Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ain't No Sunshine

There are a lot of things I think about every single day.  I think about coffee and donuts.  (I never eat donuts but I think about them all the time.)  I think about friends and relatives.  I think about that scene from The Shining with the guy in the bear/bunny/creepy fuzzy thing with ears suit.  (Okay, that one might be every other day.)  I also think about skin cancer.  Every freaking day.

I know, morbid right?  It's because of my scar.  It's on my leg and it's only an inch long.  But, it's always looking at me.

I grew up in a time when no one talked about self-tanner.  The closest I came was when my local community theatre did a play (either South Pacific or Once Upon This Island?) and they gave all their super pale cast members pills to take that tanned them, making them look more Oompa Loompa than islander.  Disgusting, right?  But, the extent of my personal self-tanner or sunscreen knowledge was putting Hawaiian Tropic on my body and Sun-In in my hair before climbing on the lounge-floaty in my best friend's pool.

In high school, my friend Marci (a beautiful Latina girl who didn't need a tan) told me I was too pale for prom.  I'd always been pale, had even put white baby powder on my face to look paler during my "screw you all, I'm such an emo vampire" phase.  I suggested I just lay out.  She said I should get a tanning membership because it was safer.

On our lunch break, we hit the tanning salon.  It smelled weird but everything in there was bright and slick and clinical.  Everyone who worked there had a healthy glow. It felt like they knew what they were doing, like a doctor's office.  A poster in the lobby showed laughing, tan people and assured us that tanning beds were 93% healthier than the harmful rays of the sun.  I stripped down, put on my little plastic goggles to protect my eyes and got addicted.

I would have quit several times over the next seven or eight years.  I had a year or so break when I was doing plays and working at a movie theatre where no one cared how tan I was under my vest and bow tie.  But, after awhile I needed more money.  And every job I had required me to be tan.  It started with a Hooters Girl gig and got worse from there.  Shot girl, comedy club waitress in a short skirt, body double.  Tan tan tan and more tan.  The worst was when a tanning salon hired me to model for before and after photos.  I got so tan for the after photos that a body builder dude at the gym told me to "lay off the tanning, lady!"

You know it's bad when a gym rat in a fluorescent yellow muscle shirt thinks you're too tan.

I quit the tanning when I was twenty-five, except for the occasional blast like right before my wedding.  I get dark really easily so I've never had a sunburn.  But, earlier this year, my dermatologist found a suspicious mole on my leg that turned out to be melanoma.

They took it out and that was that.  I was insanely lucky that I went in for a full body scan and they found it so early.  I don't want to downplay how fortunate I am.  I cannot overstate it.  I'm now crazy SPF girl.  I wear a hat when I'm outside.  I stayed in the shade the whole time I was in Maui.  It's a lifestyle adjustment but worth it because I get to be alive.

I feel like a first class idiot for believing the tanning salon hype back then.  I suppose I willingly swallowed that bullshit because I wanted to.  Now they have proof that tanning beds kill people like cigarettes do.  I'm glad to see people aren't as gaga about tanning now and that self-tanner is popular.  This is good.  This is progress.

But, if you were a dumbass like me, please go to the dermatologist.  It only takes like five minutes and it could save your life.  There's absolutely no reason you should die to look hot in your dolphin shorts and ugly owl shirt.  Actually, just don't work at Hooters to begin with.  Those wings are nasty.

In fact, why don't you just get yourself a nice office job?

*photo by polapix.