Why Do Bodybuilders Tan?

Am I the only one that hates the ‘tan’ required in bodybuilding? I honestly thought it was the bodybuilder’s choice to not get a tan, but little did I know that most bodybuilders are actually judged on their tan! So, how did this tradition start? Why do bodybuilders tan?

If you don’t have a lot of time to read the article, here’s the breakdown: Bodybuilders tan because it is required to get a good score, it defines muscles better, it contrasts the white light on stage, covers up any stretch marks or other skin problems (acne/cuts), makes the bodybuilder look thinner, and some do it for the good old “tradition” of it.

Anyway, let’s cover each of these reasons in-depth. And finally, answer the question once and for all, why do bodybuilders tan? And would I be able to enter my first competition without a tan?

A Tan Is Required in Modern Bodybuilding

So, apparently, a tan is now required in modern bodybuilding.

If you’ve read my website before, you’d know I’m an avid bodybuilder who takes this sport maybe a little too seriously.

I’ve always hated the idea of having a tan before going on stage, and I’ve done my research on competing. But, what I, unfortunately, found out is that: a tan is required in these competitions.

Well, not exactly, but it is basically required if you ever wanted to receive a score above 1.

This is one of those rules that is ‘heavily implied’- if you will. Here’s why:

The Natural Skin Color Under The Bright Lights Ruins Everything

From what I understand, no matter your skin tone, light or dark, it looks horrible under the bright lights of the bodybuilding stage.

For judges to properly examine someone’s body and physique, they need bright lights to see every little detail and imperfection of the body. This creates lighting that is so bright that, unfortunately, no skin color works for it.

In fact, even for some of the darker skin tone bodybuilders, the lights might make them look grey, according to NPCNewsOnline.

The tan is designed to offset this, and specifically counteract the bright lights of the stage to create a, ironically, ‘more natural’ skin color.

If you’re the lightest skinned around like me, you’ll end up looking like a ghost or even sometimes red on the stage lights without a tan.

This just simply makes it impossible for the judges to even give you a score. How are they even supposed to see me on stage if I’m going full casper mode on them?

But, realistically, when those bright lights interact with the normal skin, it’s very difficult to see anything.

An Example of a Contestant Without a Tan on Stage

Why do bodybuilders tan? Look at this contestant that didn't have a tan, it's very difficult to see him on stage. (Picture of bodybuilder tan vs no tan)
Why do bodybuilders tan? Look at this contestant that didn’t have a tan, it’s very difficult to see him on stage. (Picture of bodybuilder tan vs no tan)

This contestant, 43, did not come to the stage with a tan. Compare him to the other bodybuilders there. The bright lights are almost doing worse for him and making it way harder to see anything on his body.

He almost looks invisible compared to the other contestants with a tan. As you can see, the tan under the light highlights incredible muscle definition, veins, muscles, etc that otherwise would not be noticed.

Meanwhile, in the middle, it is difficult to see anything at all because the skin tone is just fighting with the lights.

The Tan Covers Up Any Stretch Marks/Other Skin Imperfections

Look, I’m not going to lie and say I don’t have 500 pounds of acne on my face. In fact, it’s kind of embarrassing how much chest acne I have.

While the tan doesn’t completely hide it, it does a great job from afar. Furthermore, I have a lot of stretch marks that I’ve had since birth, and a few scars from, well, let’s not talk about it.

But, having a ton of acne is something that is well, not great in bodybuilding. And generally, tanning doesn’t do much to save you.

However, most serious bodybuilders will be taking serious control of their acne before their skin looks bad. This means that ultimately, they will have way fewer blemishes/acne problems to deal within the first place.

Maybe they will have a few tiny acne scars or other things, but overall, not much. The tan can do a lot here to cover that.

The Tan Forces Shadows and Definition Again

I mentioned earlier that the bright lights make it very difficult to even see the opponents.

But, what do you do now that you can see them? An interesting effect of the tan is that it brings the darkness, shadows, and definition back into the muscles.

In fact, the tan without the bright lighting would also do this. Just in general, the tan creates a better emphasis on muscle definition and shadowing.

It’s like, playing a video game with shadows off, things will just look weird. The tan is able to bring a great contrast that shows off the ‘tiny things’ that judges are looking for in bodybuilding.

Things like ab veins, seeing the lats from the front of the person, quadricep definition, etc. The tan brings incredible highlight and definition to these things.

It Makes The Bodybuilder Look Slimmer

A huge thing in bodybuilding is having a great physique, right? Lighting, tanning, etcetera can all play a huge role in looking great on stage.

In fact, I’d say a lot of being on stage doesn’t always have to do with who is the “biggest” or “shredded” there- just who can pose better. You can get the most muscular man, but if he isn’t able to show off his muscles the best, he will lose to someone that is a little bit smaller than him.

The tan creates this illusion that the bodybuilder is slimmer, giving them better ratings on their overall physique.

How does this work? I can explain it simply. There’s this old saying in the fashion community that goes like this: dark colors take off 15 lbs.

Now, obviously, there is a limit. You can’t be 500 lbs morbidly obese and wear a black shirt and call it good.

But the truth is, wearing dark clothes creates an illusion of you being slimmer. It really plays with the eyes and makes the person seem much smaller than they actually are.

The same thing happens here with the tan. The tan contrasted to the bright lights is able to make the person stand out as having a ‘slimmer’ or ‘smaller’ waist size and seem to have a better physique.

What Do Bodybuilders Tan Outside Competition?

Great question, so this entire post answering, why they tan before a competition.

But why do bodybuilders tan outside a competition? The answer is well, not a happy one.

Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a huge problem in the bodybuilding community.

In fact, one of the first things many bodybuilders tell people who just started bodybuilding is: “You’ll never be as big as you were when you started”.

Now, for many people, including myself, that means literal nonsense.

But once you start bodybuilding you’ll understand. Bodybuilders have a huge tendency to compare themselves to their past selves, and unfortunately, this leads to huge body image problems.

Many bodybuilders never think they are big enough. The entire idea of the quote is that, before you started bodybuilding- you likely didn’t have a huge body dysmorphia problem, but once you start, there’s no going back.

You’ll always think, “Was I bigger last week? Was I bigger last month? Did I mess up my diet? Am I lifting as hard as I used to?”. Unfortunately, the sad truth is, many bodybuilders never even appreciate their bodies once they get into the sport.

Many Wearing Tans Outside Competition Are Doing It Because of Body Dysmorphia

Many bodybuilders wearing tans outside of a competition are doing it because they have body dysmorphia.

While there’s always an exception to the rule, a good number of them are concerned about looking good 24/7 so they don’t feel as insecure.

Some do it because they have business deals or photoshoots they have to go to, but regardless, it’s something that needs more awareness. If you’ve read my post, My Experience with Anorexia, you’ll know I’ve suffered from it firsthand.

Not all body issues are just ‘being too thin’ as the media portrays. No matter your size, body dysmorphia can affect people fast.

Some Bodybuilders Do It Due To Tradition

I am someone that loves following traditions.

It’s kind of the ‘Confucian’ idea of honoring your ancestors and what they did for you. Some bodybuilders see this as a way of honoring the sport, especially ‘old-school bodybuilding’.

I like doing some old traditions, but I’m not sure if this is one we NEED to keep. I’m sure since the 1970s we have better ways of lighting the stage that don’t involve doing all of this.

Oh well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it I guess?

What Tan Do Bodybuilders Use?

Excellent question. Bodybuilders actually use spray tans.

Normal tanning used to be such a big thing in the 1990s-2000s, but now it’s virtually non-existent. Why?

Well, tanning is a GREAT way to get skin cancer, and fast.

If I ever get around to uploading my 60 minutes of cardio videos from the COVID-19 lockdown, you’ll see how paranoid I am of skin cancer. I would apply sunscreen very religiously and not hold back!

Look, there’s no point in trying to mess with cancer. The sun has been around hundreds of millions of years longer than you have been, the sun will win and damage your DNA.

Tanning is, well, not mainstream anymore. Most places have been shutdown, gone out of business, or have been outlawed. Some states have made it a law to wait until you’re 21 to get a tan.

But is this the tan bodybuilders use? Not exactly. Some bodybuilders have been known for getting ‘real tans’ before their competition, but that’s simply just a thing of the past now.

Bodybuilders Actually Use Spray Tans

So, generally, most bodybuilders will have some sort of what’s called a ‘base tan’. That would just be a general tan you get from being outdoors for like a week or two.

You’ll see some bodybuilders sunscreening up a few weeks before their competition for this. But that’s not where the ‘famous tan’ comes from.

They use a spray tan or ‘paint’ tan is what I like to call it. They literally can roll on the tan to you, here’s a picture of it in action.

Why do bodybuilders tan? Look at the incredible difference here, and it's pretty easy to apply.
Why do bodybuilders tan? Look at the incredible difference here, and it’s pretty easy to apply.

I mean, that looks pretty crazy to me. And those spray tans/paint on tans don’t usually have serious side effects if you wash them off soon enough.

Conclusion of Why Do Bodybuilders Tan?

As we’ve learned today, bodybuilders tan for many reasons. But generally, it’s required and not really the bodybuilder’s choice anymore. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we can move away from tanning as I see too many health side effects with it and it’s a waste of money.

But, whatever floats your boat. If you like a tan, get a tan! But most importantly, get out there, and don’t stop lifting til you’ve given the gym all of your energy. And let’s get BIG.

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