HOWARD MEGDAL: I will come right out and say it: I do not understand tanning.
My understanding is that its origins come out of the tradition of those who lit themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam War. While this doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense on its face- if you are burned to death, it becomes much harder for you to facilitate a ceasefire-at least there is a reasonable emotional link between hatred of an unjust war and self-immolation. It is an action that makes far less sense to get across the idea, “I like kittens!”
But with Vietnam now 35 years in the past, why people continue to go to tanning salons is hard to fathom- perhaps to register mild disdain for the current conflict in Afghanistan?
And for others, those not looking to make a political point, the effect seems to be to pay for something they can get for free from: the sun. I suppose it makes sense that the same people who cannot locate, again, THE SUN need to pay money for a sun substitute that greatly increases your chances of skin cancer.
Because that’s the thing. I get that in 1960, to look tan was to look healthy. To smoke a cigarette was also looked on as healthy by a certain segment of the population in 1960, as setting police dogs on black people who simply wanted to vote. Most of us seem to have moved on from these antiquated ideas.
So to the women out there trying to maximize your sex appeal by going to a tanning salon: making yourself look more like a baseball glove, rather than less, is not the way to do it. And I like baseball a lot. But you look like a baseball glove that has lost its will to live. There’s a reason the phrase “Sexy as dispirited Rawlings” never caught on.
On the plus side, I’m guessing we feel the same way about Vietnam.
JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: So, here’s the thing. I know tanning’s a bad idea. I read. I read stuff that tells me I’m going to die if I strip down, lube up, and hang out in one of those cancer coffins that shoots ultraviolet rays at me. But, I’m also vain. Tremendously vain. So, maybe I sometimes go to the tanning bed.
I lament the fact that, at some point, we decided that tan was more beautiful than pale. Because I’m pale. I’m of English, Irish and Scottish descent. Pallor is my destiny. But pallor doesn’t look cute in a little white dress. And pallor just accentuates the cellulite that I like to pretend that I don’t have.
So, circumstantially, I will tan.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t love the tanning salon. I might be from New Jersey, but I do not feel the need to cook myself to a tawny, orangey crisp. I never want to look like human toast. That said, I also do not want to look like a cadaver.
I started tanning in the mid-90s, before my senior prom. I don’t think I looked absurd. In fact,, I think I looked good, in that mid-90s, matte lipstick way. And, post-prom, I promptly forgot about the tanning salon.
But, then the vanity and the insecurity crept in. Society told me that tan looked better, and I wholehearedly believed that. So, I would tan. Circumstantially. C asually. I was getting a “base tan” prior to a vacation. I was preparing for a special event. You know. I am not a girl who tans. But, sometimes, I tan. Whatever.
Recently, I had a wake-up call. Not in the form of a bad burn. I’ve had a bunch of those. No. This one hit me where it hurts most: my vanity/insecurity.
I went to Las Vegas earlier this spring, and the place where my friend and I stayed had a rooftof pool. I loathe being seen in a bathing suit without some semblance of a tan. I lament my self-perceived translucence. I didn’t even want to be tan, by a normal person’s standards. I just wanted to be tanner than I normally am. So, I bought the package. And I bought the useless indoor tanning lotion, with no SPF. And I oaid to have myself baked.
It felt like a good idea. And I shed my cover-up, feeling pretty good about myself. While at the pool in Vegas, I slathered myself in sunscreen, but the damage was done. My “base tan” left me primed for further darkening. I had a fantastic trip, but when I look back at photographs, it’s so clear that tan just does not suit me.
Perhaps tanning just isn’t for me. I can say this now, as my lines are fading, and I’m starting to look like pale self, once again. But should I decide to take a trip somewhere tropical in the not-so-distant future, I might well throw all this logic out the window and bake this pasty skin into oblivion.