Rise and Shine: Sunlight, Technology and Health

By Simon Carter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Move to the Great Outdoors: Camping,
Campers and the 'Worthy Suntan'

In the previous chapter we concluded by considering how Victorian and Edwardian travellers fetishized the suntanned bodies of natives to the Mediterranean region. These bodies were often described as having an erotic significance and were contrasted negatively with the white bodies of northern Europeans. Indeed travellers frequently lamented what they thought to be key elements absent from the bodies of northern Europeans, namely exposure to the sun and open air. Within this chapter I will outline how the emergence of sunshine and the suntan began to be taken as a material indication of bodily health and psychogenic strength for northern Europeans. A variety of concerns lay behind and contributed to this gradual change in outlook. Key amongst these was an emerging sense of crisis in the idea of 'white' as a racial category and a general disenchantment with aristocratic codes of beauty. Additionally there were fears about the growth of new industrial conurbations and associated concerns about the 'problem of population' with an urban working class that was often constructed as susceptible to a drift into 'moral degeneracy'. Young men were thought to be particularly at risk from these moral dangers with special measures being needed to protect them. These concerns will be explored in order to chart how wider ideals of pastoralism and romanticism led to the rise of discourses centring on the suntan as a visible connection to the body in nature - to a corporeal sign of'worthy' outdoor activities.

The move away from a discourse of the sun's rays as dangerous, or at least undesirable for the body, was one in which the connections between bodies, objects and the sun were varied and complex. It would be a mistake to see this transition as a simple move from the sun as hazardous to one where the sun's effects were coveted. Often these two positions coexisted and neither was ever fully displaced by the other. Indeed the history of bodies and sunlight is one of controversy and disagreement. The cultural turn away from sunlight being seen as dangerous occurred after a series of partial connections were made by multiple and diverse actors. One of these partial connections concerned the status of 'white' as a racial category.

In the last chapter we saw how a range of sociotechnical artefacts and associated discourses produced the white body and the 'white' race as being

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