Remember that PSA in the ’80s, This is your brain on drugs?
Back then I was a walking PSA, too…
This is your body on Baby Oil.
Yes, I was a tanorexic. I fried myself like nobody’s business and of course, got skin cancer in my 40s (more on that in No More Bakin’ and Bikinis). For the most part, I’ve accepted my new found suntan celibacy, but last month we were headed to Hawaii so I decided to get a spray tan.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. I had just watched an undercover ABC news expose on the dangers of inhaling spray tan chemicals. Spray tans were supposedly the safe alternative. Now George Stephanopolous was telling me that huffing DHA could give me lung cancer?
What to do?
In the end, vanity trumped. Plus, there was that damn 3-for-1 Groupon burning a hole in the pocket of my dorky Solumbra SPF +50 parachute pants. Besides, George reassured us that tanning salons across the country were now being trained to offer protection.
When I arrived at the salon, I took a seat and leafed through Cosmo’s Sex issue. I hadn’t read Cosmo for 2o years. Halfway through “Have Easier, Stronger Orgasms,” I started to panic. You see at heart, I’m an earth mama. I eat organic. Use BPA-free containers. Slather my body with chemical-free zinc oxide sunscreen from Whole Wallet that has the consistency of Crisco. I am so not the spray tan kind of girl.
Just then a technician appeared at my side. “I’m ready for you,” she said.
“Um, hi. I just watched an ABC special on inhaling spray tan chemicals. Do you offer nose plugs?”
“What about eye masks?”
“Nope, but you can wear this.” She handed me a flimsy blue paper mask, the kind worn by housepainters. “Just pinch the silver strip at the nose.”
Inside the room, I stripped down to my skivvies and put on the mask.
After she affixed her own mask, the technician pulled on thick black rubber gloves just like the ones I imagine the Japanese clean up crews wore after the tsunami.
“Do you mind if we keep the door open—for extra ventilation?” I asked, eying the toxic cocktail she mixed which resembled a murky half pint of Guinness Stout with a turpentine floater.
“Uh, we have a lot of people coming through,” she said. “The UPS guy, the mailman…”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“How tan do you want to be?”
“Not very,” I said.
As the Silkwood shower hissed forth from her wand, I assumed scarecrow position, clawing my knuckles to avoid unsightly streaks, twisting from side to side, scrunching my eyes shut, all the while holding my breath like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Finally she turned off the wand.
Two seconds later: “Okay, now I’m gonna do the second coat,” she said.
Then: “Time for your face.”
“Oh, no. I’m good, thanks.”
Clammy and shivering, I stood in front of the body dryer for a few minutes.
I handed her my Groupon on the way out. She told me to save my mask for next time.
Yeah right, I thought. Like they’ll be a next time.
I berated myself the whole way home. What a sell-out, compromising my health for a cheesy, fake tan.
But then, over the next hour something happened. My skin caramelized before my eyes. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, modeling my Hawaii outfits, twirling like Julianne Hough on Dancing With the Stars.
So what if my tan smelled like dog pee, and my cute resort wear adhered to my skin like gnats to fly paper?
Damn, it felt good to have a little color again.
That night I tucked my little blue mask away. After all, my 30-year high school reunion is right around the corner? The recovered tanorexic in me thinks that if I show up pale, no one will recognize me.
Maybe I’ll make good on that Groupon yet.