Reader Suze in CO asked about farmer’s tans in the comments of this post, and then followed up in an e-mail, saying:
You asked, “I’m curious if you’re interested in a post on ways to dress around a ‘farmer’s tan,’ ways to respond to folks who comment, ways to feel comfortable with it, or all of the above.” I guess “all of the above” is most accurate, though I don’t hear a ton of comments from people about the tan. But I do get the looks – you know the kind I’m talking about. Like most women, I’m particularly sensitive to those assessing, disapproving looks that we know are all about how we appear. If someone was rude enough to actually say something, it would be much easier to handle.
Regarding how to dress around a farmer’s tan, I would love some ideas. I do wear some sleeveless things on my days off, so my arms and chest have some chance to catch up to the tan on my lower arms, but no matter how much I wear sandals or go barefoot, my white “bunny feet” are always with me. (Incidentally, that term was coined by my wonderful husband, who doesn’t care one bit about my funky tan lines. He’s a keeper.) Other than wearing shoes with socks, I can’t figure out what to do. Maxi dresses are an option from time to time, but I have really good legs, so I prefer (and look better in) knee-length skirts. I’m not a tattoo person, but I have toyed with the idea of getting a little line of lace tattooed around the tan line so it looks like socks.
Just so we’re all on the same page, here, a “farmer’s tan” is what happens when you spend lots of time outdoors in the sun wearing anything other than swimwear. Your forearms and calves get brown, but your upper arms and thighs don’t. The tan lines become more obvious when you wear sleeveless tops or dresses, and can cause the sidelong glances that Suze refers to above. Many of you have pointed out that tanning has socio-economic underpinnings: Being tan subtly indicates that you are wealthy enough to vacation in a warm clime. The phrase “farmer’s tan” has some judgmental layers, too. Farming is an essential part of virtually every economy but is also considered a “lesser” profession by some, and therefore a “farmer’s tan” is still a tan but it is not the right kind of tan. You must be tan evenly and all over to show that you’ve been lounging in the sun, not breaking your back working in it. So THAT’S infuriating.
As is the fact that Suze – or anyone – is getting these sidelong glances. Some people tan, some don’t. Some people make it a priority to tan evenly, some don’t or can’t. Those choices and changes are the business of the body-owner alone and no reflection on anyone else. So, as is the case with nearly all judgment-related image issues, my main advice is try not to worry about it. Your farmer’s tan may bug someone else, but you have no control over the thoughts or actions of others. And it is most certainly NOT your responsibility to dress or look the way other people want or expect you to. Not all the time, and not when it fails to align with your own preferences, priorities, and abilities.
That said, Suze did go on to ask for some ways to dress around a farmer’s tan. None of these tips are foolproof, but some might be helpful.
Shawls and ruanas
Tan lines like these are generally more noticeable on the arms when sleeveless garments are at play. Since longer sleeves feel stuffy in hot summer weather, a tank top paired with a shawl or ruana can give you some distracting coverage without impeding the breeze. If the word “shawl” makes you think of your gran shaking her finger at you from the rocking chair, remember that you can use a lightweight scarf of any type as a shoulder covering.
Sheer fabrics are on-trend for the season and can be found in a variety of styles and sizes. A sheer top with longer sleeves will look summery and allow for some ventilation while masking tan lines. There are also some playful sheer/opaque skirts out there that could help with the legs, but they’re definitely geared toward the more trend-conscious of us.
It’s down to personal preference and climate, of course, but I’m a big proponent of boots for summer. Keep ’em short, light colored, Western-influenced, or all of the above and you’re good to go. A few perforated styles are still floating around, too, and offer both ventilation and coverage. Boots and a knee-length skirt can look great with everything from a graphic tee to a flirty blouse.
Suze and others have mentioned that self-tanners don’t typically help in these situations because the color difference between the tanned and non-tanned areas is too great. There is leg makeup that might prove helpful, as it is stronger stuff and can be applied for a single wearing. Try using a paler tone to lighten the tan areas and a darker tone to even out the non-tan ones. It’s called “leg makeup” but there’s nothing out there forbidding you from slathering it onto your arms, too.
Finally, my advice for responses to the side-eyes and behind-the-hand snickers? I’m at a loss, friends. I cannot think of a good way to diplomatically defuse that situation, especially if the folks involved are being passive-aggressive. If someone has the nerve to actually comment, a simple, “My body, my business” or, “Why is how I look important to you?” should suffice. But for the stares and giggles, I’d say just hold you head high and remember that their discomfort is not your responsibility.
Image courtesy Sabby in Suburbia.