When I was a little kid, we lived a couple of blocks from Lake Erie and were at the beach almost daily. I was brown as a berry all summer long – the photo at right was taken when I was about to turn two years old, and I’ve cropped out my white bum. I remember the coconut scent of Coppertone, but otherwise can’t really recall sunscreen being part of our daily lives. Then, when I was nine, we moved to the country. I begged my parents to spare me the horrors of day camp at the Y. So on their way to work in the morning, they’d drop me off at the city pool. I’d swim from 9AM till 2PM, then walk to the library and read until they picked me up after work. I was tan every summer.
Later, as a teenager, I got a job at a tanning salon. Free, unlimited tanning was the only perk. I was tan year-round, for the most part.
Then I dropped out of college very early on and moved to England. I embraced the pallor of the natives and, for the decade I was over there, almost never sunbathed. When I moved back to the US, I continued to dodge the sun.
A few years ago, I started religiously applying sunblock every morning, terrified I had waited too long to start caring about my skin. But I relapsed in 2013 when I had a huge deck on which to lounge and soak up the sun while working and talking on the phone.
To this day, I love my lazy summer routine of not wearing makeup because I have a bit of natural color. And let’s be real: Most of us look so much better with a tan. I do, anyway.
Recently I’ve been struggling with my sun strategy. I know the dangers, both to my health and my long-term vanity. I can already see a few hyper-pigmentation issues on my face. But honestly, I kind of don’t care. I have an epic Florida vacation coming up, plus my best friend’s wedding in South Carolina, and I want to be tan for both of those events. I’ve even returned to the tanning bed for the first time in nearly 20 years. It has been pleasantly bizarre to go in for a mere eight minutes – the maximum allowed on the stand-up booth I prefer – and get a quick base tan. Back in MY day, you needed regular 30 minute sessions to get such color. (Worth noting: Swedish Beauty Fig Me Not Bronzer Tanning Lotion is pretty good and inexpensive if you get it on Amazon versus at the tanning salon.)
My old friend Garance Doré shared her thoughts on tanning today, and I was so pleased by her conclusion. It’s a lovely post, one I encourage you to read in full, but the money quote for me is this:
The moral is—there is no moral. The moral is that no matter what you do, every moment we live, we are getting older. And of course it’s great to take care of yourself and if protecting yourself from the sun helps you stay fresh, that’s great. I have friends who spent 20 years lounging in the sun and they have a little more sun damage, sure…but they wouldn’t take back those summers for anything in the world!
The moral is also that I know a lot of gorgeous women who look great with their little sun spots. They take good care of themselves, but don’t make a big deal about it. They accept themselves and adapt and live very well with those little marks that are simply proof of a full life…[N]o matter what we do, we’re all going to die.
I don’t know if my corpse will have a tan, but just for this summer, my living body does. That said, I’ll use an upcoming post to share some of my favorite SPFs for when I’m being more careful.
In the meantime, yes, I do have the answer to the tanning dilemma: You do you. I’ll do me. And remember: Nobody likes a scold, not even other scolds.