There’s nothing better than relaxing on your very own metal sun lounger. The ancients have been doing it for thousands of years; the Egyptians enjoyed their sun-gardens, the Romans even had a name for sunbathing – ‘apricatio,’ albeit something only men were allowed to partake in. Nowadays, sunbathing has become a bit of a faux pais but if you’re sensible and use your SPF 50, you can enjoy all the benefits a metal sun lounger has to offer. Here’s a brief look at how and why our attitudes towards sun lounging and tanning have changed over the years.
We’ll start with the ancients who adored and worshipped the sun, even believing it to have healing powers. The benefits of sunlight and air were a predominant part of Hippocratic theory in the 5th century BC. Herodotus believed the sun had the power to strengthen muscles and nerves and Philostratus writes that Olympian athletes were required to take sun-baths as part of their training. Go here for more information.
Evidence of the first ‘day beds’ can also be seen in ancient cultures as far back as 3000BC. A day bed is basically a combination of a chair and a bed, which evolved into the modern day chaise longue or metal sun lounger. Greek Gods and Roman rulers are depicted relaxing on their loungers, as servants flocked to bring them wine, even eating in a reclined position. The Chinese saw no distinction in furniture for sleeping on and sitting, Native Americans rested in a day bed they called a ‘hamaca.’
During the Middle and Dark Ages, Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe and anything considered Pagan in society was rejected. Basking in the sun on your metal sun lounger would have been seen as pagan sun God worship, thus the ancient practice of sun bathing was practically eradicated and head-to-toe clothes became the norm.
The French chaise longue (long chair) appeared in the 16th century with a design that featured four legs and a back rest for reclining. In the Victorian era, day beds were also called ‘fainting couches.’ Unlike a modern metal sun lounger, this was an indoor furniture piece designed for ladies to rest on. Victorian women wore tight corsets and often had difficulty breathing, so the fainting couch allowed them respite.
At this point, the sun was still shunned. The fashion was for delicately pale, virtually translucent skin. Only poor people were tanned, due to a life laboring under the elements. Their betters hid behind parasols and large hats, going to extreme lengths for whiter skin, using dangerous cosmetics and even bleach. Lazing on a metal sun lounger in full sun would have been more like torture than pleasure.
The modern version of sun bathing was popularised by Arnold Rikli, regarded as the originator of this practise in the late 1800s. His health institution in Austria attracted patients from around the world where he prescribed sun-baths to heal various diseases. Rikli was not alone; Danish physician Niels Ryburg Finsen was awarded the Nobel prize for his use of artificial sunlight to cure tuberculosis of the skin. In the early 1900s, ancient Greek observations about the healing power of the sun were scientifically proven by the physicist Arthur Eddington. He confirmed that the animal body cannot use calcium in the absence of sunlight; all cells need calcium in order to function, as we know it helps build strong bones, teeth and muscles. It’s also important for heart function, nerve signalling and blood clotting. Then there was the ‘cure chair,’ a metal sun lounger prescribed to treat those with pulmonary tuberculosis, the reclined position helped ease of breathing and fresh air.
A New Bronze Age
So, how did sun tanning become popular? Legend gives the credit for this to Coco Chanel; she accidentally got tanned on a yacht and started an overnight craze. We witnessed German supremacy in sport, health and fitness and their worship of the sun, striving to emulate it. Brits fell in love with the beautiful olive complexions of our European counterparts.
Tanned skin slowly became fashionable, healthy and luxurious. A metal sun lounger or chaise longue was considered luxurious, glamorous even. In fact, in the 1930s, metal sun loungers came to be associated with Hollywood glamour, stars such as Greta Garbo were draped over them in photo shoots.
In 1971, Mattel introduced Malibu Barbie, with tanned skin and her very own bottle of sun tan lotion. Then, in 1978, the first tanning beds emerged and metal sun loungers popped up in gardens everywhere so we could spend our downtime enjoying this ancient practice.
We seem to have come full circle, wanting to spend our weekends reclining on our metal sun loungers, catching a few rays, just like the ancient Greeks did. The sun may have health benefits such as improving mental efficiency and lowering symptoms of stress or depression but it is also dangerous. Be safe and protect yourself against harmful UV rays with a high factor sun cream.