Changing the Way I Talk About Tanning
Tanning talk used to come easily for me. I wanted to talk with others who tanned about which accelerator I preferred, how it burned my skin, and how much satisfaction that brought me. Discussing tanning packages and how I tried to fit visits into my work schedule was common. I was proud of my tan, even though I was actually more red than tan. Skin cancer changed all of that. The way I talk about tanning has had an entirely different feel since I was diagnosed with melanoma.
Avoiding the topic of tanning
In 2007, I stopped tanning and all tanning talk ceased. I was embarrassed I had abused my body and increased my chances of developing skin cancer. While I still desperately wanted to be tan — it’s an addiction — talking about it made me angry. Hearing others talk about starting their tanning sessions in the spring made me jealous. I avoided conversations about sun-kissed skin as I tried without success to hide my pale arms and legs. What I once cherished was now a taboo topic.
Moving from avoidance to advocacy
It took several years, but my attitude started to take a turn. The idea of advocacy began to sound appealing. I didn’t want my friends and family to deal with surgeries, scars, and topical chemotherapy treatments. While I didn’t want to talk about tanning before, I wanted very much to talk about it now. I wanted to discourage tanning, not promote it. The desire to have tanned skin needed to sound as unappealing as possible, and when I talked about it, I made sure to include the word cancer.
Talking to family and friends was one thing. Broaching the subject with strangers was quite another. That type of discussion didn’t come naturally to me at all. Sharing my experience through my writing was a better fit and allowed me time to think through what I would like to say and how to measure my words. I have never liked the pressure of in-person conversations on difficult topics. Tanning and its relationship to skin cancer is definitely one of those challenging topics.
Advocating in real-time
Recently, I had the opportunity to advocate in person. The moment presented itself, and I took it. It was a super brief encounter, but I couldn’t walk away from it. As I was checking out at a department store, the two store associates behind the counter were discussing an upcoming trip to Disney World. One of them remarked to the other that she needed to tan before her trip. She indicated that her feet were very pale. It felt like a gut punch. I had been there and, to some extent, I’m still there.
I mulled things over as my transaction came to a close, and I decided to speak up. It’s never easy for me, but both associates were friendly and had been chatting with the customer ahead of me. Things felt right. As I started to walk away, I gestured toward the associate and told her she didn’t need to tan. I said, “Stay pale. Trust me. I tanned for years, and now I have skin cancer.” Both associates paused. She said “Oh, yeah. I didn’t think about that. I guess I can just use self-tanner.”
Times have changed for the better
That wasn’t my full story. In fact, it was just the tip of the iceberg, but it may have been enough to make her change her mind. She might even go on to stop a friend or family member of her own from using a tanning salon. Before 2007, this would have been a very different conversation. We would have shared tanning tips and compared experiences with tanning lotions. My, how times have changed. And, boy, am I ever glad they have.
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