Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tanning Come Full Circle

By now, you all know that I've had melanoma, and currently, I have no evidence of disease (Thank you, God), but what you may not know is my history with the sun.  And of course, the history of me NOT loving the skin I was in.

That's me on my first birthday. Check out those funky dining room chairs. Apparently in the 70's all the great portraits were taken of models sitting on the dining room table, or was that just my house? 

As you can see, I wasn't a very tan baby. My heritage can be traced back to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, Ireland, Germany, and the Canary Islands, so I am quite a mix. 50% of me is made of the first three, 50% of the last three.  

These are my siblings. Of the four of us, I was the only one who burned BEFORE  I tanned and when I tanned, it wasn't very dark and didn't last for very long. I also freckled the most of us all. So there were times when I definitely felt like the outcast. 

 My older brother and I (notice he is darker than me, but does have some freckles)

My younger sister (She is MUCH darker..and topless. She was quite the exhibitonist
 in her youth) Check out the boombox I got for my birthday! Child of the 80's.

 My youngest sister.  Again, MUCH darker than me (and much more relaxed). When you're the baby, you can sit back and relax all the time.
 She hasn't changed much since then.

 That's me all the way to the right. Sexy, huh? 

I grew up in Key West, so we did a lot of swimming and fishing and picnicking for the first 10 or so years of my life.  I assume my parents put sunscreen on me at that age, but it wasn't really "big" back then.

As I got older, we didn't go to the beach quite as often, mostly on the 4th of July or 3 day weekends.  My very dark hair, dark eyes, and dark eyebrows seemed to make me appear even more pale in comparison to everyone else I knew, so I decided that tanning would make me much more attractive.  I wasn't a size 0 like all of the other teenage girls, so I did most of my tanning at home on my porch, because I didn't want to go to the beach with everyone else. I would lay outside on a towel with another towel on my face (so I wouldn't get any more freckles) and a fan blowing on me (so I wouldn't pass out from the heat.) Although I did pass out one day. I walked inside from laying out to get a drink and blacked out right in the middle of the living room floor. Scared my parents to death!

At the time I was using sunscreen...SPF 8. Yep. Back then I remember 3 numbers being easily available, SPF 2, SPF 4, and SPF 8.  If I didn't burn, I would have used SPF 2. I always wished I could. I thought it would make me tan SO much better.

While working at home for the summer during college one year, I spent quite a bit of time out on the boat. Believe it or not, I didn't really go out on the boat while growing up down there. But this particular summer, I had a friend with access to one, so i took every advantage! 

This is the first and last picture I will ever post of me in a bikini, lol. Well, that is unless I ever get Gunnar Peterson as my personal trainer. 

This day, I spent the entire day on a float in the water with the sun reflecting off the water onto my skin. Notice the lovely RED line just above the white skin under my bikini.  I am certain I was in pain after that.  My sister saw this pic and reminded me that I poured vinegar all over me after this burn, to take the sting out. By this time I was using an SPF 15, but mixing it with tanning accelerator whenever I had it. I am certain I didn't reapply nearly enough and am sure it wasn't waterproof sunscreen. 

Me, after another day out on the boat.

Then after graduating from college, even though i had always been against tanning salons, I let a friend convince me that they were indeed, safer than tanning in the sun. So over a period of 6 to 8 months in my early 20's, I used tanning beds. It was a quick and easy fix to give me the tan I wanted. I stopped when I noticed I was getting wrinkles around my eyes. Ironic, isn't it? I didn't like the idea of getting old before my time, but never thought about the fact that I was increasing my chances of dying before my time! I started using SPF 30 on my face, daily after that. Also, because shortly after I was put on Retin-A for my acne. You HAVE to wear sunscreen when you use that. Of course, I just put it on in the morning, never reapllying throughout the day. 

Finally, a miraculous thing happened! Self tanners really improved. You no longer had to look like one of Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas. The new self tanners  actually made you look brown instead of orange. There were, however, a few unfortunate side effects.  There was the "strange" odor and color rubbing off on your clothes. Even still, I preferred to have color and possibly smell weird and stain my clothes, than be pale. Since I was living in an apartment and finally had a pool to lay out by, I had found the perfect combination of weekend tanning and self tanner throughout the week. I was darker than I ever was.  And as a result, I was more confident than I ever was. 

My combination of laying out and self tanner

The one thing I didn't do was tan for my wedding. By my late 20's I had finally decided that tanning was going to age me too soon, and it was no longer worth the effort. I stuck to my self tanner and used very little the week of my wedding, because my dress cost way too much money to get stained.  When I did tan, I was putting 30 on my body now. I didn't want to burn or age or get skin cancer.

Five years, two babies, and one new mole on my neck later, I was, pretty much as white as I was in the picture of my first birthday, with the exception of the pigmentation that was showing up from sun damage and hormones. I had come full circle.  All those hours sweating in the heat, all that money spent on self tanners and tanning sessions, all the time wasted trying to be a shade that I wasn't meant to be. Color that wouldn't EVER stay.  All of the damage to my skin trying to make me be "prettier" when in reality, I was causing damage that would some day make me "uglier."  The true sadness of it all is that "pretty" and "ugly" was more important to me than "life" and "death."

The last time I "tanned" was my first and only spray tan 6 months before I was diagnosed with melanoma.  I was the only non African -American in one of my best friend's weddings. She picked out a very PALE pink, which i was certain would wash me out and make me stand out more than the bride, so I got my first spray tan. I have to be honest, I loved it. 
Although, after reading about spray tans lately, I don't think I will be doing it again, for many reasons. One of them being the fact that I want to love myself as I am and I want others to love themselves as they are.  Why should I try to change? Looking back now, I can find many pictures of myself where my paleness was really beautiful.  

No more tans for me..that I promise. I do still have a yearning for some self tanner on occasion, but then that would go against everything I am trying to change for the better. 

I hope this encourages people to love themselves just the way they are. I also hope you share this with younger people, especially young girls. I cannot go back and change my mistakes, but I can help others to not make the same ones.

Thank you for reading. Until next time, practice safe sun!


  1. our story is freakishly alike! I know what you mean about loving the look of a spray tan... it's hard to immediately turn off something we've had ingrained in us for so many years :)

    1. YES! You are so right. A little bit at a time. We will do it. :)

  2. Isn't it a bit scary to look back on those pictures and SEE the damage we did?! Sometimes I still struggle with feeling like I looked prettier tan, but deep down I know that isn't true! ;-)

    Love you and your beautiful pale skin!

    1. It IS so tough! It took me months to finally get this story posted. I've been wanting to do it since I started in October. We are MUCH more beautiful pale. :) And we WILL get others to see that about themselves as well. :)


  3. Wonderful post! I can relate to your story so much. I was always wanting a tan too and hated being pale. Now it is the total opposite. :)

    1. Thank you! Yes, it is amazing. What bothers me the most (other than the damage of course) is that I am STILL pale. No matter what I did, all that damage..STILL pale. I hope people can start to see what we know!

  4. "All those hours sweating in the heat, all that money spent on self tanners and tanning sessions, all the time wasted trying to be a shade that I wasn't meant to be. Color that wouldn't EVER stay. All of the damage to my skin trying to make me be "prettier" when in reality, I was causing damage that would some day make me "uglier." The true sadness of it all is that "pretty" and "ugly" was more important to me than "life" and "death.""

    So, so, so true. I love all the pictures in this post! :)