Over the years (after many scars and being called all sorts of delightful names), my body image problems became less of a problem. At the beginning of high school, I got my braces off, revealing a (finally!) perfect smile. At the end of high school, my body finally took a more womanly shape (and I could still eat whatever I wanted and not care about it…can’t believe I ever wished that away!). Only one problem remained.
I was pale. So very pale.
To remedy this affliction, I tried many things over the years, including: subjecting my poor Irish skin to the sun’s harsh rays on many a pool or beach day wearing as little SPF as I could get away with, trying out tanning beds before prom or my study abroad in Australia (somehow even weeks of tanning still left me pale!), and then…self tanner. First it was Mystic Tan, those spray booths that even made their way onto the sitcom Friends…to this day one of my favorite episodes is the one where Ross overdoes it in the spray tanning booth! After the spray tan booths became cost prohibitive and research began to reveal that inhaling DHA, the active ingredient in self tanner (which you can’t help but do in a self tanning booth) probably causes cancer, I switched to the ol’ DIY self tan.
I remember insisting I wanted to be tan on my wedding day, knowing that I looked best with a golden albeit fake bronze. I remember my husband and countless others complimenting me when I had a “tan.” I remember the rigorous work of exfoliating, self tanning, and moisturizing that became a top priority to me almost every summer. I cringe as I type this, but sometimes I would even plan my day around when I could re-apply the self tanner…because if you’ve never done it, it’s a never ending process y’all!
This past August, I was having similar thoughts about self-tanning right before a week-long trip to Young Life Camp. Though always a joyful week for me, it proved a challenge to keep up my tanning ruse due to the crazy busy schedule of each day. I was lamenting this to my husband the night before we left for camp and he stopped me right in my tracks and said, “Cath, why do you do it?”
Without hesitating, I replied, “I look better tan.”
“No, you don’t. At least, I don’t think so.”
Indignant, I said, “Oh come on, yes you do! You always compliment me when I have a tan; I can tell you like it better when I do!”
He was incredulous. He told me he couldn’t believe I felt that way because nothing could be farther from the truth. He apologized profusely if he said or did anything that made me feel that way. He chalked it up to maybe in the summer or before a wedding I’m dressed up or more likely to be wearing a skirt or dress, which he’s a fan of. Then he sweetly said, “Cath, I can honestly tell you, I think you’re gorgeous whether or not you are tan. And remember, when we were 17 and I fell in love with you, you hadn’t even started tanning yet.”
I remember feeling so much joy in that moment, like a huge burden was lifted. All of the sudden, being tan didn’t seem so important anymore. I’m proud to report I went to camp that week in my own pale skin. I vowed then and there to be done with self tanner and start embracing my pale skin. And you know what? On dress up night at camp, I could tell my hubby was loving me in my cute maxi dress and pale skin. Thanks, babe.
Regardless of whether I was self tanning to be beautiful in the eyes of the world, or the eyes of my husband, or in my own eyes, I was really doing it because I simply couldn’t believe that I was my most beautiful when my skin was its natural color. Again, typing that makes me cringe, but I have to be honest. And now that I see it on the screen before me, let me be the first to say that is the farthest thing from the truth. I know now that the most beautiful me is the confident me. The me who makes people laugh, who is vulnerable, who connects with people easily. The me who is silly, the me who strikes up a conversation with a stranger. That’s the most beautiful me. And it’s funny…those things happen all year round, not just the three months I’m tricking people into thinking I’m tan.
So, the jig is up, folks. And I’m fine with it. I’m not saying I’ll never wear bronzer or use the tan snapchat filter ever again. I’m not saying I won’t do a shimmery body lotion before a wedding or special event. But from now on, for the most part, what you see is what you get from this girl.
Besides, pale skin was all the rage in medieval times. I figure it’s just about time for a comeback.
So what’s your take, Besties? Do you love self tanning or are you over it? There’s no right or wrong answer; you gotta do you! But I’d love for you to comment and let us know if you, like me have stopped self tanning or if you feel there are great reasons for you to keep it up. Thanks for listening to a little piece of my heart today, friends. You’re the best.
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