Proud to be pale: Goodbye to the creosote look! Alabaster skin is back in vogue
Looking at the photographs of actress Kirsten Dunst by the pool in Las Vegas last week, it wasn’t her itsy-bitsy black bikini or enviable figure that turned the most heads, but her head-to-toe milky-white skin — the best possible indication that our extraordinary obsession with tanning may be drawing to a close.
Let’s face it, mahogany looks better on furniture than it does on skin — and we are all well aware of the dangers of sunbathing and sunbeds, from wrinkles to melanoma.
Yet, despite all that we know, so many of us seem more than happy to continue to pay the high price of a so-called ‘healthy glow’. Think Cheryl Cole and Jennifer Aniston. Time and again, they — and we — choose to ignore the consequences of spending too long in the sun.
Shunning a tan: Kirsten Dunst showed off her milky-white skin in Los Angeles
Like cool brunettes Liv Tyler and Anne Hathaway, I am, by nature, a whiter shade of pale. And yet, until the Sixties, when the jet-setters of St Tropez determined that to be tanned was to be cool, the words ‘milk-white’, ‘creamy’ and ‘fair-skinned’ were expressions of admiration and desire. My pale skin was never a problem.
All that changed when I was in my mid-teens. My friends started returning to school after the summer holidays all honey-coloured from holidaying in the Med. But me? Not a hope. The Day-Lewises holidayed in the west of Ireland and stayed the colour of the buttermilk with which the Irish make their bread.
The addition of freckles that came out like a constellation of stars across my nose and cheeks after the bracing gales and rain of the Atlantic beaches only made things worse. Much worse.
By the time winter was upon us, my moon-white skin would turn translucent, there were twilight-grey shadows under my eyes — and I was perpetually asked by my teachers whether I was sickening for something.
That’s the problem with pale skin. For reasons I can’t begin to understand, the perception is that tanned skin makes you look well.
My long dark hair only accentuated the whiteness of my pallor. If I could have doused myself in Tanfastic or bronze make-up without looking like a freak, believe me, I would have done.
Silver screeners: Christina Hendricks and Anne Hathaway both turn heads because of their pale skin
At that stage in my life, I had never lain on a beach in a bikini, never known what it was like to feel too hot to move, never used sun cream, nor experienced sunburn. In short, I’d never known that golden glow which we had begun to equate with health, wealth — and, of course, sex appeal.
All that changed when, at the age of 18, I went on my first hot holiday to South Africa, where I promptly burnt my neck, shoulders and thighs while cremating my body on the great altar of heat that is a Cape Town beach.
I was so desperate for colour, I didn’t dare complain about the fact that I couldn’t turn over in bed at night, my body burning as if it were roasting on hot coals.
Eventually I peeled, and afterwards, for the first time in my life, went golden-brown. But despite my delight in my newfound caramel tones, the experience proved to me that there is nothing remotely ‘healthy’ about looking sun-kissed — it is merely a sign that you have damaged your skin.
Embracing their natural skin colour: Nicola Robers and Nicole Kidman
Suffice to say, I never let myself turn lobster-red again. But at the same time, I could not escape the continuing pressure of the fashion of the time, nor my desire to be golden-skinned — and, therefore, desirable.
The following spring, I decided to try a sunbed, but I felt uncomfortable as I lay under its violet light. I couldn’t banish from my mind the warnings about the dangers of UVA and UVB rays.
Reluctantly, I finally decided to accept my milky whiteness, despite hating feeling like the odd girl out on the beach, covered from head to toe and sporting a wide-brimmed hat.
More than 30 years have passed since then — and I’ve continued to shield my skin from the sun. Let’s face it, there is nothing sexy about a woman over 50 who, by over-exposing her complexion to the sun, bears an uncanny resemblance to a heavily wrinkled, leathery lizard.
These days, I am proud of my ivory complexion and the way it — dare I say — preserves a little more youth and vigour in my appearance. I delight in at least feeling I look more youthful than sun-worshippers, smokers and people whose lack of a good diet and exercise all contribute to bad skin tone — and a face more furrowed than a ploughed field.
All white on the night: Michelle Williams and Erin O'Connor
Fact: if you don’t look after your skin in your youth, it is too late to turn the clock back later. You have only to look at actresses Anne Hathaway and Isla Fisher to know that they’re thinking ahead.
‘Alabaster skin is a chic, classy, beautiful look that’s been gunning for a renaissance,’ says celebrity make-up artist Lee Pycroft, who has worked with stunning, pale Cate Blanchett. ‘It’s been cherished by the fashion world for several years — but now it’s taking centre stage.’
Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, agrees. ‘Deep tans have become incredibly naff due to the overuse of self-tan and the TOWIE/WAG connotations. Now it’s so easy to be tanned, the opposite has become more desirable and there are enough pale role models, such as Nigella Lawson, Scarlett Johansson and Kristen Stewart, to inspire people.’
There’s no question that by choosing to take the veil of pale, these celebrity icons represent the way forward by encouraging us to look after ourselves better and, that way, stay looking younger for longer.
Nature, after all, knows best.
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