The suntan was born as a fashion accessory in France in 1923—or so legend has it. The French like to claim Coco Chanel started the trend after she turned an accidental sunburn into a fashion statement while sailing with her lover, the duke of Westminster.
But the Americans have an equal shot at the title with Gerald andSara Murphy, wealthy expatriates who fell in love with the French Riviera and established themselves in Cap D’Antibes the same year. A glittering roster visited them there, from Picasso to the American writer John Dos Passos, helping to turn the sleepy backwater into a glamorous destination.
F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalized the Murphys in his book, “Tender Is the Night.” Sara’s fictional counterpart, Nicole Diver, is described as having a hard, pitiful face and a perfectly tanned back that was “a ruddy, orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls.”
The likes of Coco Chanel and the Murphys have a lot to answer for. Tanning and skin cancer too often go hand in hand, not unlike smoking and lung cancer.
Of course, melanoma existed long before 1923. Skin-cancer lesions have been found on 2,400-year-old Inca mummies.The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-375 B.C.) described patients with the disease. But such documented cases are relatively rare. Keeping one’s skin as tan-free as possible was once a snobbish pursuit shared by elites all around the world, asCaroline Chang, Era Caterina Murzaku and colleagues wrote in an American Journal of Public Health paper published in 2014. Only peasants and slaves spent their lives in the glare of the sun.