From Tupperware to tans: why girls' parties these days are more about bodies than bowls

It's party night at Jackie McQuire's, and the wine is flowing and the mellow sounds of Joss Stone are being cranked up on the stereo. A group of women giggle as they disappear, one by one, behind a portable booth next to the leather sofa. As they go, they shed their clothes, only to re-emerge five minutes later with a glowing, sun-baked look.

It's party night at Jackie McQuire's, and the wine is flowing and the mellow sounds of Joss Stone are being cranked up on the stereo. A group of women giggle as they disappear, one by one, behind a portable booth next to the leather sofa. As they go, they shed their clothes, only to re-emerge five minutes later with a glowing, sun-baked look.

This is a "tanning party", the modern equivalent of the Tupperware party, and it is a concept that is rapidly spreading across the country as beauty companies seize on the craze.

The parties combine a girls' night in with a "quickie" beauty treatment that would normally be squeezed into a lunch hour. Ms McQuire, who has hosted three such nights, said it transformed a boring chore into a social event. "It's instant and convenient because you don't have to go anywhere - and yet it's a social night with your friends," she said.

Parties based around tanning - and even Botox injections - are fast becoming the latest mini-makeovers for a society that demands quick results.

The Tanning Shop, the UK's largest specialised retailer, has successfully piloted tanning parties in the North-east, and is set to introduce them nationally this year, while U-Glo, which puts on tanning parties in Scotland, said it has been inundated with requests.

Last year, 21 per cent of all British adults used fake tan in some form, while The Tanning Shop saw an annual customer increase of 38 per cent. David Bowen, marketing director for Body Care, which owns The Tanning Shop, said new technology had attracted those who would not otherwise consider getting a fake tan. "People who have never used sun beds before are visiting salons because of the use of spray guns and booths which are safe and effective in minutes," he said.

The phenomenon of home tanning sessions parallels cosmetic "quickie" treatments, including high-street Botox, non-surgical face lifts and teeth whitening, all of which can be fitting into a lunch-hour.

A report by the market research analysts Mintel found the need for "instant gratification" stemmed from the cult of celebrity, with people keen to emulate their idol's all-year-round tan, or blonde highlights, or sultry pout. Mark Brechin, a leisure analyst at Mintel, said: "The increasingly busy lifestyle of many consumers means they demand health and beauty treatments that achieve the maximum effect in the minimum time."

And it is big money. The British market for health and beauty treatments was worth around £1.3bn in 2002, which represents a significant increase compared to 2000 when it was estimated to be £0.9bn. Annual turnover is estimated to reach £1.5bn by 2005.

Technological advances in the industry have also accelerated the boom. The "spray-tan" automated booth provides an even body tan in under 60 seconds and the future holds even greater time-saving techniques. Australian scientists are five years away from perfecting a "slow-release" capsule that is injected under the skin to create a tan that lasts three months.

The pre-Christmas period is a key time of year for such treatments. Cheryl Lawson, 32, who attended Ms McQuire's party, said she had already decided to attend another in November. "I'm going on holiday in January and in winter you feel drab, so for me it's a pick-me-up," she said.

But Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist at London Metropolitan University, who has just published a book on body images, said such parties may point towards a growing reliance on beauty to bolster self-confidence. She said: "We can't fix self-esteem through having darker legs or plumper lips."

THE COLOUR ISSUE

By Susannah Frankel

Fake tan spraying parties. Endless tried and tested-style surveys for fake tanning products in glossy magazines. Po-faced beauty editorials declaring the only safe tan to be a fake one... Fake tan is everywhere. There's just one problem: fake tans look, well, fake.

Even in the most professional hands tell-tale streaking around the ankles is prerequisite. DIY fake tanning, meanwhile, is more likely to leave half a leg or arm, say, pale, while the rest of the person in question is a deep - and highly unpleasant - mahogany. Fake tan might look acceptable after dark but witness it in glaring sunlight and the colour is never quite right. Fake tan is too yellow, too orange, or simply too brown - like gravy.

The latter, in particular, is never a good look fake or indeed otherwise. Just look at Victoria Beckham. Look at Jordan.

Of course, only a fool would advocate spending the entire year either in the sun or (the ultimate horror) on a sunbed for that all-year-round bronzed appearance. But is there really anything wrong with being the right colour for the time of year/local climate? Not wishing to pour water on this particular obsession, a white, northern European person with a suntan at Christmas has either been skiing - skiing is not fashionable - or has sprayed it on to their body, which is hardly an attractive image. Failing that, they're probably Kate Moss, a woman wealthy enough to spend the winter months flitting between Primrose Hill and the Caribbean and not even care.

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