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Melanoma Awareness Month: The Evolution of Sun Safety Among Young Women

Guest blog from Rebecca Dreman, Miss America 1974 and stage IV melanoma survivor: 

becky and daughterI have had a front row seat watching the evolution of sun safety among young women. When I was a contestant in the Miss America pageant, glowing, tan skin was the norm when wearing a swimsuit under the bright lights. One felt more confident, more beautiful, more “ideal.” For me there were no available tanning booths, no self-tanning lotions, no spray tans, no sunscreen lotions; only the rays of the sun to achieve the glow on my Scandinavian skin. 

I thought tan skin was a beauty standard promoted by the beauty industry, from Coppertone to baby oil. Yet, as Miss America I was photographed for a centerfold in Vogue magazine, was a guest on the Tonight Show, was a tv host of the Rose Bowl Parade and crowned a new Miss Americaall doing so without a suntan, comfortable in my own skin. The beauty message in the ‘70s was complicated and confusing for young women. The thought that a tan represented some standard of beauty and healthy lifestyle was far from the truth.

I judged the Miss America Pageant once in each of the next three decades. The ‘80s still held a bronzed body as a beauty standard for the Swimsuit Competition and tanning booths as the means to get there. I recall that the contestants in the ‘90s moved the needle towards a more sun safe beauty message with the use of spray tanning industry products or selftanning lotions. The drawback was seeing too many orange glows on the contestants. 

Again in the early 2000s, I was a judge and subsequently elected to the Miss America Board of Directors where I served on the Judges Committee. I witnessed hundreds of young women shifting their view of intentional tanning to at least situational tanning. By the year of my daughter winning the Miss Colorado Pageant in 2011, I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. Our voices became a reality for the melanoma community by speaking hundreds of times: nsuntan is worth losing your tomorrows.

Today from my view, I see young parents protecting their children with sunscreen every two hours, mandates of daycare providers or schools to use sunscreen, hats, clothing with UPF protection and a beauty industry trying to move with the science of melanoma.

The MRF’s quest to educate the next generation may finally move the dial to prevention of the deadly disease.

On the 25th anniversary of the MRF I am proud and humbled to have served on the Board of Directors during significant advances in melanoma research, education and prevention. Congratulations.


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