And by that I mean, I’m really white. I don’t mean “I’m Caucasian,” or “I can’t dance,” or “I’m so white that it’s offensive when I try to speak ebonics.” I mean my skin appears to be the color of a sheet of paper. I am fair. I’m pasty. Chalky. Glow-in-the-dark. All my life I have been hearing things like, “You should get some sun on those legs” and “Do you feel okay? You look really pale.” One time on the first beautiful day of Spring, I came bounding down the stairs in my new shorts (dark purple – admittedly, not the best choice, okay?! I see that now). My then-husband looked up at me and, in all seriousness, asked me why I would wear white tights on such a nice day. White. Tights.
I have spent most of my life self-consciously trying to cover my skin. To hide it, disguise it, just
to make it appear a little less … blinding. I grew up in the water, in the sun, in and
out of a swimming pool. Coppertone sunblock, Solarcaine, and an Aloe Vera Plant (click HERE for instructions) were standard supplies in our repertoire, and I was
blissfully unaware of my ghostliness. But
then, around about fifth grade, someone pointed out to me that my “tan” was the
same color as the skin underneath most
people’s bathing suits; in other words, tan, for me, was just flesh
|"Solarcaine stops sunburn pain,|
when someone you love is hurting ..."
|A DOUBLE TAN! It says so |
right there, it must be true!!
I was 12 and in 8th grade the first time I saw it, the answer to my prayers. A white bottle with blue and brown letters on the front: QT (That stands for “Quick Tan.” Stay with me, people). I remember covering just my ultra-white legs with the thick, gloppy, chemical-smelling white lotion. I could hardly wait for school, when hordes of boys were sure to descend upon me. This early sunless tanner was, alas, everything its descendants turned out to be, but times 100. Uneven, blotchy, too-dark and too-orange. I remember standing in the lunch line with a friend, who was so embarrassed she said loudly, “Jeez, Joy, ha ha – you’re the only person I know who would lay out with a sweatshirt on! [insert more nervous, too-loud laughter here.]” It was, of course, obvious that no amount of sun exposure would turn anyone this unnatural shade, particularly someone as pale as me. I had to wear pants for a month, scrubbing my legs into meaty stumps nightly until the last of it finally came off.
For 8th grade graduation, the class of ’85 went to a water park as a prelude to our formal dance that same evening. I watched my friends smear on SPF-less tanning oil (they were no amateurs!). In spite of past experiences, I did the same thing. A horror-struck teacher, near the end of the day, saw me and said, “Honey, didn’t you put on any sunblock? You’re … really … burned.” I said Nah, I’m gettin’ a tan! DUH. And remember, this was the mid-eighties. Madonna set the style. We liked the lace – lots of it. The cheaper, itchier, scratchier, more torn up – the better. I did get the dress on, but peeled it off immediately upon returning home, to spend the rest of that night and several more after it sleeping underneath a swamp cooler (on the floor, on top a sheet, wearing only my grandmother’s mumu).
Sadly, that was nowhere near my last burn, although it was one of the two worst I’ve ever had – you know, the kind that keeps you awake, shivering violently all night, like you have a fever? The kind that blisters, burns, weeps, then dries and itches so badly you take a brush to your body? And then it peels off in big, gross sheets of skin – No? You must have some pigment in your body.
I graduated high school in 1989. We wanted big, blonde hair and a Ban De Soleil tan (click HERE for the awesome retro commercial!), to set off the the pink zinc oxide on our lips just so. The notion of skin protection and cancer prevention was still in its infancy, but no one wanted to hear it. I do remember my grandmother, though, standing in the shade by the back door, screaming at me about skin cancer and wrinkles, as I lay on the deck slathered up in Crisco (yes, you read that right) head to toe and some Sun-In in my hair. I would roll my eyes
and turned up my boom box, drowning her out with a mix tape, every day during summer vacation. Specifically, for 2 to 3 hours, between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. -- because that is the time period, we were told, that the sun was at its most powerful and thus you SHOULD STAY OUT OF THE SUN.
| (Click HERE for more really|
bad fake tan photos ...)
It was in my early twenties, I think, when the makers of sunless tanning lotions tried again. I could probably have a nice little nest egg, had I saved all the cash I forked out trying to fake a tan over the years. One particularly expensive “system” (St. Tropez, I believe - click HERE for the current version) involved scrubbing with a gritty pre-tanning exfoliant, followed by the moisturizing lotion. You could “customize your color” by adding the coca-cola-colored tanner, and slathering all over your body. I must say, I was quite an expert after a while. No dark splotches or white spots or orange fingernails; I knew all the tricks! Exfoliate extra at your knees and elbows! Use a light touch on dry and/or wrinkly areas! Scrub with a fingernail brush after every application! Don’t let any clothing touch until it’s dry!
No matter how heavily perfumed these products were (and believe me, some were pretty thick), they always ended up stinking. The perfume washed off, but the chemical smell of the color remained. Oh, and speaking of water – if you swim with this stuff on, it will wear off in big patches, leaving you looking a little bit like you might have the beginnings of leprosy. Or just white, all over again. I must’ve preferred the appearance of leprosy, since I kept at it all these years. [As a side note, the leprosy look will happen eventually, with or without swimming, and you will have to sweat your ass off in jeans in 100 degree weather until your thighs cease to look like the skin is peeling off.] Night after night, I slathered some variation of this crap on before bedtime all summer long, all through my twenties and thirties. I exfoliated, applied, went to bed on an old towel on TOP of the blankets, naked, so as not to mess up my “tan” before it dried.
And I still got harangued. How many times have I been asked, Why do you keep wearing that shit? Followed by: (a) it stinks; (b) you just look orange; (c) your knees/hands/palms/elbows look dirty; (d) Why don’t you just get a tan? That last one, I have to say, is one of my faves. Because I so badly want to look like an Oompa Loompa, and I love it when you ask me these embarrassing questions. Seriously, if I could get a freakin’ tan, would I bother with this shit? NO, is the answer. No.
This year, as usual, I began to dread the nightly application of the stink-lotion. I put it off. I have last year’s Jergen’s Natural Glow, and some L’Oreal Bronzer, among other things, under the sink. I woke up for the first day of my new job, and wished I had put on a tan the night before. But to my own surprise, I wore a skirt anyway. It got hotter, and I still didn’t put any on. I knew I had to put on a bathing suit last weekend, and STILL I didn’t put any on. And I felt embarrassed of my glowingness, yes. But God, it was really nice going to bed comfortably, really nice not to worry about the sunless stink. Even more nice to jump in the pool and stay as long as I wanted, without giving a thought to my tan being eaten off by chlorine. Nice to get dressed without worrying about staining my clothes, nice to not have to make sure I have a constant, unending supply of that crap. And I do see people staring at my legs sometimes, usually people with a nice tan who, I would imagine, can’t fathom skin this white exists. I have even heard a joke or two being made at my expense as I stroll happily from the office to the parking garage in all my pasty-white, vampire-like glory, but I just keep on walkin’, my friends.
We all have things we don’t like about ourselves, inside and out. Some of these things can be changed, and some cannot. The older I get, the more I grow on the inside (and maybe some on the outside too, ha ha!), and the less I care about hiding my real, true, self – because who am I trying to impress, really? My Lobster knows what color my skin is, and he thinks it’s beautiful (his beautiful daughter and her beautiful mother are the same beautiful pasty white shade as me – who knew that was someone’s type?). My family, for the most part, is the same color as me (with a few exceptions, one being my own son who was blessed with his father’s gorgeous olive complexion). Do I still wish that I could get a tan? Yeah, I do. I’m a work in progress, what can I say? I also wear make up and high heels (although they aren’t nearly as high as they used to be), and I torture my hair a little and sometimes wear things that aren’t comfortable just because they’re pretty. But I do it because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. Two steps forward, and only ONE step back. I’m counting that as a WIN, thank-you-very-much.