Opinion | A skin tone is not a trend

Idolization of tanned skin in summer months is a constant reminder of the U.S. racial hierarchy.


Margaret Kispert

One of the three tanning rooms in Hawks Ridge is seen on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

Skin color, features, and fashion associated with communities of color are not trends.

With summer break approaching, the University of Iowa campus has entered tanning season. Students crowd the lawns of the Pentacrest and outside the Iowa Memorial Union with their blankets hoping to catch some sun between classes.

The issue of white American culture idolizing the natural features of groups of color is not new.

White students on campus should remain mindful of the impact they have on communities of color when viewing features of Black and Brown individuals as fashion trends. More can be done to correct the microaggressions about physical features that people of color often face from these same tanning fanatics.

All students should feel comfortable and safe to embrace their natural looks: pale, tanned, or black skin; curly or straight hair; thick or thin eyebrows.

Sharing cultures is part of what makes the world a beautiful place.

But the current system allows white influencers to profit off cultural items from Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, and African cultures all while remaining immune to racial stereotypes and microaggressions.

When approaching students for comments on the issue of cultural appropriation during the summer, most students of color immediately understood when I asked them about “orange white person” season. This same question often receives puzzled looks from white students.

UI first-year student Mia Alamawi said darker features like tan skin and bushier eyebrows are treated like a trend.

“I remember getting picked on for these same things growing up, but now white girls are seen as prettier and profit because of it,” Alamawi said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.  Everyone knows the fake tans aren’t real. Why does it matter what color you are?”

Of course, tanning as a practice is not the root of the issue. But the spray tans, bronzers, or the “Ew, I’m so white after winter” comments I hear walking around campus cause me to pause. I’m left wondering if these students recognize the privilege they have to tan their skin and not face the same societal stigmas as communities of color do.

As someone who darkens naturally in the sun because of my African genetics, I cringe in the fall when comments are made about how lucky I am that I tan easily in the summer.

I don’t feel lucky when I’m stopped twice by the Transportation Security Administration to be asked if I’m in the country illegally or stared at in public with my family members as though multilingual, brown-skinned, dark-haired people in Iowa are supposed to be treated like zoo animals as we live our lives.

I can’t help but notice white people with fake tans don’t get the same treatment.

Laila Woozeer, the London-based author of the book “Not Quite White,” wrote an article on the impact tanning culture has had on their adult life after being bullied for their brown skin growing up.

“The audacity that other people could be celebrated for becoming the thing I was punished for seemed cruel and unjust,” Woozeer wrote in 2022. “It took me into adulthood to work through the years of bullying and to unlearn that my skin color made me ugly.”

White students are free to tan, but we must remember the weight skin color and racial stereotypes still carry on campus and around the U.S. People of color don’t get to choose when having black or brown skin benefits us or not.

Speak up this summer if the rhetoric about tanning takes a racist turn in your peer groups. Let’s do more to stop the cultural double standard of positioning natural melanin as inferior year-round while idolizing white people who socially and financially profit from tanning during the summer.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.