Diary of a Pale Girl

This post is a very small piece of my tanning story.  Maybe I'll tell you the rest someday -  why I started, why I quit seven years ago, and all the wild stuff in between. But as swimsuit season has officially landed here in Alabama (and I've spend more than a few days in the water with my kids), I thought I'd share.  If you've ever tanned, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.  And if you've never tanned, it will be educational.  I certainly wish someone had told me...


I was in the eleventh grade the first time I set foot into a tanning bed.  (This was after several self-tanning crèmes gone awry – and by awry, I mean orange, streaky, and more than a little conspicuous around the ankles.)

The experience was a fair girl’s worst nightmare (besides, of course, staying pale forever).  The salon was manned by a petite lady with skin the color of burnt sienna, and the whole place smelled like a coconut stuffed inside a sweaty sock.

There was an intimidating case full of lotions up front: accelerators, calming creams, and mystery products in opaque bottles plastered with neon pictures of parrots.  They looked like bottles of posion, or maybe the ashes of former tan-a-holics.

The lady asked me if I’d ever been tanning before, and when I said no, I had to sign a waiver.

 **NOTE:  Any activity which requires you to sign a waiver probably isn’t the safest.**

 After I agreed not to sue her family if I got skin cancer, the lady asked me how long I’d like to tan.  I was unprepared for this question.  Shy girl that I was, I stared at her blankly.

“Most people go in for 11 or 12 minutes the first time,” she offered after an uncomfortable silence.

“Maybe 6 then?” I said.

She pulled a pair of goggles out of a canister of blue juice – the same, supposedly sanitary, blue juice that the combs sit in at the hair salon.  She told me that the bed would turn on automatically in two minutes.

Two minutes?!

I half-galloped down the hall to the room, strapping the moist goggles to my head as I went – I didn’t want to get cancer and be blind.   They were so tight that they suctioned themselves to my eye sockets with a loud schlooop!  Everything went black and began to spin. Here I faced a critical decision: keep the goggles on and fumble around in the blackness while I try to undress myself?  Or take off the goggles, undress, then replace them, hopefully before the ultraviolet rays burned out my retinas?

And speaking of undressing – what degree of undress is appropriate in this situation?  I didn’t bring a bathing suit – that seemed like a rookie mistake. And though I was SO OBVIOUSLY a tanning novice, I was determined not to look like one.  **Spoiler alert: too late, Kate.**

I decided to take off the goggles.  Once the blood started flowing back into the top half of my head, I noticed a small pile of towels and a spray bottle full of more mysterious blue juice. (Side note:  A tanning salon would be a great place to run an undercover drug operation.  There are so many unidentifiable substances inside that no one would ever be the wiser.)  I deduced that this was for sanitizing the bed.  Here I faced a second critical decision: sanitize the bed before putting the goggles on, further jeopardizing my eyes?  Lay my delicate, bare, Irish skin onto a surface where another person’s bare skin had previously been – sweating?  Or put the goggles on first, then try to stay upright long enough to sanitize the bed – which would likely result in my passing out on the ground, naked, with one arm in the tanning bed, holding a spray bottle and badly burned.  Quite a sight for the poor soul to find me.

I could sense that my two minutes were almost up; the pressure was mounting.  I was still fully clothed, holding a spray bottle in one hand and the death goggles in the other.  Time was running out!  I felt like a member of a bomb squad – faced with an impossible task and T-minus 30 seconds before the device detonated.  In a moment of extraordinary courage I whipped off my shirt, clenched my eyes shut, and started spritzing furiously.  I grabbed a towel and blindly mopped off what I could while trying to unbutton my jeans.

You guys, I’m such a professional.

I decided to leave my undergarments on, mostly because I was in too desperate a state to consider the alternative; I had no mental energy left to make that kind of decision.  I suctioned the goggles back onto my head and slid my leg onto the bed just as the lights were buzzing to life.

Close call.

Then my elbow found a puddle of unmopped juice and I landed clumsily into full tanning position with an ungraceful thud.

Okay, so far so good.

Another thing nobody thought to mention is that there is a time-space continuum thing happening inside of tanning beds.  You know how God says that a hundred years are like a day to Him and a day is like a hundred years?  I think God was in a tanning bed when He said that, because one tanning-bed-minute feels like at least twenty-five real-life-minutes.  A six minute stay in a tanning bed feels like an excruciating eternity lost in the Sahara.

I didn’t breathe for the first minute, which felt like an hour.

During the second minute I exhaled.

During the third minute I peeped open my eyes; the skin around them was so puffed up from the goggles that I couldn’t see properly.  Everything looked blue and glowy and distorted.  I thought, “Lord, this must be what it looks like when people get abducted by aliens.”

During the fourth minute I thought, “Wow, it’s nice and warm in here.  I feel so relaxed!  Ahhhhhh.  I’m going to look like a Greek goddess when I get out of this thing, which should be any minute now.”

During the fifth minute I thought, “It has definitely been longer than six minutes.  Oh my gosh, she forgot about me.  I don’t know where the off-switch is!! And I can’t find it with these blasted goggles on my face!  Dear Jesus, I love You; please turn it off, please turn it off, please turn it off, please turn it off.”

During the sixth minute I thought, “I AM GOING TO DIE INSIDE THIS CONFOUNDED MACHINE!  How is it legal for something to get this HOT?  I am dehydrated.  I am burned.  I am actually dying.  HELP!!!  My skin!  My retinas!  And for the love, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE GOGGLES!?!?!

Then it clicked off.

I climbed out, stunned and sweaty.  I sanitized the bed as a courtesy, put my clothes back on, and left – smelling a little like a coconut stuffed inside a sweaty sock.


Public Service Announcement: Don't go tanning.

Thanks, Mgmt.