A woman is extremely embarrassed at her red neck, which was a result of a tanning salon visit.

Tanning Salon Regret: Me and My Red Neck

Recently, a friend and I had a discussion about memories. We talked about how certain smells bring back the most vivid images and can instantly transport us back in time. Memories are funny things, too. Sometimes, the least little incident or comment can bring to mind the weirdest moments from your past and trigger a whole host of feelings. Most of the time, my oddball memories are pleasant ones, but once in a while, I will recall a frozen instant of time that embarrasses me. One particular memory that always gets under my skin (no pun intended) deals with my tanning addiction.

Addicted to the tanning salon

I was a little over a semester into my first year of teaching and about 5 years deep into my tanning bed addiction. It was time for my school’s annual spring carnival, and I had, by that point in the year, been hitting the tanning bed regularly for a little over two months. I wasted no time. Each year, I began visiting a local tanning salon earlier and earlier. I recall that our carnival was always in April, so that means I was laying slathered in tanning accelerator in February - ridiculous.

A springtime tan

Our school was packed with students, parents, community members, and faculty and staff members. The air carried with it much laughter, the smell of popcorn, and the sounds of winners rejoicing with friends. We always had a great time, and there was barely time to breathe for those of us buzzing around making sure prizes were well-stocked, food was being served quickly, and more tickets were sold to those whose money had burned a hole in their pockets early in the day.

Or was it a springtime burn?

Amidst the hustle and bustle of our carnival activities, someone could always be heard shouting above the crowd. Whether it was a quick request to bring change for a big bill or someone asking for more of our candy consolation prizes, you could hear happy urgency in the air. We were fortunate enough to have parent volunteers rotate from game to game to give teachers breaks throughout the day. At one of my busiest times manning the yard darts booth, I heard a voice above the crowd. Loud and clear, she said, “She’s over there! The one with the red neck!”

Identified by a tanning salon burn

Now, I will admit, I looked around probably way longer than I should have to try to assess the situation. 'Who was she talking about? Who’s got a red n…' I realized in that instant when I saw the parent volunteer headed in my direction - it was me. I was the one with the red neck. 'Is that how others saw me, identified me in a crowd, labeled me?'

If my neck wasn’t already red from overdoing it in the tanning bed, it turned a deeper red as the blush that consumed me filled my face and crept southward. I was humiliated. It all happened so fast and the day was so hectic that I had little time to process it all. Later, when I got home, I thought long and hard about that moment. I wondered if she was the only one who thought of me in that light. The problem was, what I saw in the mirror wasn’t matching up with what others could clearly see.

Embarrassed, but not enough to give up tanning

That moment should have been enough to make me realize I was only damaging my skin and not achieving anything close to the results I desired from the tanning bed. Instead, I chose to ignore it and chalk it up to her sense of humor. Weeks turned into months and months into years. I didn’t forget that moment, but I also didn’t take advantage of what it really meant for me.

Experiences shape us and memories keep us grounded - I am a firm believer in both. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I wish I had thought longer and harder about her comment that spring afternoon. Instead, I let it embarrass me but not change me. It wasn’t until my melanoma diagnosis ten years later that I let my experience truly shape me and guide my choices. Listen to your heart, folks. Don’t be like me, filled with memories of vain efforts to change my appearance. When it comes to your health and your future, make choices that will conjure up some smart memories down the road - for your and your loved ones.

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