The Art of Sun Coverage

People in Vietnam are really into sun coverage. And I mean REALLY into sun coverage. Now I’m all for protecting your skin from sun damage because. Skin cancer. NO one wants that. Vietnam takes sun coverage to a level I was unfamiliar with before moving to Vietnam. At least they are in Tra Vinh City. Their reason though is not so much a preventive measure against skin cancer as it is a concern against tanning. I don’t want to dive too deeply into perceptions of beauty and society’s beauty standards but one of the reasons for the fear against the sun here has to do with how white skin is perceived to be more beautiful. I hardly buy any beauty products (even body lotion) in Vietnam because it’s difficult to find products that don’t have whitening agents in them.

I personally don’t care if I get tan but I do try to protect my skin from sun damage because I don’t want to get skin cancer for one thing. I also don’t want my skin to look all leathery and gross when I’m older for another thing. The sun freckles that exist on my face will eventually turn into ugly sun spots. So the more that I can do to prevent premature aging from the sun, the better. When I was living in the states my daily regimen would always consist of a facial moisturizer with SPF 30. If I was going to be out in the sun for awhile then I would try and put sunscreen on. I would rarely reapply though unless I went to the pool. As long as I had sunblock on, I didn’t really care if my legs or arms were in the sun. I rarely wore hats. Mostly because I didn’t own any good/cute hats, people don’t really  wear sun hats on the regular in the U.S., and I was most likely biking and wouldn’t be able to fit a hat under my bike helmet.

When I got to Vietnam I was expecting to dress conservatively. I however was not expecting the sort of things people would wear for sun protection. When I traveled through India I was used to covering my legs and arms up but you would normally wear flowy, light clothes to cover up because of the heat. Now it’s hot in Vietnam too. I brought plenty of light long sleeve shirts and cardigans with me to Vietnam. When I first got here I was very unused to the heat and would forego long sleeves and opt for short sleeves because of the heat. This left my arms exposed to the sun.

An example of how some people cover up against sun exposure.
An example of how some people cover up against sun exposure.

Whenever I ran into friends they would actually always point out how hot and sunny it was and how I should be wearing a jacket. This confused me at first because if it’s hot and sunny, why would you put a jacket on? And then I realized it was for sun coverage. Most women in Tra Vinh always cover up before going out into the sun. It’s actually strange to see women riding their motorbikes or bicycles not sun-ready. People don’t just wear long sleeve shirts or cardigans here for sun protection. They wear fleece hoodies. Like hoodies that I would normally only wear during colder months in the U.S. When my students are getting ready to go out into the sun they pull on their heavy sweater, face mask, hat, and sometimes gloves. It’s pretty common that people will wear socks with sandals and flats too. (The socks are normally nude, by the way to make it appear like you’re not wearing socks. This seems silly to me because despite the socks being nude, you’re not really fooling anyone. The socks rarely match a normal skin tone.) Once people are suited up to go out into the sun, there is essentially no skin exposed to the evil rays of the sun.

I’ve been living in Vietnam for awhile now and at first I resisted covering up my arms all the time because I would get so hot biking around. Eventually though, I got tired of people nagging me about putting on a jacket or the comments about my darker skin. So I had to assimilate. Not so much because I’m worried about getting darker but it helps me fit in a bit more and it’s sunny here basically most of the year so sun coverage is important to prevent skin cancer and skin damage. Before coming to Vietnam, my mom forced me to pack a baseball cap. Now I would normally never wear baseball caps. I think they’re dorky. I’m more of a wide-rimmed sun fedora/panama hat person but those are difficult to pack. And as much as I hate to admit it. My mom was right. I would need the dorky baseball hat. Now my daily regimen before going outside consists of putting sunblock on all parts of my skin that might get some sun including face, feet, arms, and neck. Then if I’m not already wearing something long sleeved, I’ll grab a long sleeved cardigan. To top it off, I will don my baseball cap and sunglasses. I haven’t been able to adjust to wearing hoodies out in the sun or the face masks and I still get very hot wearing as much as I do out in the sun but it honestly beats skin cancer. And stares.


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