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'Tan Mom’ gives tan people a bad name

  • Texas fence builder Todd Lowery says he's been getting funny glances since 'Tan Mom' made the news
  • He says he gets pretty dark in the summer from working outside all day and has never experienced this kind of prejudice before
Todd Lowery

Editor’s note: Todd Lowery is a fence builder in Dallas, Texas. He caught our attention after he commented on Dr. Jessica Wu’s piece, which asked readers not to make fun of “Tan Mom,”  on

When I began building fences in Texas, I knew from years of living here that the sun is just brutal, especially in the summer. As far as my own personal tan goes, I guess I’m getting a pretty good start this year. When I first saw the story appear about the little girl who may have been the victim of some kind of abuse by being subjected to a tanning booth, I admit I was shocked and as a parent, concerned for her well-being. When I learned the little girl’s mother was so compulsive about her own tanning that she seems to have injured herself by all appearances, I assumed the worst, just like the police who arrested her. I am aware that she claims her daughter received exposure from the sun and not the tanning booth, but even I had to wonder—the images definitely grabbed my attention.

I became concerned for the mother and her condition, never realizing that somehow this whole thing may indirectly affect me.

And just a few of nights ago, after a long, hard day's work outside in the Texas sun, at my favorite Mexican restaurant, it happened: The waiter asked me if I wanted some water, which ordinarily would have been expected, but then he said, “You really look like you could use it.” I asked him what he meant and he said I looked like I had been out in the sun.

Ordinarily, this would have been an opportunity to promote my business as a quality fence builder—and ultimately it was—but having just read about the “Tan Mom” and seeing Jeanne Moos clever compilation, I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious. I began noticing a few people around who didn’t have a tan notice me in not-so-nice ways. I couldn’t help but wonder if at least some of them had seen what I had seen on HLN and CNN.

I know that HLN and CNN and other quality news media organizations have a certain duty to report what they find, and that there are bizarre cases of extreme behavior that make their way into the news, but this was the first time that I have felt even remotely affected by a specific issue in this way. Granted, I am part Native American and I suppose I do get pretty dark, but I can’t help but think that this “Tan Mom” phenomenon has created a bizarre new form of bigotry—a sort of artificial tan scrutiny I hadn’t experienced before. I found myself wondering if I was getting worse treatment for it--that I could possibly be like “Tan Mom"...

Then I realized that I am just as guilty as she is. I’m guilty of thinking she has some ability to control her behavior, some sense of making us have to look at her. Until it dawned on me: She is disabled and suffering from a tragic condition and all this coverage seems like undue ridicule of some mental defect that has manifested itself in a tragic and physical way for this woman and undoubtedly others. However self-inflicted, however self-injurious, I somehow knew the attitude I initially had towards "Tan Mom" was wrong. As a tan man, and as a fellow human being, I knew she couldn’t help herself. But, more than anything, I realized that there is something greater here. It’s the power of the media, the power of public opinion and the power of the adaptability of people.

A gamut of feelings and concerns for “Tan Mom” has run its course for me and refined itself into a general sense of short-change. I feel like “Tan Mom” has given tanning a bad image, at the very least. I am faced with doing everything I can to minimize my exposure to the sun, while this tan-zealous woman has flipped the script and turned this into some kind of spectator sport. She has me wondering if even I descended from “Oompa Loompas” and suffered from “tanorexia”—and more importantly if I seem like I have.

I believe the best thing I can do at this point is to “extinguish” the behavior: Wear adequate sunscreen, stay hydrated, and keep building quality fences. When it comes down to it, it’s not how I look that sells my fences, it’s how well they’re built.

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