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.
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.
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.