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Simple media query, good interview, bad headline
Peter Panda

It seemed like a simple query from a respectable journalist at a respectable media outlet:

“Teen’s first tan is usually with Mom”

“A recent study showed that 40 percent of teens went tanning for the first time with their mother. I’d love to hear from moms
and/or daughters who can talk about that first-time tanning experience and why it was important for them to share that.”

While the discerning reader might wonder where this story was going, if not to the issue of cancer and tanning addictions, the query itself sounds pretty tame, like a feel-good piece about moms and daughters sharing an experience.

And here’s the story that emerged:

For teens, ‘tanorexia’ starts with Mom

A new survey finds girls’ first trip to the tanning salon is often with their mother in tow

Like mother, like daughter — especially at the tanning salon, as it turns out.
Many teen girls hit the tanning salon for the first time with their moms in tow, says a new study published in the December issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology. This finding wasn’t exactly surprising to lead researcher Katie Baker, a doctoral student at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn.

“I grew up in a community where indoor tanning was prevalent, and young women who want to start tanning before they reach 16 or 17 have to rely on their mother to not only transport them, but to pay for their tanning,” Baker said.

It’s a small study, including just 227 girls and young women ages 18 to 30, all undergraduate students at East Tennessee State. But it does make some interesting observations. Nearly 40 percent of the women said their first experience with indoor tanning was with their mother — and those girls tended to start tanning about two years earlier than the other study participants (starting at age 14 instead of 16). Plus, these girls were almost five times as likely to be “heavy tanners” as college students. (In this study, that’s defined as tanning more than 25 times a year.)

Twenty-two-year-old Ashley Jackson, her mom and indoor tanning go way back: Jackson can remember being a be-goggled 6- or 7-year-old, waiting in the room as her mom soaked up the artificial rays. When she was about 15, the two started going together. Some moms and daughters get matching pedicures; some are more interested in matching shades of bronzed skin.

“It was our fun thing; if we needed an excuse to get out of the house, we’d say, ‘Oh, let’s go tanning,’” says Jackson, who lives in Indianapolis. “I think she didn’t think anything of it at the time. I remember it was one of those things in our town where other people’s moms would even take us.”

Fears of wrinkles and cancer led Jackson to quit tanning for good last year, a decision cancer experts and some recent reports support. In 2009, the World Health Organization said that tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation are among the top cancer risks, as deadly as arsenic, mustard gas or cigarettes. And last year, the Food and Drug Administration considered enacting a ban on tanning beds for those under 18.

Dr. Jessica Krant, a Manhattan dermatologist who wasn’t involved with this study, cautions mothers that their daughters are watching their unhealthy habits — including tanning, which increases the risk of skin cancer 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30, according to the WHO report.

“Moms have an unbelieveable influence on daughters’ ideas about appearance, skin care, and beauty habits,” Krant says, “both overtly, by telling their daughters what they think of their looks, and what they should be doing to take care of themselves, and indirectly, by having daughters that watch them like hawks and naturally adopt the routines and values that moms display.”

Instead of tanning, try exercising or cooking together, Krant suggests. Jackson may have quit tanning, but she and her mom still spend time together: “We just shop a lot more,” she says.

No doubt, the reporter did not write the headline and, in fact, the story is pretty straightforward. It does not include the word “tanorexia” – that is picked up by the headline writer and it completely changes the tone of the piece. If you responded to the query as it was written, you might rightly feel blindsided. This is the peril of responding to any media query without thinking through where the story is likely to go.

You have to think of media coverage from all angles and never take a query at face value, never respond without reading what else a reporter has written and always consider what the worst outcome can be from an interview and story before you participate in the interview.

Just another word to the wise.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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