Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, there were two tanaholics on my sleepy little street. Single moms and independent women, both of them, Trudy and Kelly would make a neighborhood event out of heading to Trudy's front yard on sunny days with folded mirrored contraptions that reflected the sun's rays more directly at the face, neck and chin. "I wanna glow!" Trudy would bark from her self-imposed outdoor oven.
The neighborhood boys loved the spectacle of the two gals getting dark. Trudy, in particular, kept a deep tan year-round, thanks to her own tanning lamp, under which she'd bake to a chestnutty brown during winter.
Long before tanning beds and parlors popped up on street corners, health club, hair salons and strip malls, we've been drawn to the glow of sun on our hides. Coco Chanel popularized tanning in the 1920s, saying the tan was "in." Tanning was a mark of the affluent, the upper crust. Hollywood shows the bronzed beauty as a picture of perfection, and over time we've come to think that pale is, well, pathetic in some ways.
The truth is this: UV light is long known to cause a variety of cancers. Cancer of the skin is the most common cancer in the United States. So if cancer kills (which it does, no denying this), why do tanning salons continue to grow in popularity, and why are we hurting ourselves with the push of a button day after day? Why people still tan despite its harmful effects