Tan Lines

I was a beaming, sun-kissed goddess in the summers of my high school and college years.  I tanned easily to a rich bronze color.  I loved how pinks, corals, whites and pastels popped against my bronze skin.  And my naturally blonde hair, always bleached out further by the chlorine from the pool I practically lived in all summer, gave me a California Girl look.  My girlfriends and I competed for the darkest tan all summer long. It was a rarity to find anyone in the 70s who sported their tans past the end of September.

There was one woman my girlfriends and I heard about who had a “tanning light”.  It was rumored that she kept it in her bedroom and tanned “in the nude” during the winter months.  This woman was gossiped about by our mothers.  “Oh, she looks like a dried up prune,” one would say.  “Well she smokes, too.  And all that smoking and tanning is going to age her terribly,” another would say.  “She looks so old,” another would comment.  The jabs would go on and on.  We girls actually thought the woman looked great!  Tan, slim, petit.  And she tanned  In. The. Nude.  Well, we all wanted a mom like that!

As the 70s slipped into the 80s and hairdressers slipped copious amounts of mousse into women’s hair to style giant blown out coifs, year-round tanning via the tanning bed was becoming a craze.  I still recall the first time I laid down in one. It was at the health club I belonged to. Yes, I was naked.  Once the striped burns in the shape of the bed’s tanning lights healed up on my butt cheeks and the skin on my breasts stopped peeling, I laid down in the tanning bed a second time.  This time I lay down on a hand towel pulled between my legs and another one folded over my breasts.  I was vain not stupid!

Over the next few decades I found myself in tanning salons beginning in February as a way to manage the winter blahs.  I’d work my way up to 15-minutes sessions on “the electric beach” and walk away happier, perkier, and sun-kissed.  As I grew older I extended  my indoor tanning season from mid-February through the end of March as a way to not only deal with the gloominess of winter but as a way to prepare my skin for real tanning on the sugar white sands of Gulf Shores, Alabama during our kids’ Spring Break Week. 

This year, however, I didn’t hit the tanning salon.  I understand that my skin is different now than it was before my radiation treatments so I was afraid to expose radiated skin to the tanning bed.  I also hesitate to lay my naked body on a bed of lights that have been shown to promote skin cancer.  If there might be a connection to breast cancer or its recurrence, I avoid it.

So what’s a savvy, sexy woman who can’t stand her pasty looking winter complexion to do to make it through winter?   Well.  I saw a woman who’d had a tan sprayed on complete with shading to define lines and hide bulges!  The concept struck me as genius!  I listened eagerly as the woman explained how her tan had literally been airbrushed on.  And yes, you could do it naked for that “all over glow”!  Hhhmmm.  No burn marks in the shape of long light bulbs?  No known cancer causing risks?  I liked it.  What I liked even better was the $8.00 can of spray-on-tanner I discovered at Walmart.  St. Tropez in a can!  Quick and affordable!  Who needed an expert to spray it on when they sold the stuff over the counter?  I couldn’t wait to get it home and try it on.

There must be a subtle art to spray tanning one’s self.  My results, though I’m sure NOT typical of all results, left me looking like I had a skin disease.  I had showered, exfoliated, dried off and sprayed up just as the directions said about a 30 minutes before I went to bed.   I awoke the next morning to find a 1/4″ white stripe down the center of my leg.   Apparently the “whatever” ingredient in the spray had “dripped” down my ankles and pooled around the sides of my feet, too.  I looked as if I’d stepped down into chocolate, lifted my foot, and carelessly wiped away only the chocolate that coated the bottom of my foot leaving the remaining coating dried jaggedly around the edge.   My husband laughed good-naturedly and asked how I was going to hide the problem.  Trying to act like I expected this little hiccup, I smiled and said it was simply overspray and all I had to do was wash the excess off.  Never let ‘em see you sweat.  That’s my motto!

Ironically it was my night sweats that left me color streaked and it was my beloved husband who figured that out as he helped make the bed.  There on both the top and bottom sheets on my side of the bed were puddles of dried color. “Will that come off the sheets?” he asked.  I ignored such a stupid question and hoped my bleach pen had enough product left in it to pre-treat the stains!

As I stood naked in front of my bathroom mirror I was mortified.  My skin looked blotchy and orange.  I was determined to fix the mess so I once again wielded the “tan-in-a-can” frantically over my body hoping to even out the marks.  This time I sprayed slower and more deliberately than I had the night before.  Four hours later I saw the mistake in my logic.   As did anyone who came in contact with me that day.  I was still blotchy and orange but with darker runs and lighter streaks!  I had to wear socks and shoes to hide the mottled look of my ankles and feet. 

You’d think that after two misadventures I’d have given up.  But you’d be wrong.  I’m a fighter!   So adhering to the third time’s a charm philosophy I readied the can of instant gratification and again took aim at fixing my pigmentation problems.  This time I included spraying my hands. Over the past 14 hours or so my tan had developed rather deeply on my forearms but I’d neglected spraying my hands and so was left with what looked like brown sleeves ending abruptly at the wrist…which was actually a better look than my most recent creation.  Picture the Wolfman’s hands and you’ve got a pretty good visual of what mine looked like just hours after spraying.  I began to notice that certain patches of skin like the tops of my knuckles, knees, ankles, and elbows held color differently than other parts.  And that’s when I stopped my madness.

Living a colorful life beyond cancer has presented me with some opportunities to try things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.  If I spend my time thinking about the things I’ve given up or the things I’m afraid might happen I’m going to miss the important, funny, meaningful things that are realy happening right now!  My calico look this past weekend gave us all a laugh.  It taught my kids that when you risk you may fail, but it’s the getting back up and trying again that might get you the outcome you hope for…and sometimes it won’t.  Sometimes you just have to reframe your expectations and learn to appreciate the new you!  And give yourself time to get back to “normal”…Anyone seen my pumice stone???