Sunday, May 13, 2007

A White Chick in a Suntanned Country

I’m a white chick. I don’t mean I’m Caucasian, although I am, I mean I am a blazing white, can’t tan to save my life, freckled person. I am the teenager who lived half a block from the beach in Africa only to come back to the States to a school photographer exclaiming I had ‘beautiful fair skin.’ Ugh! A teenager’s worst nightmare.

I was also the young adult who lived half a block from the beach in California while driving inland to work an hour or more every day for more than a year. One of my colleagues asked where I lived and I told him Balboa Peninsula. He shrugged and said, “Funny, you don’t look like you live at the beach.”


So began my long love and hate relationship with self tanning lotion. It started in college because I knew deep down inside that tanning booths were bad for you. But I always feared I would return from some frat party after a few beers, consider myself in need of a tanning fix, and wake up in the morning with orange streaks that couldn’t be hidden by a sweatshirt and jeans.

My husband is forever telling me he loves my fair skin and God bless him, that’s why I married him (not necessarily because he loves my white skin, but because he loves me just the way I am supposed to be). But, the grass is always greener you know. I’d love to stand for fifteen minutes in the hot sun and have sandal marks on my feet too, honey.

So it is interesting living in Asia, where the less tan you are, the more beautiful you are considered (and so are big butts, at least in Bali, lest we forget J Lo. I have indeed found my homeland.)

You can find whitening lotion, soap and powder everywhere. No tanning lotion anywhere in the Eastern hemisphere, so I am forced to pack a year’s supply when we move overseas. Have you ever bought 15 bottles of self tanning lotion at once? Makes you feel a little self conscious. And you wondered what the check out girl thought of you the last time you brought your basket of cat food, easy cheez and toilet paper to the register.

It is interesting to pass my live-in nanny in the kitchen at night; she has on her whitening cream and I am fresh from applying my magic ‘promises-not-to-be-orange’ tanning juice.

Funny how people are the same in many ways, even if we are remarkably different in others. This dissatisfaction women have with our bodies seems to cross cultural borders.

So it was with great delight that one of my favorite authors, Marian Keyes, dedicated a whole chapter to self tanning lotion in her book Further Under the Duvet. Named appropriately enough, “Faking It” it is too funny not to share parts of it with you even if it means I’ll be dragged into prison for plagiarism when I come back to the good ol’ US of A this summer.

So here is one excerpt:

… I decided to (apply self tanning lotion) properly. I’d do wafer-thin layers and leave plenty of time to dry between applications. The only thing is, I got a little bit obsessive about it and it kind of took over my life. I’d apply a layer, then do some free-style dancing in my pelt waiting for it to dry, then I’d apply another layer and do some more dancing around my room, and when the colour still hadn’t come yet, I’d apply another layer. At some point, the end product of tan no longer seemed to matter so much, it was simply the doing that became important,…

So there I was, having a lovely time dancing and humming and thinking lovely thoughts, I’d even enlisted a floaty red scarf to waft about over my head, when Himself walked into the room and yelped, ‘Jesus Christ!’ I thought it was the free-style dancing and stopped abruptly, a little mortified by the scarf. ‘Look at yourself, he urged. ‘Look!’

So I looked and instead of the radiant golden hue I’d been expecting, I was a nasty Eurotrash mahogany, which I was prepared to bet went all the way down to my internal organs. Again I couldn’t leave the house for a week. I mean, no one wants to be humiliated in the street by strangers shouting, ‘Who’s been drinking the fake tan, then?’

Okay, I can’t help myself this woman is so damn funny so here is another one on the ‘ol fake not bake:

Elementary mistake number four: The mud and how it works. In the deliriously happy days of doing my make-up column, I was invited to have the mud done. So I showed up at a hotel room, stripped off and hopped up onto the table, where a lovely girl smeared me with smelly mud, then got a big loofah and rubbed some of the mud off, then told me to get up and get dressed.

When I pointed out that I was still covered in smelly mud, she said, yes of course I was, that was how it worked, everyone knew that, but I’d be able to wash it off in the morning.

‘Obviously you’re going to look manky for the evening,’ she said. ‘But tomorrow morning, after your shower, you’ll have a fabulous tan.’

‘Grand, grand,’ I said.

She seemed to pick up on a little anxiety from me. ‘You hadn’t planned to go out tonight, had you?’

‘No, not really,’ Just for my mother’s birthday.

‘Probably best if you leave off your boots and tights. They’ll only interfere with the tan. You can drive in your bare feet.’

I looked out into the March night, it was pelting rain and freezing cold. ‘Okay.’

So off I went. And as luck would have it, the police were doing random checks on the Boomerstown road. I rolled down my window and watched the copper’s face recoil as the smell hit him.

‘License please.’

I handed it over, but the smell was clearly alarming him, so he had a low muttered consultation with his colleague, and the net result was that they asked me to get out of the car. In my bare feet, I tried to explain about the fake tan, but they just ordered me to open my boot – presumably to show them that I had no smelly dead bodies in there.

They kept me for ages, searching in their rule book to see if they could bring me in on anything. I wasn’t obviously breaking any laws, but they were very suspicious.

In the end they let me go and when I arrived at the restaurant to celebrate my mammy’s birthday, I caused a bit of a stir. As if the smell wasn’t making me unpopular enough, bits of the mud were going black and green and falling off my face into my dinner. I looked like a burns victim.

Mind you, it’s important to say that the following morning, when I’d washed off the muck, I had a rich, deep, smooth beautiful tan. And isn’t that what it’s all about?’


1 comment:

Teri said...

Whoa - now I gotta look into that mud treatment! =)
Also gotta look into that author...