A Tan Isn’t Worth Dying For

Summer is fast approaching, and I can’t wait. I love the hot and sunny weather, the cute skimpier clothes, being able to eat ice creams without shivering, and the general easiness and relaxation of the season. But there is one thing that I really can’t stand: having to explain to people why I’m not tanned.

When you live in a coastal town, having a tan is expected. It’s the done thing. Whenever people have some free time, they all rush to the beach, lying on the sand, soaking up the sun. Usually without enough, if any, sunscreen. Everywhere you turn, you see lobster-red, burned skin, or complexions that, having been exposed for hours every day to the sun, have become so dark they look completely fake and unnatural.

And then, there’s little, old, pasty, white me. A ghostly complexion stands out more than a neon sign, and, every time I meet someone I haven’t seen in a while, they all ask, concerned, why I haven’t found time to go to the beach. Have I been working too hard? Been unwell? “Nope,” I tell them. “I just don’t like a tan.” By their puzzled expressions, you’d think that two green horns had suddenly sprouted on top of my head.

The concept that tan equals beauty and health is so deeply rooted in our society that most people, especially women, can’t  conceive the idea that anyone could ever find pale skin attractive. Pale skin is seen as something to be ashamed of and that needs to be covered up.

Coco Chanel has some blame in this. When the famous designer stated “the 1929 girl must be tanned” after returning from a holiday, perceptions started to change. Until then, a tan had been considered a sign of poverty and vulgarity (it meant you were a labourer who worked long hours under the sun) to one of wealth and glamour.

But it would be wrong to place the blame entirely on Chanel. She may have started the trend, but it is only in the 1980s that beauty companies recognized that there was a lot of money to be made in tanning. Tanning salons started appearing everywhere, promising to turn women from sickly white ghosts to beautiful bronzed babes. Constantly sported by most models and celebrities, a tan is said to make you look more attractive, thinner, healthier, and increase your confidence.

No wonder then that women, mostly young ones aged between 16 and 29, started flocking to these tanning salons. Problem is, there is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is a sign that your skin has been damaged. In the worst case scenario, that can lead to skin cancer. Unfortunately, that’s becoming more and more common.  Since the ’70s, incidences of melanoma have massively increased both in the US, UK and other Western countries where a tanned complexion is regarded as a beauty ideal to achieve at all costs.

tanning bed

In the US alone, one person dies of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) every 57 minutes. It is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.

But the majority of the victims are young women. Between 1973 and 2004, “melanoma incidence among men aged 15 to 39 increased from 4.7 cases to 7.7 cases per 100,000. In that same age group, the figures more than doubled among women, leaping from 5.5 cases per 100,000 in 1973 to 13.9 in 2004.” (Source).

If women are more likely to develop melanoma is because they are more likely to associate a tan with beauty. And it’s based first on their looks, and only later, on their accomplishments, that women are still judged today. By getting a tan, women therefore hope to be loved and appreciated. A natural desire, but not one worth to be pursued with any means necessary. A tan is not worth dying for.

As the dangers of sunbeds became known, some governments have taken steps to ban them, at least for young teenagers. But forsaking sun beds is not enough. Also important is to wear sunscreen every day, not just at the beach. Unfortunately, even when people don’t purposefully refuse to use it while sunbathing for fear it will prevent them from developing a tan, they either don’t apply enough product, or slather it on often enough (how many bother to reapply it, even after swimming?) or choose a bottle not labelled as broad-spectrum.

Not using your sunscreen correctly will make your skin prone to sunburns, skin cancer and premature aging. Yes, because UV rays make your skin develop wrinkles and sun spots a lot sooner than they would otherwise appear. We spend millions of dollars every year on creams, fillers, and surgical procedures to get rid of wrinkles, and yet we often ignore the main thing that will prevent them in the first place: sun protection. And we often do this in the name of beauty, to get a tan. Ironic, isn’t it?

Of course, there is always fake tan. That, at least, is safe. Or not? Well, a bottle of self-tanner won’t give you cancer, but it can send a very dangerous message. It tells you that your pale skin is ugly. It implies that women with fair skin aren’t beautiful and, as a result, worthy of love.

But why? Who has decided that pale skin is less attractive than a bronzed complexion? And why? The self-tanning industry has created a problem that simply wasn’t there before and provided us with a quick-fix solution. They’re making billions of dollars by preying on our insecurities that we’re not good enough. And, sadly, we’ll never be good enough. There will always be someone who won’t hesitate to use body shame, and exploit or invent “flaws”, to make a quick buck.

But we don’t have to buy into this conditioning. It’s high time that we start to love our skin tones. I am a white, ghostly pale Caucasian girl. I own it, and I’m proud of it. Whatever your skin tone is, you should embrace it too. You don’t need a tan (or, a skin-lightening product if you live in a society where pale is the beauty ideal) to look gorgeous. You already are.

And if you really must get a tan, get one in a bottle. But only do so if you genuinely love that bronzed look, not because you’re ashamed of your skin tone, or because all your friends are doing it. Don’t succumb to pressure. Be your own gorgeous self. Always.

Do you tan? If so, do you do it because you like it, or because you hate your natural skin colour?

How Going On A Media Fast Helped My Self-Esteem

media fast magazines© Thierry Caro

I was happy with the way I looked until I was 14. The media had never been a big part of my life until then, so I didn’t know I had to look a certain way to be loved or worthy. My mom had never been into Vogue or Marie Claire and the only magazines that would occasionally enter the house were gossipy rags I had no interest in.

The internet didn’t exist. Not in my house anyway. It would be my parents’ present for my 18th birthday. TV? Only a couple of hours a day, either a cartoon or a show like Growing Pains. It’s not that I didn’t like TV. I just had better things to do. Like spending time outdoors, bicycling, skating, playing volleyball and just generally running around with my sister and our friends.

All that changed when I started high school. I had a lot of homework, so I started spending more time indoors. Afterwards, I’d just relax by watching TV. Sitcoms, movies, MTV, whatever was on. I also discovered teen magazines and devoured all their stupid advice on how to look prettier, get boys to like you, become popular and have a lot of friends (all things for which being hot was apparently very important…).

I thought it was harmless fun. And yet, the more the media invaded my life, the worse I felt about myself. Reading mags, watching Tv… I enjoyed it at first, but, after a while, and without even noticing it, I started to feel bad about myself. I kept seeing all these gorgeous women, with their flawless skin and perfectly shaped, cellulite-free bodies, and I would ask myself why I couldn’t look like that too.

media fast tv© Anton Novoselov

Sure, I knew they had stylists, hairdressers, plastic surgeons, fitness trainers, photoshop and who knows what else to make them look that way, yet the ideal of beauty they represented seemed achievable. “You could look like that too”, the mags said. “You just need enough willpower and determination to follow our advice.”

So, I would try their crazy diets for a week or so, during which I’d feel even worse. I was hungry and tired all the time, which made it difficult to do pretty much anything, including studying. And all that effort got me nowhere because I only lost a few grams. And yes, I know you can’t really achieve any significant results in a few days, but wasn’t that what those magazines promised you? To get you bikini-ready in five days? So, if I couldn’t do it, it was my fault.

At first, I started to redouble my efforts. I lost a bit of weight, but I never looked like the gorgeous women gracing the covers of magazines or appearing on TV shows. I had enough common sense by then to realise I never would and ditched the diets and crazy fads, but not enough to understand the ideal of beauty I was fed was unrealistic and impossible to achieve. I thought I was ugly and worthless and that there was nothing I could do about it. My self-esteem was at a rock bottom.

I started suffering from depression.  I can’t say the media was entirely to blame (it was brought on by undiagnosed and untreated selective mutism, plus, because of another misdiagnosis, I was taking a medication for epilepsy that can cause feelings, such as sadness and discouragement, associated with depression), but it certainly contributed to it. It gave me one more thing to worry about, one more thing that was wrong with  me: my body.

media fast social media

It was a thing to hide behind layers of clothing. I would wear jeans even in the burning hot Italian summers if I had to go out because I wasn’t comfortable with people looking at my legs. My insecurities also prevented me from having fun when out with my friends and were even spoiling my relationship with my boyfriend. It was at this point that I decided to fast again.

Only this time, I didn’t give up food. No, I embarked on a media fast. First, I turned the TV off, which was easy enough. By then, it was full of reality TV shows, a genre I always hated. Next, I gave up magazines. All of them bar Vanity Fair, which I still read. But what about all those ads on the streets? Or your friends and family rehashing the advice they learned from TV? And now, there’s social media too.

You can’t escape the media. It is everywhere. But the good news is, you don’t have to reject the media altogether. You just have to take it, like everything else in life, in moderation. You see, when your brain is exposed to something for a long period of time, it’ll come to consider it as normal. If you’re exposed to thousands of images of airbrushed women every day, your brain will think it is really possible to look like that. And that’s very dangerous.

But when you return to watching those images after you’ve been on a media fast, even if for just a few days, you will be more sensitive to their messages, especially to those that hurt you. It will make you question what they say and notice how unrealistic and weird those photoshopped images really are. It will give you the tools to defend yourself against negative messages, so that you can make healthier and better choices.

media fast billboard© Jenny Poole

Little by little, you will start loving your body more. You will appreciate everything it does for you and will be able to take better care of it by listening to its needs, rather than trying to turn it into something else it was never supposed to be. You will never look like someone else, and surely, you’ll never look like those airbrushed models on magazine covers. Not even them do. Some standards are unattainable for everyone.

And that’s ok. Because you don’t have to fit into an unrealistic beauty ideal to be happy, healthy and worthy. But you have to love yourself. My life became a lot better since I went on a media fast. I started reading more books again. I now wear whatever I want. I try to eat healthy, but I will indulge in a pizza or a slice of cake every now and then without feeling guilty about it. I’m less self-conscious and more open to new experiences. And although the media fast didn’t cure my depression, it did reduce it, making it easier to treat.

Of course, not all the media is bad. As I said above, I still read Vanity Fair. I still watch TV shows, such as Supernatural and Glee. I do read blogs (obviously). But these days, I only consume media that makes me feel good. If a magazine is trying to make me feel awful about  the way I look, I throw it away. If a TV programme is talking down to me and makes me doubt myself, I turn it off.

The media won’t change. After all, they’re making millions by exploiting our insecurities. But we can change the way we think. Going on a media fast is often the first step to do that.

Have you ever gone on a media fast? If not, are you planning to?

4 Reasons To Show Off Your Beautiful Smile

four reasons to smile

We are born with the ability to smile. Babies start to smile when they are only a few weeks’ old, and children do it about 400 times a day. But adults only smile about 20 times a day. Ain’t that a shame? Smiling seems just an involuntary reaction to something pleasant or funny, but it does so much more than just showing our happiness. It can makes us look more attractive, change the way others see us, and even help us get a job!

Here are four very good reasons to smile:

1. Smiling cheers you up

We usually smile when we are happy. But smiling can also makes us happy. Whenever you’re feeling down, force a smile even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll instantly feel better. That’s because smiling releases endorphins and serotonins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers, while serotonins are natural anti-depressants. Therefore, smiling can reduce both physical and emotional pain and shift our mood from negative to positive, increasing our sense of well-being. So, smile away! The more you do it, the better you’ll feel!

2. Smiling cheers others up too

Smile and the world will smile with you. It’s not just a saying. A Swedish study has demonstrated that smiling is contagious.Researchers showed participants images of happy and angry facial expressions and monitored their reactions through electromyographs (EMGs). The results? They smiled when they saw people smile, and frowned when they saw people frown. And they did so unconscionably. This happens because when we smile, we make the atmosphere happier and more cheerful. Other people will perceive it and react positively to it. So, share your good vibes. A smile costs nothing and can give so much!

3. Smiling makes you look younger

Forget Botox. The best antiaging weapon (apart from sunscreen, of course) is smiling. A team of German researchers showed participants more than 1000 photographs of people with different facial expressions (angry, fearful, disgusted, happy, sad, and neutral). They found that people who smiled looked more than 2 year younger. And that’s not enough. Smiling people are also perceived to be more attractive, sociable and competent. All good reasons to smile.

4. Smiling makes you look more successful, confident and friendly

Are you nervous because an important work interview is approaching or you finally have a date with that special someone? Don’t know what to wear? Whatever you do, don’t forget to don a smile. People who smile are perceived to be more confident, successful, trustworthy and reliable, all qualities that always positively impress a potential employee or partner. Plus, when you greet people with a big and friendly smile, they’ll be more willing to get to know you. And this means more friends, more opportunities and a happier, more fulfilled life. Who wouldn’t want that?

Are you smiling yet? :)

Why The Whole Concept Of Bikini Body Is Ridiculous

bikini body 02

Personally, I’m not a big fan of bikinis. I much prefer those one-piece retro bathing suits. There are two reasons for that. One: I love vintage inspired fashion. And two: I detest a tan, so the less of my skin is exposed to the sun, the better. So why am I writing this post? Because now that spring is here, magazines have started again to bombard us with articles on how to achieve that perfect bikini body for the summer holidays. And it infuriates me.

The whole idea of a bikini body is bullshit. The words bikini body imply that only bodies that adhere to a certain standard of beauty should be allowed to wear one, while everyone else should hide theirs under layers of clothes in disgrace for failing to achieve that impossible ideal. And that’s not true. We already have a bikini body, all of us. Put on a bikini and you have a bikini body. It’s as simple as that. Or at least it should be. But for many women it isn’t.

bikini body 04

And that’s understandable. It’s very difficult to feel comfortable in our own skin when we are constantly exposed to images of beautiful, thin and tall models and celebrities who look perfect all the time, and are always reminded that wrinkles, cellulite, stretch-marks, body hair and any other “flaw” are the worst sins a woman could ever commit. The message is clear: if you’re not perfect, you’re worthless, and you have no business going to the beach (or even just stepping out of the house, really).

The media seems to think that the sole purpose of wearing a bikini is to show off your body to the world, so that people can enjoy looking at it or criticize it, and not because you simply enjoy wearing one or because you find it prettier than a one-piece swimsuit. This insane way of thinking only reduces women into objects, into body parts to be looked at, and into empty shells. But our bodies are so much more than that. Our bodies allow us to move, to feel, to laugh, to dance, to smile, to embrace and to enjoy life.

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They may not be perfect, but they show what we went through in life. Stretch marks and not-flat tummies may be reminders that you have had children, while scars are signs that you survived an accident, for instance. Our bodies should be celebrated, not hated. Every flaw, every imperfection is what makes us unique. We all come in different shapes and sizes and went through different experiences that have changed us both mentally and physically. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Remember, there is no one just like you. Embrace it. And besides can you imagine how boring the world would  be if we all looked the same?

Of course, it’s normal to feel a bit anxious when you’re wearing a bikini. After all, you’re pretty much naked. You feel exposed. You feel like everyone’s looking at you, at your cellulite, or at your stretch marks, pointing out your imperfections and criticising you. But if you stop panicking for a moment and look around, you will see that not only no one looks like a supermodel (hey, even supermodels don’t look like supermodels when you take away photoshop and their army of stylists, makeup artists, plastic surgeons… ), but also that people are actually too busy doing their own thing to stare at you anyway.

bikini body 01

People are buys playing or chatting with their friends, swimming, reading or whatever. Every now and then, someone may look at you, but chances are that they do so because they like your swimsuit or your haircut. But nobody is judging you. And if you should meet someone who does, then they are a jerk and you should ignore their opinion. Easier said than done, I know. But think about this: those people on the beach are just strangers. They don’t know you and you’ll probably never see them again, so why should you attach so much importance to their opinion? By doing so, you only prevent yourself from having a great time. It’s not worth it.

Isn’t having fun the reason why you go to the beach in the first place? Instead than worrying about whether people can see your cellulite, go and play beach volley with your friends or eat an ice cream. There is nothing wrong with the way you look, and the time you spend worrying about things that are only in your head is lost. Do you really want to spend a miserable day at the beach, or worse, stay at home rather than join your friends, because you’re worried about what some stranger may think, when you can have a ball instead? So go on, don that bikini. You may feel a bit uncomfortable at first but, before you know it, you’ll wonder why you were so scared of it.

Remember, there are no perfect bodies. There aren’t women who can’t wear a bikini and those who can. There are only women who choose to wear a bikini and noone has the right to judge them for it. Ever.

What do you think of the bikini body concept? Do you wear a bikini at the beach?

Not Wearing Makeup Is NOT Brave!

Whenever I hear a woman being praised as brave for not wearing makeup, which is happening more and more often lately, I feel like screaming. Argh! What has not wearing makeup got to do with bravery?! Absolutely nothing, that’s what.

Bravery is when you do something that’s risky for you to help others. Enduring pain or putting your own life at risk to save someone else is brave. Doing what you deem right even when society doesn’t approve and may ostracize you for it is brave. Not wearing makeup doesn’t even come close. It’s true that we live in a society obsessed with looks that tells women they have to look absolutely perfect all the time or else they’re worth nothing, but even then those who decide not to wear makeup don’t run any serious risks.

At the very least, without makeup on, people may find you less attractive. If you’re particularly insecure (and it’s difficult not to be when we’re constantly bombarded with airbrushed images of beautiful, extremely-thin, wrinkle-free women that represent an ideal of beauty that’s just unattainable) then going makeup-free may be a big deal for you, but even then that’s not on a par with rushing into a house on fire to save children trapped inside, is it? To use the same term to define both actions is dangerous. It is also very disrespectful to those in the armed forces, to firefighters, to the thousands of people who every day put themselves at risk for the sake of others.

Not only going makeup-free is not brave, in some cases it can be selfish. Yes, selfish. After all, when the umpteenth celebrity posts a picture of herself without makeup on (and have you noticed how these pictures are snapped at the most advantageous angles and never when a zit has sprung its ugly head on their noses?), they do so because they know they are going to be praised for being so “real”, “down to earth”, “one of us” and “very beautiful nonetheless under all that makeup”.

Now, as a beauty blogger, I’m obviously all for makeup. I consider makeup as an accessory that you should put on whenever you feel like it. Makeup allows us to enhance our best features and hide our flaws, so why shouldn’t we use it if we want to? Just don’t call us brave when we decide not to. In some cases, lazy may be a better word. Now, I’m not saying that all women who don’t put on makeup are lazy.

Some women just aren’t interested in makeup and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. But as someone who loves wearing a different makeup look every day, when I decide not to put it on, I do so because that day I honestly cannot be bothered. I mean, I’m not gonna spend half an hour doing my makeup just to go out to get some bread for instance. And I can’t be the only one foregoing makeup every now and then out of laziness.

In the end, whether you decide to wear makeup or not is fine. Just please, let’s keep a little perspective on it and stop putting those who don’t wear makeup for whatever reason in the same category as those who put themselves at risk for the good of others. They’re heroes. Not wearing makeup doesn’t make you one.

What are your thoughts?

Being Skinny Doesn’t Mean Being Beautiful

We live in a society that constantly tells us that we need to be beautiful to be successful and loved. We are bombarded with pictures of skinny models and celebrities living the high life, dressed in expensive designer clothes, earning millions, and just generally having a good time. The fact that a lot of these celebs have drinking and drugs problems, are often in and out of rehab and can’t hold onto a man for more than 5 minutes doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that they’re popular and to be like that, you have to be beautiful. And in our society, being beautiful means being skinny.

But does being beautiful really mean being skinny? According to the media, yes. More and more books and articles on weight loss and dieting appear in book stores and magazines, most of the celebs, actresses and supermodels are tall and sticky thin (or made to appear so with Photoshop) and even when we go shopping, most of the clothes seem to be designed for 13 year old girls instead than grown up women.

It’s no wonder most women aren’t comfortable with the way the look and even hate themselves. We are all supposed to be the same size and conform to an ideal of beauty that just isn’t attainable. Not even supermodels and celebs look as good in real life as they do in pictures and their photos are always airbrushed to remove cellulite, stretch marks and other imperfections they may have and to make them look even thinner. But why?

Who has decided that being sticky thin is beautiful? Is there a reason that explains why skinny should equal beautiful? We are told that we need to be skinny to find love but every time they interview men, they say they prefer women with curves. We are told that clothes look better on size 0 women but I beg to differ. Strapless tops look bad on flat-chested women just like maxi dresses don’t suit short gals. Different styles of clothes suit different body shapes and types and does anything look good on women who are so thin their bones are sticking out anyway?

We are told that we need to be skinny to get a job, and while it is true that a nice physical appearance can be an advantage sometimes, if you can’t do your job well and properly you’re gonna get fired or just not advance in your career. We tend to associate skinny with youth but losing too much weigh can actually have an aging effect and make you look older and gaunt.

But most importantly, being thin doesn’t mean being healthy. We’re always reminded of the dangers of being too fat but being too skinny is equally dangerous. The only way women can achieve a size 0 is by starving themselves or exercising all the time or both. That’s just gonna make you ill. You are depriving your body of carbs, minerals and nutrients it needs to function properly. Being too thin can also lead to osteoporosis, heart illnesses and to eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. Is being thin really worth dying for? No, it ain’t.

So, next time someone tries to tell you that skinny is beautiful and you’re worthless if you don’t conform, don’t buy it. Stop feeling bad because you can’t achieve an unattainable standard of beauty and start questioning this dangerous message. People come in all shapes and sizes and they are all beautiful. Tall, short, thin, overweight, it is you. Embrace the way you look and stop trying to become someone you can never be. Stop worrying about your weight and focus on being healthy. Being confident and feeling good about yourself, smiling and treating people with respect, being proud of who you are and of what you have achieved and can achieve, that’s beautiful.

Do you feel the pressure to be thin too? Do you think that being thin means being beautiful?