skinned." That's when white is your natural, healthy color. Pale is when someone has less color than they normally would because they are sick, horrified or have lost blood. ... But I get it, nobody says "fair-skinned" anymore.

      I do use self-tanner, but it does not make me look tan. It just cuts down on the glare a little bit, ha ha. I would not have chosen this, but it's what I got, and like all other skin colors, it can be very beautiful.

    • profile image

      Ally brown 3 years ago

      Being pale means you are different. But I envy you if you are a pale summer of fall. That means you have a yellow undertone. If you are a spring or winter you are a blue undertone. If you are a blue undertone then you will look even more pale than you actually are. I have red hair and gray eyes that makes me look even paler. Good luck fellow pale people!!!!:):):)

    • ms_independent profile image

      Celine 5 years ago from Canada

      Nah, not at all, Cameron! I've known plenty of pale guys who are attractive!

    • profile image

      Cameron 5 years ago

      Yeah try to be a guy that is pale. It is not in the slightest bit attractive

    • ms_independent profile image

      Celine 5 years ago from Canada

      Yay! I agree with you ProudofPale, I like the way clothes look on my skin. It's all about choosing what suits you!

    • profile image

      ProudofPale 5 years ago

      I used to want to get tan. But, I only burnt!!! But last year tought me something- it's best to be different. It seemed like I was the only one not wearing the same clothes as everyone and I felt fine- why be someone else when you can be you. Now, I LOVE my pale skin!!!

    • profile image

      pale2 5 years ago

      i am so pale 2!! i look like a vampire! my stomatach is white! i have gotten called white a** and it is mean! but now i like paleness

    • profile image

      iluvpalefeet 6 years ago

      Pale women are gorgeous! The sexiest ever! It's a beautiful canvas, colors contrast so nicely on your skin. The bottoms of your feet have the most beautiful rosey red color when you walk barefoot. Nail polish looks amazing, no matter what color. The more intense the hair color the better as well. luv the paleness!