My Attempt to Understand the Spray Tan Phenomenon

Growing up in the South, you would think that discussion of spray tans, fake tans, self-tans, and whatever other measures that caucasian people use to become tan, would be a pretty normal phenomenon. Despite being from the South, it wasn’t until coming to USC had I considered ever getting a spray tan. After all, I am a brown person. 

To prepare for the upcoming event my sorority was hosting last month, the house brought in a spray-tan specialist to offer their services to the girls. What has now been revealed to me as a common practice in many white women’s lives, seemed off-putting and exclusionary. I wasn’t eligible to get a spray tan, as I’m not really a candidate for one. I knew that the service wouldn’t offer tans in shades darker than my natural skin. 

The culture of spray tanning is not necessarily appropriative, but it does feel bizarre. Dying your skin to look a way that your body was not made to be is nothing short of what our culture normalizes today with other cosmetic procedures or alterations. Yet at the same time, skin color remains in the camp of physical traits that tend to be associated with race and ethnicity, in a way that is much different than breast size or facial shape. 

While it’s been offered that wanting to “be as dark as you” is a compliment and nod to my own privilege, the reality remains that having darker skin comes with its consequences. It has both small and large implications in how many of us act, behave and move in this world. 

It means not being able to share makeup with friends because our foundation doesn’t match. It means being asked, at frequency, where you come from. It means growing up in a world where role models, leaders and faces in films, fashion, and media probably don’t look like you.

Although none of these inconveniences have stopped me from pursuing my own dreams, and have in fact encouraged me in further overcoming any such obstacles, I can’t help but wonder if the white person wishing to be as dark as me was also willing to face the additional conditions met with being in my skin. 

Despite not intending to exclude, offering a service to the entire sorority that is only accessible to the dominant group marginalizes the rest. If an added convenience of being in a house means having these services provided, then perhaps so should the services accessible to darker girls be made available as well. It seems more obvious though to provide for the needs of the majority, not the minority. 

It is not the fault of my sorority for producing this exclusion, as the space exists in a society that systemically bars all people from getting to feel like equal members of it. Sororities, like all other groups, are merely a microcosm of a culture that has yet to fully include the rest of us who don’t necessarily fit the normative or dominant identities. So, to both my dismay and assurance, I am happy to know I will never worry about needing a spray tan.