Many women have tan lines. This is perfectly normal, as long as the tan was acquired naturally and not in a solarium. This makes it all the more strange that tan lines are rarely mentioned in erotic literature.

But they make the skin look alive. Experience shows that the tan is accentuated by the contrast. The bright areas become an eye-catcher and stimulate the imagination.

Other colors also make the skin look alive. In the picture above, the reddened palm of the hand stands out. And in the vast field of spanking literature, it is usually the reddened bottom that creates erotic tension. But impending sunburn can also cause discoloration:

Live skin is multicolored

The boys in shorts and sleeveless T-shirts, their faces sunburned except for the white areas where their sunglasses have been, giving them a strangely raccoon-like appearance. The girls, also in shorts, plus strapless tops and skin cancer red. White bikini stripes snake out of their elastic tops and up around their necks.

(from: Charlie Huston: The Hank Thompson Trilogy)

Skin “in motion”: moving away from the white base toward sunburn. Skin doesn’t just have a color, it changes. And showing things in motion is almost always more powerful in literature than showing static images. For those who haven’t thought about this, I recommend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoon – an entire book that tries to fathom why static descriptions just don’t work in literature.

Huston tops his description with the unusual but amusing comparison of “raccoon-like appearance. Of course, this comparison also evokes associations, so we can be curious about what else we can expect from these guys.

It’s also nicely solved that he doesn’t just show the women’s bikini lines, but makes them go all the way up to their necks. Maybe not the most ideal predicate for this purpose, but certainly better than a helpless auxiliary verb. Above all, the image creates an impression of unevenness, of the liveliness of the skin. The bikini stripes divide the skin into light and dark zones – and thus make it more alive. Mind you, I am not concerned with the question of aesthetics, but with the literary impression left by the description.

I watched Marnie sitting on the beach, building sandcastles and running after the waves, her olive skin tanned by the sun.
I envied her dark hair and tan skin, the freedom to run into the surf without worrying if her sun hat still fit properly…

(from: Karen White: Sea Sisters)

Yesterday I wrote about how observations, at best, always say something about the observer. In the example from Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” we had seen how the description of the skin became an erotic preliminary skirmish. Tengo’s emotions became as clear in the description as Fukaeri’s character.

Karen White goes in a similar direction. She also shows color “in motion,” from olive to tan. Such descriptions always seem more vivid than when the skin is described in a single, uniform shade. A similar effect occurs here as with the bikini stripes mentioned above.

It is also nice how the narrator’s envy is integrated into the description in this example. Less subtle than Murakami’s, but emotions spice up any story.

Want some more Murakami?

Sitting naked in bed, I lit a cigarette and looked at the woman sleeping next to me. The sun was shining through the window, illuminating her entire body. She had pulled the sheet down to her feet and was sound asleep. Every now and then she would sigh deeply, causing her shapely breasts to rise and fall. Her body was tanned, and the bikini stripes that stood out strangely white against the tan skin gave an impression of decay.

(from: Haruki Murakami: When the Wind Sings)

Murakami also uses the tan stripes to add contrast to the woman’s skin. This impression of a vivid image is further emphasized by his reference to the lighting conditions in the room, describing how the sun illuminates the naked body.

The description of the young woman’s body continues for some time after this quotation. The somewhat unimaginative “shapely breasts” can be forgiven. Once again, we see that Murakami’s comparison, “impression of decomposition,” goes far beyond the mere stringing together of facts. He creates foreshadowing and suspense at the same time. The narrator’s emotions are hinted at. And not only in erotic fiction is it important to make the protagonists feel constantly present. After all, feelings and compassion are one of the strongest driving forces to read or to have a story told.

By the way, I don’t like the idea of describing a woman’s body with the words “there was not a single bikini line to be seen. That’s because we conjure up images with words. Since our brains cannot associate a “not” with a picture, we first evoke an image with such sentences, only to negate it, which requires distancing ourselves from the text. In this context, it would make more sense to speak of seamless or even tan.

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