My dermatologist and I started seeing each other when I was in my mid-twenties. Like most budding courtships, the first years went off splendidly. Every September, we would get together and chat; she would give my freckles and moles a look-see and with a thumbs up and a smile, send me on my way. After a decade, our relationship took a different turn as some tend to do. The friendly chatter and smiles gave way to concerned expressions and quiet moments. Things started to look ‘suspicious’ and gradually I would walk out of her office with pieces of me left behind.
My sunning days were over.
Last year, I found myself with an invitation to attend a wedding in early June. I wanted to wear a dress but feel claustrophobic in panty hose. I had a dilemma. To say I am pale is to say Ryan Gosling is okay looking or Kate Middleton had a nice wedding with some friends. The butt of Genetics’ cruel joke, I was born of an olive-tinted Italian mother, but am cursed with the eastern European pigment of my father. When I walk your way in shorts, wear your sunglasses. Get the picture?
So my friend Zoe suggested a spray tan for the occasion, allowing me to enjoy color without the devastating effects of UVA/UVB rays. This thought had never occurred to me as I always associated tanning salons as a faster vehicle to epidermic death. I’ve tried rub-on creams in the past with the end result of me being mistaken for an oompah loompah’s genetically impaired tall sister, riddled with extra dark knees and elbows. Zoe gave me the name of a salon and, intrigued, I immediately made an appointment.
I arrived a few minutes early and filled out the required forms providing my basic information so that for the rest of my life, I may enjoy a barrage of e-mails and coupons. Then an eighteen year old, size-two blond named Bridget led me to a room where I was to disrobe and stand on a towel. Why does everyone ask me to take off my clothes?
“Do I leave on my bra?” I asked.
“Only if you want me to spray it.” Bridget answered before leaving me.
Alone, nearly naked, the irony of finding myself in this scenario again is not lost on me. It’s an age thing, I guess, trying to hold onto natural beauty taken for granted by the young. Before my annual mole patrol visits, I thought nothing of parking my body under the first warm rays in preparation for the upcoming season and the short shorts that are now deemed illegal for me to wear. This is no longer an option for me since I’ve start to resemble Swiss cheese. Summer has become a season to endure. Bathing suits are my enemy. Through no lack of searching, I have been unable to find an attractive turtleneck waterproof suit that flows to the knees. When will the 40’s fashions make a comeback?
So, I stood on a brown towel in a cold room waiting for this girl/child to return and explain the process. The last time I found myself nearly naked in a new setting, also thanks to Zoe and her it-won’t-hurt waxing debacle; my privates were practically ripped from my body. But I digress. Bridget returned with a bottle of murky liquid and sized me up for a moment while she quietly attached the bottle to a large hose. She had perfect honey colored skin and I assumed she enjoyed the benefits of freebies while employed here. Maybe I should fill out an application.
“First, I am going to spray you with a base coat. This will hold your color longer. Then I’ll spray on the color, we’ll go with natural, since you’re, you know..so pale, and follow it with a top coat that will seal it in. The base and top coat are extra.” She explained.
Of course. Even tanning is offered a la carte.
I nodded and flinched when the first spray hit my skin. Geez was that cold! I tried not to think of my protruding parts in front of this stranger as I stood with my arms stretched out, sucking in my belly as best I could and said a silent hallelujah for my recent aforementioned wax. At least I was smooth along my bikini line. It made up for my inadequate feeling, standing bare-assed in front of Barbie. Evidently my nips caught Bridget’s attention because she told me the room needed to be chilly in order for my tan to dry. Then she asked me to lift my boobs so she could “get under them”.
I looked at this girl for a moment while her request sunk in. This whole endeavor just further impresses upon me my age. I am in this predicament over a dress! My body is betraying me. My breasts, once my strongest physical attribute, now reach longingly for my belly button. So, there I stood, holding them up, while this young hottie who probably doesn’t own a bra bent down, yes bent, to spray. I’ve hit an all time low.
After the color was administered; Turn, good, turn again, now bend your arms down like this, good, I suffered through the last top coat before Bridget put on a fan, told me to stand in front of it for five minutes and left me again, probably to share a good guffaw with her co-workers. About that time, I heard the familiar ding that accompanies a text message. Carefully, I risked smudging and reached in my purse for my phone. It was from Karen who was to take her nephew to school before our lunch date. He prefers a private ride to public transportation and his mother is conveniently unavailable. I’m stuck waiting for this kid to flat iron his hair before we leave. Have you ever?
It’s funny, there’s some inherent need to answer a text immediately, lest the sender think the sendee is not interested and risk having the sender go elsewhere to bitch. With arms bent, nips erect and the loud whir of the industrial fan blowing my hair like I’m in an Usher video, I texted her back.
You think that’s bad? Try holding up arms for fifteen minutes, naked, freezing, in front of a fan, waiting to dry. Send.
Before reaching for my shirt, I glanced myself in the full mirror by the door and smiled. I really did look great. Natural. Almost beautiful. It’s amazing what a little color can do for a woman. I swear it made me appear thinner and I could barely discern my spider veins. I thought about my annual mole patrol visits and decided I would not sweat the dermatologist anymore. I found a new solution.
Walking to my car, sixty dollars lighter, I knew this couldn’t be a weekly endeavor, unless I filled out that application. I was warned that some color would wash off in the shower – wait at least six to eight hours please – but I would be left with a glowing base for a few days if I didn’t wash too regularly. I have no problem with that. Soap is overrated. So is the gym. If I avoid exercise, I can hold onto this for over a week, maybe longer!
I headed onto the turnpike, waiting for Karen to ping me that her eleventh grade, flat ironed nephew was finally at school. We met for lunch and I glowed under her oohs and aahhhs. Karen, like me, showed genetic predisposition to Albinism. I had her convinced to make her own appointment until I dropped the bomb of cost. Her nose wrinkled and she declared that pants were her answer – weddings be damned. Over the course of the day, my skin grew darker and I wondered if perhaps Bridget didn’t over estimate my tone. Was I too dark? Did it look unnatural? I waited beyond the prescribed eight hours which took me to the next morning and stepped gingerly into the shower, but only after careful assessment of my gorgeous body for several minutes in my own mirror. I couldn’t stop looking at myself. For a change. A tan woman with a Brazilian? I’m on fire!
In the shower, to my horror, brown water pooled at the drain and I panicked at the thought of my time, money and temporary illusion of beauty flowing into the depths of the sewer. I stepped out from the stream and contortioned myself in a way that allowed me to wash my locks without further devastation from the water. That done, I made the bed and folded the laundry in my birthday suit until I was dry. I looked forward to the wedding later but I had three hours to kill. Pulling out drawer after drawer I searched through my clothes. Where are those white shorts??