At some point over the last decade I did a one-eighty regarding my perspective on faux tanning… I can’t pinpoint the exact moment the shift occurred, but maybe it was when I picked up a copy of How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are. Or possibly when my remote made a most unfortunate stumble onto the reality series Sunset Tan. Or maybe it was the vision of a porcelain Michelle Dockery oozing sophistication and glamour on PBS’s Downton Abbey. In any case, by the early 2010’s I felt strongly that spray tanning needed to be reclassified: it now belonged alongside barrel curls, over-whitened teeth, and french manicures. All beauty treatments best left in the aughts, or at the very least with contestants on the Bachelor. I was excited and inspired by Celia Ellenberg’s story in Vogue last spring titled “The Rise of the Real Girl”, and I enthusiastically embraced the stop-trying-so-hard approach to beauty that she observed on the 2015 runways. I quit getting highlights, threw out the self tanner for good, and started experimenting with air drying my hair on a daily basis. It was exciting — I felt more so much more sophisticated and confident pairing my best clothes with wild, curly hair and daring to wear a 501-style cuffed jean in a sea of skinny jeans in Austin.
Then this story happened. And I realized just how far things had gone. To use one of my mother’s favorite expressions, I was shocked at how “washed out” and colorless I looked. But what’s a naturally light gal to do? I like my fair skin, but can’t help but worry about my upcoming trip to Jamaica in February. Am I really going to subject the other patrons of our hotel to this level of pale? I have to admit: I’m tempted to reach for the bottle again, and I’m not talking Red Stripe.
All of this got me thinking: what makes faux tanning so inherently uncool, anyways? I think it boils down to a simple truth — at this particular moment in fashion and style there’s no bigger sin than looking like you’re trying too hard. And that goes for everything including hair, makeup, interiors, and skin tone as well. In an era that craves authenticity, the fastest route to chic is being comfortable in your own skin (whether that’s porcelain, freckled, ebony, or somewhere in between). It’s the “faux” look of spray tanning that gives away the effort taken. And let’s face it, the look of a subtle real tan (let’s say acquired over a summer of lifeguarding) is somehow so much less cheesy, even if it is totally irresponsible. So that brings me back to the question at hand, is faux tanning over good?
My answer is deceivingly simple: only as long as it looks “faux”.