Summer is here, and I’m really uncomfortable. It’s not the Midwest humidity or temperature that’s making my skin crawl—it’s the absence of bronzed skin. Even in Indiana, people have good base tans going by May, thanks to tanning beds. By now, I'm usually lightly tanned and unselfconscious in shorts and sleeveless tops. Not this year. I've given up tanning. Sigh.
It turns out that pasty skin is the perfect backdrop for highlighting flaws. That’s why my thighs look like southern Indiana—gentle rolling hills with rivulets of tiny blue veins. Anyway, my sacrifice means I have to live with skin that looks like I've been hiding under a rock all my life. In fact, I feel like one of those pudgy, little white mealworms that you find under a rock. The mealworm and I may be exceedingly unattractive, but by golly, we will not get skin cancer.
Every time I look at my thighs and shudder, I review the reasons that tanning is bad. We all know the litany. And even though both my parents have had skin cancers removed, tanning is a behavior and way of thinking that is hard to break.
For me, it all started with Malibu Barbie. Then my beautiful teenaged cousins from southern California visited. Tans were everywhere, especially on TV. Even the Brady Bunch girls, as fair and blonde as they were, had perfectly tanned skin in their Hawaii episodes. Kids of the 60s were led to believe that sun-kissed skin is healthier and more attractive than pale skin, and I cannot shake the brainwashing. Nicole Kidman is beautiful, but when I see her, I secretly think, “That girl must have titanium-strength sun block. I think she needs a day at Disney World with some low-grade Coppertone slapped on.”
I’ve tried “Tan-In-a-Bottle,” and the results were astonishing—astonishingly orange, like a striped tiger cat. My palms looked like I’d eaten a truckload of carrots. And any old scars moved to the foreground like the magic invisible white writing you see on Easter eggs.
So far, I’ve maintained my vow to refrain from tanning, but it’s getting harder and harder to resist. So I decided to take drastic measures—I’ve been looking at skin cancer lesions on the internet. Can I just say they’re way uglier than the little white bumps on my arms?
And the aging thing—all I have to do is remember the uber-tanned neighbor in “Something About Mary,” and my resolve strengthens.
Tanning aficionados like to debate research that points to dire consequences of sun damage. But I found an interesting new study that once and for all, for me, at least, ends the debate: tanning bed rays have been directly linked to melanomas on the shaved backs and ears of the South American opossum monodelphis domestica, or short-tailed ‘possum, if you’re from these here parts.
Put in layman’s terms, Dr. R.D. Ley of the Lovelace Medical Foundation in Albuquerque did a 70-week study with a control group of opossums and another group exposed to low dosages of the rays.
According to Dr. Ley, “The second group got the tumors, but they still looked infinitely cooler and sexier than that nerdy control group.” No, he didn’t say that. He said, “One subject in the control group, ‘Nicole,’ would not associate with the others in her group because they were just pale and pasty, but she was, in her words, ‘fair to look upon, with a delicate blush.’” No, he didn’t say that, either, but I wish he had.
Anyway, the opossums have the last word. But researchers didn’t have to put them in a lab to figure this out. When was the last time you saw a ‘possum sunbathing? The smart ones know it’s dangerous. The last time I saw one sunbathing, it was literally flat in the middle of the road, soaking up rays like there was no tomorrow, and going “into the light,” where all shades of opossum are beautiful.