by Mary Cashiola
I have this nasty little habit. Every year, when 74.2 degrees rolls around, I unearth my old beach towel, grab a mag, lotion up, and hit the beach, pool deck, or backyard for a roasty bit of relaxation.
I love to "lay out," as we used to call it in junior high. That was before we knew what "benign" and "malignant" meant. We thought we'd be young and beautiful forever and a tan could only contribute to that. As we lathered up and checked our strap lines, we'd all take pity on my friend Jennifer. A strawberry blonde from a family of redheads, Jennifer's only chance at a tan was if all her freckles fused together.
Now, years later, I am still laying out. My skin is not yet the consistency of old leather nor do I want it to be. I do not use one of those foil contraptions to get the color even on my face. I know all the health risks. But I still value a good tan.
A tan is the finishing touch to the body fantastic. It's the mint on the hotel pillow; it's the sprig of garnish on a plate at a four-star restaurant. Would you eat an Apple Brown Betty that wasn't browned to perfection? Or a cake without icing?
You don't need a tan, just like you don't need the garnish, but having a tan makes anybody look better. The sun's golden-brown kiss seems to sing off the skin: Happy! Active! Outdoorsy! Fun!
Not to mention that it camouflages fat better than a size-24 muumuu with a zip-up hood. Cottage-cheese thighs don't look quite so dimply; uncut abs don't feel quite so conspicuous when they're not glowing like radioactive waste.
Even though a tan might not be "in," so to speak, white (and being white) has never been more "out." Just look at Alicia Keyes or Jennifer Lopez. White is square, gangly, and just plain boring. Add a little color and you've got exotic, daring, sexy.
There are risks; yes, there are risks. Skin cancer is a big one. Mind-numbing red-as-a-lobster burn is another. Itchy dead skin peeling off in big sheets is yet another.
No one ever said looking good was easy. In fact, they say the opposite. Beauty is work; no pain, no gain.
Even so, getting a tan is probably one of the least complicated beauty treatments you'll ever go through. There are no needles. There are no messy bleaches, no painful waxes or razors, no nosy technicians. And you don't have to worry about rubbing anything in evenly or channeling the skills of Mary Kay Ash herself.
Getting a tan is like getting a UV-ray massage; not only does it look good, it feels good. You spread your towel out on a breezy beach, the sun gently beating down. Then you sink into the sand, and all your cares just melt away. You don't have to worry about work or the house payments or taking your car to the shop. There are no traffic jams, no checkout lines, no to-do lists. It's like taking a nap in the daytime without the guilt; it's like watching television without the insipid dialogue.
If you want, you can read a magazine or listen to music. Laying out is a time of complete and utter relaxation (our society doesn't seem to value that enough) that has plenty of health benefits on its own: lower stress levels, therefore longer life.
So lighten up. Darken up.
by Susan Ellis
Back in the day when I was like Britney Spears -- not a girl, not yet a woman -- sometime around the mid- to late '80s, there was no date rape. That is to say, we believed in things. If, as a female, you dressed provocatively or had too much to drink or were alone with a boy and then something bad happened ("no" did not necessarily mean no), you were asking for it. If you took acid, no gender bias required, you would (no maybe here) go nuts and jump off a roof.
But, like today and probably since the beginning of time, we did not heed those annual warnings about the harmful effects of too much sun for those most at risk for skin cancer: has moles, is fair-colored, has had two or more serious sunburns. Nope, as soon as the temperature nudged 70, we snapped out our beach towels, put on the barest swimsuit we could bear, lubed ourselves with baby oil, gave about seven pumps to the Sun In bottle for our hair, and settled down for the day. At dusk, we emerged painfully red, swollen, and feverish with brittle, oddly orange hair.
Then, phase two: peel, itch, itch, peel, more Sun In to "fix" the hair. And then triumph, for under the skin flakes was the "base" coat of our tan.
It's not worth it. You should consider those yearly reports about sun-cancer risks because they are very real and very serious. And you should consider this: To be honestly pale -- splotchy and so white that your bare legs are slightly blue and provoke eeyows! -- is to be daring. For, to be truly fashionable, one must be willing to be ugly. The bottom line is the same one that drives us to embrace the sun: vanity.
Let's break it down.
The Looks Department. There's no denying the appeal of slightly red cheeks and a splash of freckles across a young person's nose. Emphasis on the young because it will catch up to you someday.
Back to more nostalgia. I remember a girl whom I will call Wendy. She had gigantic blue eyes, was tiny-thin, and was my high school's veritable George Hamilton. That is, even at sweet 16, she looked to be about 50. Given the time that's passed, I'm sure that she is now enjoying all the perks of the AARP.
It wasn't that Wendy was just tan; she was super tan. If you look too tan, you look like a freak. What's more, you don't look very smart because, obviously, you don't listen to those yearly sun warnings. Really, add a strap to your head and I'd throw my keys into your mouth and use you as a purse. That's what you look like.
As for the alternatives, self-tanning cream has dramatically improved. But have you dramatically improved? Do you leave a discernible hand print on the back of your thigh? Are your palms brown? And tanning beds -- don't even try to tell me that your sun came from a strip mall.
If You Can't Stand the Heat. Oh, it's hot outside. So very, very hot. Damn, it's hot. There's air conditioning inside. Jesus, please bless the air conditioner.
Time Is On Your Side. Let's face it. You are just lying there. The book you bought is bad. It's boring, boring, boring. And the time involved to be tan and remain tan equals infinity.
Think about it: If all the Miss America contestants from all the years past took all the time that they worked on being tan then they really could have achieved world peace by now. This is a fact; look it up.
The last time I was in the sun for a purpose, I emerged red and swollen and feverish. That was 1988. More recently, I was at the dentist's office when the attendant looked at me and asked if I was sick and did I need to go to the bathroom. My first thought was, What's it to you, bitch? But then I realized that I am pale, very Boo Radley.