Coated in a spackle of sunblock, sporting a wide-brimmed hat, shielded in the cool shade of an umbrella or a particularly leafy tree—this is my idea of spending a summer day outdoors. My skin may glow like a black light when the sun hits me, but being perma-pale is more a byproduct of my lifestyle than it is a preventative anti-aging decision.
My complexion is what makeup companies call “Alabaster” or “Ivory,” which are two unrelated materials used to make ornamental objects. What it means is that I’m really, really white. Strangers, who are absolutely authorized to comment on anything and everything at their leisure, go one of two ways, either gushing about my “beautiful porcelain skin” or gently advising that I “get some sun.” I consider both sides and weigh my options carefully, as one does, and it always comes out in favor of the former. Shove it, strange man who hollered at me to “get some sun on ‘dem legs.”
Here’s the thing: The choice to maintain only the fairest of hides was never a conscious one until other people started drawing my attention to it. I’ve always just been—how do I say this without sounding more bizarre than I need to?—an indoors person. We’re out there (or in here, rather). We exist. My heart doesn’t skip a beat at the prospect of hitting the beach, and unless there’s alcohol involved, nothing sounds less exciting to me, not to mention potentially sweaty, than lounging in a park on a 90-degree day. I like air conditioning. That’s fine.
But when I ruminate further on the subject, as I sometimes do, I think about the implication of a tan, and what a tan actually is. Bronzed skin is the visual manifestation of the skin’s expedited aging process. Bronzed skin communicates “healthy,” “sporty,” “fresh.” Bronzed skin is Cindy Crawford grinning on the beach in a one-piece.
Fair skin, on the other hand, reads the opposite. It’s striking, somewhat see-through, shot through with freckles and blue veins and imperfections and other weird, uniquely human stuff that a “healthy base tan” would definitely serve to minimize, if not cover up. Fair skin is Elizabeth Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter and Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder and other unusual, slightly spooky, square-peg-in-a-round-hole women that I’ve always identified with over the glowy, active, beach goddess-y type. The spray tan booth or UV bed is unchartered territory for me—I’m just not interested.
In my mind, being pale isn’t much more than a happy accident that coincides with my penchant for indoor activities and A/C, and yeah, I guess it does mean that I’ll have less wrinkles and no sun damage to speak of as I age, provided that I abandon all of my other harmful habits before it’s too late. But it also says something about me and who I am as a person, and the people before me who have influenced my style and maybe, just maybe, my ongoing choice to stay pale. Do you really think Liv Tyler would subject herself to a spray tan, either?
And word up to wordy strangers and acquaintances: There is nothing inherently wrong with being pale. I am baffled by the thought process that must occur to lead a person to suggest that another human being needs more color in their skin.
Read more: How to Embrace Pale Skin This Summer