in an article about tan lines, a woman tans in the summer sun rays
Tanning is a favorite summer pastime of students. (Image via Unsplash)

Hiding Your Tan Lines Might Be Sabotaging Your Summer

We’re used to spending hours trying to cover them, but they might be the very thing we need to show off our summer achievement.

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in an article about tan lines, a woman tans in the summer sun rays
Tanning is a favorite summer pastime of students. (Image via Unsplash)

We’re used to spending hours trying to cover them, but they might be the very thing we need to show off our summer achievement.

As the weather gets warmer and the sun gets hotter, people get tanner. For young people, perfectly tanned skin without tan lines has become the sought-after beauty ideal of the day. That’s why this summer (like every summer), reclining masses of people will cover parks, beaches, backyards and streets to soak in the sun’s rays.

Their hope is that by the end of the summer, they will be transformed and noticeably tanner. For young people attending school especially, a triumphantly tan return in the fall is a dream come true. They can bask in the glow of their peer’s admiration as they did in the glow of the sun. However, such a return can too often be fraught with disappointment: Oftentimes, classmates will simply not notice how much tanner their friends are.

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At the same time, many will find themselves trying to hide tan lines. To avoid coming to school two, three or four toned in the fall, tanning students go to great lengths to prevent tan lines from forming, a task that all too often proves impossible. What they don’t realize is that tan lines, far from being a crack in their perfectly tanned armor, may really be their hidden weapon to get that armor recognized.

In the fight against tan lines, people will employ various strategies to tan evenly. They may apply higher SPF sunscreen to areas that are the most vulnerable to the sun, such as shoulders and feet, and lower SPF sunscreen to areas they want to get darker. When lying down in a bathing suit, girls might untie parts of their tops, to avoid the lines created by the clothing. People cycle through bathing suits and clothing styles to make sure that they aren’t consistently covering any one part of their body.

Some people might apply self-tanner to the paler parts of their bodies to match the darker parts. Swimwear companies have even introduced Tan-Thru bathing suits, which allow the sun to penetrate through fabric and create a more even tan. Even with such a highly complicated game plan, however, tanning hopefuls often find that insidious tan lines still find ways to crop up.

This frustrating conclusion to a summer of arduous strategizing is only compounded when all a tanner’s hard work goes unnoticed and unrewarded upon returning to school. Classmates who haven’t seen them in months simply don’t notice the change. The same challenges have plagued tanners for years: how to tan evenly to avoid tan lines, and how to get their friends to notice their tans.

The problem with any kind of personal transformation is that it is much more salient to the person transformed than to the people around them. When someone changes the way they part their hair, apply their makeup or look at the world, the changes are usually only profound to them. All too often, people feel stung by a lack of social recognition for something that feels monumental: a haircut, a growth spurt, an improvement in a skill or, yes, tanner skin.

In such cases, people often find that to gain recognition, they have to prompt their friends. “Do you notice anything different about me?” “Doesn’t my ponytail look so much shorter?” In response, friends are usually able to notice changes and provide validation for the transformation. On social media, people have access to an even more powerful prompt: the before and after photo. By posting photos that include a before and after component, people are much more likely to receive social support, recognition and validation for their transformations.

Unfortunately, there is no real equivalent for the before and after photo in most real-life interactions with friends. Without the visual referent of the “before,” friends are much less likely to notice differences in the “after” standing in front of them. And in most cases, this is just going to have to be the sorry state of affairs. One can hardly get half a haircut, or put makeup on only a portion of their face.

However, with tanning, people have a unique opportunity to create a tangible before and after photo right there in person. How can they do this? By embracing their tan lines.

Tan lines are noticeable, which is generally why people try to hide them. But what they don’t realize is that by hiding or otherwise muting their tan lines, those hoping to have their hard work recognized are smothering their main source of power. For people who worked hard all summer to tan their skin, tan lines mark progress. They show precisely where a person started in the beginning of the summer, and where they finished by the end.

Tan lines are tangible representations of hard work and strategy. Friends are immediately provided with visual evidence of a change, which they are then much more likely to notice and comment on.

If getting noticed isn’t enough of a reason to embrace tan lines, tanners would do well to consider all the other ways shunning them is hindering their summer. One of the reasons tan skin is considered beautiful is because it conjures images of activity, outdoor travel, sports and otherwise pleasant and adventurous activities. However, as many people that are serious about maintaining an even tan know, many of these activities are likely going to produce some nasty tan lines. Swim shirts, hiking pants and several other enemies of the even tan are going to come with the territory.

The fact is, outside of a very controlled setting, tan lines are simply bound to appear, and appear dramatically. If someone truly wants to get an even tan, they are condemning themselves to a summer filled with tedious hours of little to no movement under the blazing sun.

While this can sound relaxing in its own way, the constant vigilance required to turn over, cover certain parts of the body and anticipate tan lines is likely to produce more anxiety than it relieves. If it’s true that the most beautiful tan is the one that was created by the most fun summer, then it seems that people can’t have beautiful tans without tan lines.

(It of course should be noted that tanning in general can be a risky practice, and many dermatologists warn that it increases the risk of skin cancer. For those who wish to tan, it is very important to do so in the safest manner possible. Check out this article for some tips on how to tan safely.)

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Alicia Furlan

University of Pittsburgh
Philosophy, Communication Rhetoric

Alicia is a Philosophy student at the University of Pittsburgh. When she’s not studying, she loves to go on long walks and explore the city, especially on the occasional days when it isn’t raining!

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