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File:Tan 5584.jpg

Strangely enough, being sun bleached is considered the "ultimate tan".

"Gotta keep the tan up. It's not a skin color, it's a lifestyle, Brian. You wouldn't know that because you're white as a ghost. You're haunting this house with your whiteness, Brian."
Stewie Griffin, Family Guy

While fair skin is usually a common beauty standard around the world, paleness can also be seen as unattractive in North America and parts of Europe.

This wasn't always so (and still isn't for many people worldwide). In ancient times, fair skin was a sign of nobility and tan skin was a sign of the working class, due to outside labor. Great lengths were taken to maintain pale skin, including using lead and arsenic based makeup and ladies carrying parasols whenever going outside. There's a reason "fair" was once a synonym of "beautiful."

Tanned skin was one of the new "beauty standards" promoted by Coco Chanel in the early 20th century. Tanned skin was a sign that you had both the money and the free time to visit the seaside, something that wasn't common in the West in the twenties and thirties.

Tanning reached its apex in The Seventies, where every actress and model had to have a dark orange tan in order to be considered attractive. Tan lines from swimsuits were not considered unattractive, but a "farmer's tan"—the kind you get by actually working outdoors—is still considered a sign of low social class. This has also led to the rise of tanning salons, sunbeds and hours of sun-exposure without any form of UV protection, which consequently led to a rise in skin cancer, particularly in young people.

Today, the extent of the But Not Too White trope varies from country to country. In most of Asia the fairest possible skin is still considered the most attractive (at least for women), but in the UK "a bit of brown" is considered healthy. A surprising number of people have no idea that many (perhaps most) redheads are physically incapable of tanning because they don't have enough eumelanin in their skin to tan. A pale redhead could burn themselves lobster red, but once the burn goes away they'll be as white as before. The same can also apply to very pale blondes and even some brunettes, especially those of Northern European descent. Quite simply, if the eumelanin isn't there, tanning is impossible.

Usually this trope is Played for Laughs at the expense of someone's "whiteness."

Also see Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette, Evil Albino, Undeathly Pallor. Contrast But Not Too Black, though be careful as this trope doesn't carry the same implications. Compare But Not Too Foreign.

Not to be confused with Dark Is Not Evil.

Examples of But Not Too White include:


  • The famous (and somewhat sleazy) ad for Coppertone sun lotion features a nicely tanned little blonde girl[1] having her swim trunks pulled down by a dog, exposing her pasty white buttocks. The ad's slogan? "Don't Be a Paleface!"


  • In an inversion, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart from the Twilight movies have been praised for their pale looks and many hope they can lower the skin cancer rates for teens due to excessive tanning. But considering the silly and sometimes dangerous things people have tried in order to make themselves more pale, others think that replacing one unrealistic beauty goal with another is not going to make anyone healthier.
  • Possibly lampshaded in The a Team:

Hannibal (to Face, who just stepped out of a tanning booth): You are really, really tan.

  • In Final Destination 3, two of the would-be roller coaster victims are a couple of shallow blondes who decide that the best way to prepare for their graduation is to go to the tanning salon, just like when they tanned to get ready for the funeral of their classmates who died in the coaster crash. This being a Final Destination movie, this ends really badly for both of them.
  • Bromley from Daybreakers mentions that Edward looks good with a tan after he turned back into a human.


  • Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland warns to look at the tan—the more tanned the more Good.
  • The Noughts and Crosses series runs with this. It takes place in an alternate universe where whites (the noughts) were subjugated by the blacks (crosses). In this world, having any coloured skin that's white than a chocolate brown will not do you any favours.

Live Action Television

  • Joked with in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati when Venus, Andy and Andy's visiting sister get to talking about skin color:

Venus: You know, I'm not really black, I'm sort of cocoa brown. [points to Andy] And you're beige. [points to Johnny Fever] But that dude is white.

  • On Degrassi the Next Generation, Paige and her boyfriend (who is also her teacher) are in the park enjoying themselves and they ridicule a guy's pale white legs—and then they later find out it's her other teacher Mr. Simpson.
  • Cheers. Carla used to mock Diane Chambers for being whitebread, and mocked her as "whitey". Diane would defend her pale skin as "alabaster". Then came Lilith (who was played by Bebe Neuwirth, whose real skin tone was very pale.)
  • Frasier. Lilith's paleness was often mocked, and even Lampshaded by Lilith herself late in the series in the episode "Lilith Needs a Favor".

Albert (played by the ultra-pale Brent Spiner, aka Data): No, actually, I'm always this pale. My ex-wife used to say she could tell when I was embarrassed because I'd turn off-white.
Lilith: I can empathize. Sometimes after a late night, I cover my under-eye circles with Liquid Paper.

  • A big part of Conan O'Brien's self-deprecating humor is the act of mocking his porcelain skin.
  • The BBC comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me had a sketch which poked fun at the Indian idealisation of pale skin, with a deathly pale but quite obviously Indian shop assistant touting cosmetics to make skin look paler. When the customer asked what she used she indignantly insisted she was that pale naturally. Like several other sketches on the show, it was poking fun at Indians who basically didn't want to be Indian, but wanted to be white (see also the Kapoors, sorry, Coopers).
  • Burn Notice features Gabrielle Anwar playing a tanned, sun-worshipping Irishwoman living in Miami. The odds are pretty good that any real Irishwoman living in sun-soaked Miami and wearing the clothes she wears would look like an overgrown lobster.
    • Not necessarily since not all Irish people are pale with red hair. Some do take the sun well and tan normally, so her being tanned isn't that implausible.
      • Maybe not implausible, but since the vast majority of the Irish population falls under Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette, it's still extremely unlikely.
  • More as a way of venting her disgust, Deb uses Lilah's paleness as one way of insulting her, asking Dexter what kind of person is pale in Miami. "A pale, English, titty vampire."
    • Dexter, of course, being Dexter, says, "You just described my ideal woman," in that voice. You know the one.
    • Batista also comments favourably on her china-doll complexion and gets burned (no pun intended) by Lilah in the end.
  • Glee frequently draws attention to Kurt's fair skin. Not only does he have a mildly obsessive skincare routine, but when he asks Coach Sylvester to stop calling him 'Lady,' his new nickname becomes 'Porcelain.'


  • Playing With (in several ways) in that many white-American pop stars since Elvis gained fame by not singing in an entirely "white" musical style, drawing from traditionally African-American styles as blues, rock'n'roll, R&B, rap, etc. Elvis, the Beatles, Eminem, Christina Aguilera, Robin Thicke are examples, and there are probably hundreds more. American Idol is largely based off this idea that you can't sing too white to make it.

Professional Wrestling

  • Professional wrestler Sheamus plays up his Irish heritage with his pale skin. This makes him stand out amongst almost every other Caucasian WWE wrestler, most of whom have tanned skin. Of course, Sheamus's skin is often poked fun at on wrestling online forums.
    • Sheamus has said in interviews that he actually tried to get a tan early in his pre-WWE career, but would just turn red then back to white. Realizing that his pale skin and red hair gave him a unique look, however, he decided to just go with that.
    • Not just on forums, now. On a recent episode of Raw, John Cena referred to him as a big tub of mayonnaise.
    • Also mentioned in NXT.
    • Edge has also gotten a chance to poke fun at Sheamus's paleness, remarking that Raw had apparently "been taken over by an evil Ronald McDonald!"
    • As has Santino Marella in a few hilarious segments, joking about Sheamus's "lack of skin pigmentation.*
    • He's now nicknamed "The Great White". Not the great white anything, just the Great White.
  • Eighties wrestler King Kong Bundy also had particularly pale skin, which he accentuated by wearing a black one-piece wrestling costume. Legend has it that one commentator, seeing this over 400-pound, milky-white monstrosity dressed in black, promptly dubbed him "Shamu."
  • When he first debuted, The Undertaker was very pale as well; combined with his dyed black hair, dark clothes, and mannerisms, it made him very creepy.
    • Being a natural redhead, he was probably also naturally that pale.
  • Bryan Danielson has taken a lot of heat for his paleness over the years, and addressed the issue in a promo during his ROH title reign. As usual for Bryan, he turned a trait perceived as unmanly into Testosterone Poisoning in this video:

"I'm getting sick and tired of all these people giving me crap about what color my skin is. Do you know what? Yeah, I'm pale - what's the big deal? Samoa Joe made a big deal about it in Connecticut, Christian made a big deal about it in Long Island, but you know what? It doesn't matter what color my skin is, because I'm the best wrestler in the world! I beat Homicide, I beat everybody that Ring Of Honor has put in front of me! And d'you know what? THAT is what makes me a MAN! And do you know what's unmanly? All these idiots talking about my skin color, going and sitting in front of a bunch of fluorescent lights with goggles and a Speedo!"

  • Subverted with WWE Diva Aksana who is a pale skinned Lithuanian. Old photos from her Fitness competition days show her tanned and looking rather unnatural compared to how she looks now. Next to all the other girls on the roster she's quite pale but the announcers don't acknowledge this and talk up how attractive she is.
    • Photos from her fitness competition days will make her look unnatural. Because of the incredibly harsh lighting (and the fact that darker skin highlights muscle tone better) most fitness athletes use several layers of a very dark sunless tanner (like Pro-Tan or Dream-Tan) to darken their skin to bizarre levels. They'll look normal on stage but backstage will look like they're covered in rust. Look up photos of any fitness model or bodybuilder, and there will be a mix of onstage, backstage, and off-season photos that will show this.
  • Winter from TNA is a pale-skinned German born English woman who frequently gets "get a tan" chanted at her from crowds. However many fans do find her attractive so she might count as a subversion.
  • It's a staple of Pro Wrestling that many wrestlers will have to tan when competing on shows as the lights in the arenas will make them appear more pale than they actually are, as Sheamus demonstrates. This is especially glaring (no pun intended) in larger arenas where high intensity lights are needed and are thus not flattering to those with pale skin. According to Maria Kanellis, the wrestlers in WWE previously just used fake tan but when they switched to HD they had to start tanning naturally.
    • Randy Orton mocked Christian for continuing to use fake tanner in the HD era, as it makes his skin appear yellow.
  • FCW's Paige (also known as Brittani Knight from Pro Wrestling EVE) has opted for the no tan look as well which fits her Anti-Diva character. She previously tanned normally in EVE and SHIMMER.

Real Life

  • Back in the day, after the circulation of media footage of Bill Clinton jogging, David Letterman for awhile poked fun at Bill's "pasty white thighs", and even tried to foster its Memetic Mutation. Luciano Pavarotti declined to sing the words on the show.
  • Australia has a predominately white population, and one of the world's highest rates of skin cancer.
    • That may have more to do with that whopping hole in the ozone layer nearby over Antarctica.
  • Averted with Christina Hendricks. She's incredibly fair-skinned, but she has never been described as anything less than gorgeous.
  • Nicola Roberts of the British pop group Girls Aloud was often derided as "the ugly one" in the press because her extremely pale skin and bright red hair made her stand out in stark contrast to her bandmates' tanner complexions. It's mostly abated by now as she has used her paleness as the basis for starting and marketing a fairly successful make up range for pale women.
  • This appears to be the case in Victoria's Secret campaigning and marketing where usually black, Latina, or mixed-race models like Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Ana Beatriz Barros, Izabel Goulart, Isabeli Fontana received more attention and publicity than their more "conventional" Northern European counterparts. And on annual fashion shows they wore the most posh constumes, always had maximum walks and usually walked either in the beginning or in the end of they show. This practice seemed to finally cease when Behati Prinsloo, Candice Swanepoel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Erin Heatherton and Lily Aldridge joined in 2009-2010 (although they still had to wait years to become Angels, while Black/Korean Chanel Iman became one immediately as soon as she got signed). But than again guess who stole the show in 2010? Ale & Lima, who else?
    • Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima are the two most famous of all the Angels, possibly because they were given so much attention in the beginning. The other models are popular, yes, but Ale and Adri are the two most well-known. Of course they were given the most promotion.
  • Jazz singer Renee Geyer was advised to release an album without a photograph of her on the cover, since she was very white and the music genre she was singing for was black dominated. She refused to listen to the advice and the album tanked.
    • Similarly with Tom Jones (or so I heard).
    • Bobby Caldwell was given the same advice and followed it when he first appeared as a major artist. Many of his new fans were not aware of his ethnicity until they saw his music videos or live shows.
  • Light skinned Indigenous Australians have been discriminated against by anti-discrimination hiring policies, such as those for an Indigenous liaison officer. One woman was turned down for the job because she was too light skinned, and the (white) employer thought a darker skinned Aboriginal would be better, despite the fact that Indigenous people identify each other as Indigenous through their connection to their people and their ancestral lands, rather than the pantone shade of their skin. See here.
  • Averted in China. As of 2011 whitening products for women was still a billion dollar industry.
    • In the 80's, being fat and white implied being rich and powerful, because you didn't have to work in the fields and you had enough money to eat meat often.
      • Women are expected to remain thin enough to see through.

Stand-Up Comedy

  • Bill Hicks had a bit where him going to the beach would be accompanied by shouts of "Bill put your shirt back on! We can't find our towels!" He also comments that "There are all these beautiful people with tan skin and white teeth. I have white skin and tan teeth."
  • A major portion of Jim Gaffigan's act is him making fun of his own paleness.

Web Animation

  • In one Teen Girl Squad comic in the Homestar Runner universe, when Cheerleader complains that she wanted to go to "Coach Conrad's Sit-Up Camp For Shirtless Boys" instead of ending up at "Cosplayover Camp," Science Fiction Greg says, "Oh, I can take my shirt off!" Cheerleader is instantly charred in the "Blinding Voip" that reflects off Sci-Fi Greg's pasty white skin.

Web Comics

  • 'Geeks', in particular, are often mocked as being pasty-white. I remember a strip from Pv P where Francis (resident Teen Geek) takes off his shirt to affix a set of Dr. Octopus-style mechanical arms to his back, causing Marcy to collapse in paroxysms of laughter, and Deadpan Snarker Brent to stumble back, claiming that the glare was blinding him in spite of his permanently-attached shades...
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del also has a strip where Ethan is so white he goes red from massive sunburn from a few seconds of exposure to beach daylight.

Western Animation

  • The South Park episode "Ginger Kids" revolves around the premise that Cartman believes all children who look like this to be soulless vampires who want to kill non-"ginger" children. Angered that pale-skinned kids at the school start to get bullied because of this bigotry, Kyle and Stan decide to teach Cartman a lesson by dyeing his hair red and painting his face with pale makeup and fake freckles while he sleeps. When Cartman wakes up, he believes himself to be actually "ginger" and mounts a supremacist crusade for "Red Power." Hilarity Ensues.
  • Even when not wearing their onstage corpse makeup, the members of Dethklok are implied to be pale-skinned, as two of them are Scandinavians, the red-headed drummer is "very Irish...American", and they rarely step outside their poorly lit castle. This trope is averted in the "Bluesklok" episode, where they all burn to a bright pink because blues is about suffering.
    • Except for Toki. He tans quite nicely, which compliments the fact that he's the only member of the band who's in shape.
  • Page image comes from an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, where Craig Mammalton (a hilariously overtanned dugong) comes to town and everyone is in a tanning frenzy in order to be popular enough to get into his party. Spongebob ends up tanning too much and becoming "sun bleached", and the episode is about his efforts to hide this fact until his secret is revealed at the party and Craig, recognizing his pale state for what it is, worships the ground upon which Spongebob walks for his devotion to tanning.
  1. a young Jodie Foster believe it or not