On Tanning

(This is the first of articles on addictions)

I had an interesting experience last week when I traveled to Florida. I couldn’t get tan!

Girls with tans were a status thing where I grew up in northern Baltimore. Girls with tans were prettier, had blonder hair, and usually showed off their legs (tans). If you didn’t have a summer place downee ayshun, you had to devise a way to darken your skin. Otherwise, you’d be scorned and teased come fall.  Having grown up in the 60s there was only one time when I didn’t get tan, and that was when I used baby oil and held silver foil covered vinyl albums against my skin. Normal people got burned but I only marinated. After about 3 years of doing that, me and my friends lined up side by side on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, I went rogue and stopped using any kind of tanning oil. That’s when I got the perfect tan, which held true until last week.

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My son always said I’d look like the leathery woman in the movie “What About Mary?” but I’ve proved him wrong. I am neither leathery or wrinkled. Good hormones helped with that. If anything, his skin is lily white like the Bronte sisters. He needs some color somehow, somewhere, and stop listening to those who never tilt their face to the sun at all. What about Vitamin D, necessary to bone health? Vitamin C used to keep away colds and flu. Growing a beard is nice, but owning some color underneath it should not negatively impact one’s skin at all.

Kids in the 60s had never heard of melanoma, and if they did, they continued their flagrant tanning methods. Full sun exposure, no sunglasses, no umbrellas, no sun hats. Most of all, no visits to the skin doctor. In fact, skin doctors were only visited for plastic surgery. Tanning beds. tanning in Florida in the summer, working as lifeguards, babysitting babies by a pool, riding horses in the sun, running in the sun, cycling in the sun. There are so many ways to get tan I can’t even list them all here.

Granted, my mom, who seldom had time to sit in the sun, was diagnosed in her 50s with cancer on the bridge of her nose. We found it fascinating because she wore glasses. But then the doctor agreed that it was a fluke, and cured her by digging into her skin repeatedly until the melanoma was gone. Plus, he said that her skin was not the cancer type because with her dark Irish complexion, her skin tone was more on the olive side resistent to sun’s deadly HV rays.

My first mole check also in my 50s was diagnosed by my primary who stood in the doorway of his office and from 5 feet away and declared my skin type not susceptible to cancer. I don’t know how he knew that the freckles on my legs were not actually moles, nor did it explain why one of them is in the exact shape of a spade (think deck of cards). But recently I saw a real skin doctor and she too verified that I am cancer free. Although, a former glass wearer myself, as a caveat, she told me to always put skin  block on the bridge of my nose.

I digress – Back to Florida. Luckily I’d been covering my face for a month in Banana Boat dark skin tanning lotion. But to sit eagle spread on very white sand a foot from the Gulf for two days and not tan from the waist down was downright insulting! Had the tanning Gods quit on me and affixed themselves to someone younger? Or had they thought I’d drunk my fill and should keep on using skin tanning lotion?

I fared no better sitting by the pool except from the waist up. There I am very dark and appealing (ha, ha, get it?  A Peeling?). Thank heavens for outdoor tennis in the sun. When you sweat, you tan faster. And, of course, skin tanning lotion works like a charm!

Why must I try to look brown when I’m not? It’s almost an inbred addiction as far as I’m concerned. In the 60s my friends and I would wonder how insulting that must have been to coloured people. 5-10 white girls frying ourselves to look exotic when real brown people were hated and ridiculed. But it didn’t stop our quest to outdo ourselves in the tanning arena.

Some of my wealthier classmates would travel to the beach for the summer, live off their parents and spent their days on the beach. Others would fly to France and tan there. I couldn’t compete. I was not one to use a tanning bed. They looked archaic and I’d seen too much proof of burnt skin to want to try it. When spray tans came out and I sported a broken foot in a hard cast, yes indeed, in my 40s, I paid homage to the fake Sun God and got two spray tans in one week. It was awesome! Where I worked, in a school, over one spring break, all the privileged kids went to Aruba, Bahamas, Florida, and even the Maldives, while I only spent $30 total for my tan.

As for me, i feel so much healthier when my skin wears an all over brown glow. I can be glamorous one night, and sun-kissed in a short skirt the next day. Skin flaws are hidden, and I feel trimmer. Every summer I must visit a beach 2-3 times for a day or two to refresh my paling skin. Don’t forget, too, that if you play enough tennis like me, your feet are the last to tan. You might even sport a dark area for the anklets you wear with your tennis shoes. But by September, when everyone else is growing pale, tennis, which extends to the end of October, is still going strong along with my dark skin until we move inside for the winter.


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