Sisterhood Blog

Tanning, the American Dream?

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
Thinkstock

I don’t tan. Actively or passively.

I mean, I don’t put on a bikini and spread myself out on a towel in the path of the sun, nor does my skin turn to bronze should it be exposed to the sun.

For years, for most of my life really, I saw this as a problem. A Jewish problem. Well, my Ashkenazi Jewish problem. Come summers end, I was always embarrassed by my pale legs. I felt as though they were so 19th century shtetl. So wimpy. The legs of a native Yiddish speaker, an introvert, or worse, a pariah. I looked like a girl who just didn’t know how to summer.

As legend has it, Coco Chanel single-handedly made tanning vogue. Up until then, tan skin belonged only to those who labored outside, so the posh, in order to emphasize class difference, stayed as pale as possible. (This is still the case in Asia and elsewhere.) Then Coco came back bronze after a summer in the French Riviera and the rich realized that, shucks, a tan doesn’t just say you spent all summer picking tomatoes as a farm laborer, but can also mean that you are part of the leisure class, the type who might summer with Chanel.

My parents, upwardly mobile second-generation American Jews, gave me everything I needed to make like Chanel and get a tan. This meant a comfortable suburban childhood in Southern California with a swimming pool at home and enrollment in a day camp in the Santa Monica mountains. I did what I was supposed to do with what was given to me. I played Marco Polo and tennis, hiked the local hills and set-up lemonade stands. And I enjoyed it. Still, come summers end, I wasn’t tan. At all.

In my eyes, tan skin was much bigger than looking good. It was about looking weathered, literally and symbolically. By the summers end, I too wanted proof that I had submitted myself to the elements. That I was experienced. Social. Unafraid. I could talk about my adventures, but, still, my skin said something else.

You’d think that today, with all the warnings about skin cancer and the clothes with built-in SPF, that tanning would have somehow lost its cache. It hasn’t. A tan is as prized as ever, still a symbol of leisure, pleasure and a willingness to let go.

Now that I am older, and a little wiser (I hope), I have outgrown my insecurities about being pale as vanilla soft-serve. This is probably because I no longer feel as reliant on the semiotics of skin color to transmit the fact that I am the kind of person that being tan might suggest. Still, I would love to see what its like to turn carmel by Labor Day, an American dream that will never be mine.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: tanning, jewish women, sisterhood

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.