a woman is haunted by a ghost of her tanned self

Self-tanners, Hypocrisy, and Me

It’s really getting to me. I am struggling to describe the way I feel lately. Being able to label my feelings is important to me, and as much as I have fought with myself to define my mood the last couple of months, I keep circling back to one neat label: guilt. I don’t like it one bit, but that seems to sum it up pretty succinctly-and I hate it. Maybe I am just having a moment; we all are due a moment now and then. Whatever this is, I wish it would pass or I wish I could find a simple solution for my dilemma.

Scared straight

I stopped tanning in 2007 after 15 years of using a tanning bed and over 20 years of trying desperately to tan. One melanoma diagnosis was enough to scare me into accepting my skin for what it was: pale and freckled. I kicked tanning to the curb and opted for sunscreen, late afternoon shade, and regular skin checks.

Oh, I went through a phase where I wanted the color without the skin damage, and I shopped like a maniac for self-tanners. I was never satisfied with the results or embarrassed myself after desperate attempts to apply it evenly only to have orange buildup on my knuckles, knees, and elbows. After just a few seasons, I gave up the search.

Feeling guilty

As irritating as that phase was for me, would you believe that after 15 years of accepting the pale, I have been hit with the tanning bug? Guilt. Overwhelming and embarrassing guilt. Now, I am not talking about tanning in a salon or laying out in the sun. I am talking about just having some color on my skin-self-tanner. Ugh. I almost choke on the words as they form in my mind and make their way to my hands and out via the keyboard. So. Much. Guilt. I advocate regularly against tanning and preach that being pale trumps achieving a tan any day of the week. I even spread the hashtag, #staypale, whenever and wherever I can. What is wrong with me?

I’ll tell you where it started. If we go back to the beginning of the beginning we have to examine the fact that tanning is an actual addiction, one of which I am painfully aware I possess. I am in enough control of my choices that I will in no way consider purposefully using a tanning accelerator or visiting a tanning salon, but there’s something stirring in the back of my mind.

A back and forth

It’s like that student in the back of the classroom who the teacher sees out of the corner of her eye. The student is alert; he looks like he wants to speak, and his fingers are twitching, but he can’t bring himself to raise his hand to volunteer. The teacher keeps looking back at him, and the more she looks back, the more she wants him to raise his hand so she can let him share. It’s that kind of back and forth I am having with myself right now.

More recently, the battle began when I put on a pair of shorts for the first time since the fall. Now, I have done this every spring since 2007 and had no qualms. There’s nothing wrong with being pale. This year was different. When the weather finally warmed up enough to wear a sleeveless shirt all day, I had the same kick-in-the-teeth sensation. Wow, my arms are pale and spotty.

I just still want to tan

Some of this stems from the fact that my age spots are beginning to arrive at the party, and they are inviting their buddies. (I feel like they are a bit too early; I’d prefer they stick with the fashionably late trend.) I, however, am responsible for their early arrival, and I know it. As my previous dermatologist reminded me on a maddeningly regular basis, I have a lot of sun damage. Turning 45 this spring hasn’t helped.

The desire to have color on this pale skin is driving me batty. I feel like I am doing something inherently wrong by wanting a more “summery glow” after all of my sermons to friends to embrace the pale. I will continue to fight the urge to add a little color, but I can make no promises to myself or anyone else. Should I be ashamed? Maybe. I may just cave and use the self-tanner, ask for forgiveness, and keep sharing my skin cancer story. This, for all I know, is just the way my next chapter is supposed to be written.

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