I’d have fit in better with Tudor monarchy.
Back then, pale was in. Women had creamy skin, milky skin, snow-white skin. Queen Elizabeth herself was known to be vain about her long, pale fingers. Any sign of color was despised as a mark of the menial laborer. Tanning was most emphatically out, and it remained that way all the way through the American Civil War. Only peasants tanned. Not that there’s anything wrong with peasants, but the dominant standard of beauty was pale, pale, pale.
All that changed with the rise of the leisure class. Now, tanned skin was a mark that you could spend all your time outdoors leisuring. The full-body tan came in. Darker skin was seen as healthier and more natural. Us pale suckers were consigned to look like cave people.
I’m pale. And when I say I’m pale, I mean that I once won a dorm-wide Pale Ass Contest that included several Irishmen. You can see the veins in my arms. I invite jokes about vampires and mole people. And I always wear the palest shade of makeup. The smallest cut lives on as a bright red mark for months.
I don’t tan, either. Like so many people with reddish hair, I burn, then settle back into pale. Sure, my arms might get a little bit of color – and by a little bit of color, I mean something approaching less vampiric. But that’s it. All summer long, my white legs blind people. My collarbones reflect the sunlight. My skin shows every blotch and flaw, because everything shows up on white.
I’d hoped my kids had inherited my husband’s marginally less paleness. I was disappointed.
My middle son is so pale he has visible forehead veins. I have to dress all three of them in head-to-toe, 1930s-man bathing suits. Fedoras are the order of the day every time we go outside. Skin cancer and all that.
But it’s not all bad. There are some great parts about being pale.
- Your leg hair’s easily visible for shaving. Even if you have light, light, light hair, it shows up dark against your pale, pale skin. It’s easy to see if you missed a spot.
- You can rock cute hats. You have to keep the sun off your face, so you need big, floppy hats to keep you cool. No one else has such a good excuse to wear them.
- You already know your risk of skin cancer’s sky-high, so you can plan accordingly. Yearly visits to the dermatologist? You’re on it.
- You’re a sunscreen expert. You know which one’s greasy, which one goes on without a mark, and which one has the highest SPF possible to keep you from the cruel, cruel sun.
- You have a license to wear long sleeves in the middle of the summer. Skin cancer, you know. Same with long pants.
- It’s easy to remember where you’ve recently wounded yourself, because your scars don’t fade for months. That red spot right there? That’s a mosquito bite from last summer.
- You can revel in the knowledge that sun damage causes wrinkles, and you don’t have any. Take that, tan people!
- You know all the shady spots. If there’s an outdoor venue within sixty miles, you know where to sit for minimal sun exposure. No burnt-to-a-crisp skin allowed! You can always tell people that your dermatologist said so.
- You can dress like a Goth without the ridiculous white pancake makeup. Not that you particularly want to dress like a Goth. But it’s nice to know the option’s there, and you’d rock it.
- Your stretch marks disappeared. Other people have to keep them as white slash marks. But you’re already white, so they just … went away. Congratulations. You won the mommy lottery.
So yes, I may blind people on a sunny day. I might rock a rashguard and shorts rather than a bikini. But there’s some good things about being whiter than the surface of the sun. What’s your favorite part about being pale?