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Did Shrinking Bathing Suits Help Cause Higher Rates of Skin Cancer?

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Currently, it is estimated that as many as one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point over the course of their lifetime. Because this common skin condition is caused by exposure to UV rays, making especially prevalent among people with pale complexions or a genetic predisposition, almost anyone can develop the disease after years in the sun. For this reason, many people will repeatedly visit the best dermatologist clinics in their area for skin maps, biopsies, and different skin cancer treatment methods. But while some dermatology and skin cancer specialists might blame these high skin cancer rates on the atmosphere’s decreasing ozone layer or insufficient sun protection, others have suggested that we may literally be victims of fashion: as bathing suits get smaller, baring more skin, our skin cancer rates increase.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, most swimming costumes were designed to meet standards of modesty that are much stricter than those present today. Additionally, extremely pale skin was considered highly desirable, as it signified a life lived indoors instead of outdoor labor. However, this began to change during the 1920s, when dramatically increasing wealth made it possible for the upper class to take elaborate vacations, while the poor worked in factories. As cultural perceptions of beauty began to shift towards tanner skin, bathing suits began to shrink: while as little as 18% of a person’s was exposed when they went swimming in the 19th century, changing styles and attitudes meant that as much as 89% of the body was exposed when the bikini was invented in 1946. The appeal of these smaller bathing suits was reinforced by popular culture, such as Ursula Andress’s turn as the bikini-clad Honey Rider in the film Dr. No. Thousands of women eagerly participated in this trend, exposing increasing amounts of skin to hours of sunlight as the years went on. Men, too, discarded more modest swimming outfits for ones that bared their chests and upper thighs, allowing them to tan as well.

This cultural emphasis on tanned skin and smaller swim suits has had serious repercussions: the best dermatologists and researchers have noted that rates of melanoma, an often fatal form of skin cancer, accelerated as much as 167% in women and 224% in men during the 1980s and 1990s. However, while many people are now aware that tanning can be hazardous to their health, social perceptions of beauty and inclusion still cause many to forego sunscreen, wear smaller bathing suits and even use artificial tanning services to get a desired and dangerous color.

Skin cancer is an extremely common disorder that has the potential to disfigure and even kill those who develop it. For this reason, it is incredibly important to protect yourself and your loved ones from damaging UV exposure by using sun screen and limiting any unnecessary time in the sun. If you suspect that you have skin cancer, contact the best dermatologist in your area immediately to schedule a biopsy.
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