Though fair ('white') skin has historically been - and in many places still is - sought after, Europe and its offshoots have gone off it lately. This has been due to the increasing popularity of long-distance 'holidays', typically to warm and sunny places.
This wasn't always so (and still isn't for many). Throughout the pre-1950s world, fair and un-calloused skin was a sign of having the money not to need to do outdoor work or manual labour. Great lengths were taken to maintain pale and dainty skin, including using lead and arsenic based makeup and, during certain fashion cycles, ladies carrying parasols whenever going outside. There's a reason that in pre-modern times the word "fair" came to be a synonym of "beautiful."
Tanned skin was one of the new "beauty standards" promoted by Coco Chanel in the early 20th century, but it didn't quite take off until the '50s and '60s, when people actually had the money and the means to do this kind of thing. Tanned skin was a sign that you had both the money and the free time to visit nice places with fresh air and sun, something just not possible for Europe's middle classes in the twenties and thirties.
Tanning reached an apex in The '70s, and again in The '90s and the Turn of the Millennium, when 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 this trope varies from country to country. In most of Asia paler is better, but in the general western world, a light tan is a sign of healthy physical activity. Pale skin is often associated with being a nerd, goth, shut-in, or invalid. People who rarely venture into the sun will often be unwilling to wear shorts or take off their shirts in public for fear of revealing a "pasty" complexion beneath their standard clothing. Even people who lack the ability to tan will often be ashamed of their white skin tone.
Not to be confused with Dark Is Not Evil.
- The famous (and somewhat sleazy) ad for Coppertone sun lotion features a nicely tanned little blonde girl 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.
- 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.
- Iron Man 2: If you look closely at Justin Hammer's palms, you'll notice that they are bright orange. Apparently Justin was a little overzealous with the fake-n-bake and forgot to wash his hands afterwards.
- Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland warns to look at the tan — the more tanned the more Good.
- The Noughts & 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 paler than a chocolate brown will not do you any favors.
- In an episode of Happy Endings, when Brad hears that Dave's new girlfriend wants to make a sex-tape, he warns Dave that he's very white, "like the ghost of Tilda Swinton."
- 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, 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 (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. Taken Up to Eleven in the Pale Force cartoons shown in Late Night with Conan O'Brien, where O'Brien and comic Jim Gaffigan are superheroes whose powers derive from their blinding pastiness.
- 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.
- Dexter: 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, however, responds, "You just described my ideal woman." Batista also comments favourably on her porcelain, china doll complexion.
- 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.' Emma also called him "an eleven-year-old milkmaid" a few times.
- Dear White People: A lot of black people dislike Sam because she is mixed race, judging by her comments about being called things like "half breed" or "Zebra". She possibly overcompensates in reaction by being a militant activist about all issues which affect black people.
- 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 successful makeup range for pale women.
- Both averted and played straight by Madonna in her video for "Express Yourself", where Madonna herself is lit brightly enough that her super-pale skin seems whiter than the bedsheets she clings to (only the vital parts of) herself, while her lover has darkly tan skin by contrast.
- 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.
- MsChif was still getting jeered for her pale complexion even in 2002, after she had been with Gateway Championship Wrestling for a year. It appears wrestling fans did get used to it eventually though, as she was voted "sexiest" at Missouri Wrestling Revival in 2012. Sean Vincent and Ryan Ash never seemed to get past it though, while Billy McNeil seemed to get a free pass for being redheaded and Irish.
- Bryan Danielson has taken a lot of heat for his paleness over the years, and addressed the issue in a promo during his ROH World Heavyweight 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!"
- 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. On an 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 nicknamed "The Great White". Not the great white anything, just the Great White. Although a fan once held up a poster with Sheamus' name and a drawing of a shark fin.
- Nicole Matthews has been affectionately dubbed "The Woman The Sun Forgot" on The World Famous Flea Market(and she's one of the wrestlers they like)
- Winter from TNA is a pale-skinned German-raised English-born 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.
- Subverted with 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. There are pictures of her from her modeling days as a blonde, though.
- 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.
- Mixed Martial Arts featherweight Erik Koch had noticeably pale skin for a fighter before getting a sponsorship deal with a tanning company. Since then, he's sported an unnatural orange complexion.
- 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.
- 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. Which is an Informed Deformity of course, since the whole cartoon looks like uncolored stick figures on white paper.
- In The Grossery Gang webseries arc "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous", Meathead, while coaching the newly-rich Ricardo on how to look the part, says he's too pale and needs a tan, because "rich people love their fake tans", though it ends up a real tan in Ricardo's case...and a very streaky one at that.
- When Francis of PvP takes off his shirt to attach mechanical arms to his back, his pale complexion becomes a point of mockery and amusement for those observing.
- 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.
- In El Goonish Shive, Tedd drinks some magical tea that turns him into a Surfer Dude complete with a tan. Dan notes in The Rant that Tedd would pretty much never get a tan unless magic was involved.
- 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.
- Metalocalypse: 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 seal) 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.