The Victorian Premier Ted Ballieu announced today that from December 2014, solarium beds will be banned in Victoria. This brings the state in line with New South Wales and South Australia, and will increase the push for a national stance against the use, manufacture and importation of tanning beds.
Victoria’s Better Health Channel stresses that “Sunbeds and solariums do not provide a safe tan.” This year, over 300 Australian’s will die of Melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers. And medical professionals are adamant that the use of solariums are contributing immensely to this figure. Why should we become statistics when we could be happy (and alive) in our own skin? It is common to experience the societal yearning for a tan that is present all year round, but as summertime comes, many tan before they’ve even made it outside.
Australia is The Sunburnt Country. We’re all taught to recite this Dorothea Mackellar poem in primary school – for me it was in grade six. But just because the stereotypical Australian, as portrayed on American sitcoms and cartoons such as The Simpsons, is a jolly swagman in a cork hat, jumping around with kangaroos, or a surfer living miraculously without financial, family or relationship pressures that are part of everyone’s lives, doesn’t mean these projections are accurate. And in the same respect, just because our land is sunburnt does’t mean we should have to experience our own skin reddening, stinging and for some, peeling, to feel at home here.
My skin is just about as fair as you can get. I burn within 10 minutes walking in the sun and summers without sunscreen always end badly for me. On school days I hated putting on sunscreen because of the smell, and the fear that others would know I was indeed looking after my skin while they were able to go about their days cream-free. For some reason, I was embarrassed about being fair, about being responsible, and that isn’t right. This ideal of a tanned Australian has been instilled in me from a young age, and I’ve put up with extreme burning to edge my way closer to that prize.
Unfortunately, I never got there. I always freckle, burn and peel. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tan. So of course, I turned to fake tan. When I was in year nine, I was literally the queen of fake tanning – not a position I am proud of today. But looking back, it was pretty funny. I didn’t use a solarium, I haven’t and I never will. But I applied cream, after spray, after can of fake tan. Johnsons, Dove, Sally Hansen, Le Tan in a Can, the list goes on. And it was the norm, at least to some extent.
I do believe people with a tan look healthy. But that doesn’t mean being fair (or pale – which has become somewhat derogatory), is a bad thing. If you are naturally tanned, summer is your time, evidently. But those with fair skin shouldn’t be seen as ill or unattractive just because they were handed less melanin through their genetics.
Getting a salon spray tan is fun. I have and will continue to indulge myself for special events. But spending hundreds of dollars to maintain a tan all year round is expensive and should not be necessary. We should accept that the pigments in one’s skin responds to sunlight, and to varying degrees. While I would endorse spray tans over solarium use, neither should be essential.
The banning of solariums in Victoria will bring with it some controversy, no doubt. Small businesses will suffer and jobs will be inevitably lost. I am not saying it won’t him some, hard. But I believe it is ultimately a good thing. In 2007, Clare Oliver lost her battle with cancer. Towards the end of her life, she campaigned for the banning of solariums, and started to educate Australian’s about the dangers of UV, whether natural or falsely generated. In her honour, the Clare Oliver Melanoma Fund exists to further and continue her message.
The banning of solariums will not cure skin cancer, nor will it prevent deaths in Victoria from Melanoma and related diseases. It will, however, help prevent large numbers of avoidable morbidity in Victorians, and will create dialogue between health professionals, the community and businesses in the fight against terminal and preventable disease.