Because sometimes a status update just isn't enough.

Because sometimes a status update just isn't enough.

11 June 2011

Dear 1980 Me,

Girl... you really should have worn sunscreen.  

(Remember that stupid song that came out in like 1999 where the guy talks about his life and ends with "And don't forget the sunscreen..."?  I HATED that song.  But darned if it wasn't true.)

Except I don't even know if they MADE it back then, because it certainly was never in our radar.  Moms today spend more time glopping up their kids with purple paba free SPF 45364758 than their kids actually spend playing outside.  

Back in MY day (can you hear my bones creaking and my hair graying?) our moms would wake us up at the crack of summer and shoo us out the door until the first day of school.  We romped, we played, we got dirty, we got sunburned, mosquitoes bit us, strangers said hi to us and damned if we didn't survive.  

(Yes, I realize exactly how old that makes me sound.  Bite me.)

Around about the time I was in 6th grade, "Getting a Tan" became the Number 1 priority of my Summer Vacation.  Little girls in California take this right of passage very seriously.  In other, less important states, little girls might celebrate Achieving Young Womanhood in other ways, for example (if every Judy Blume book about young girls ever written is to be believed) getting your period, growing boobs, or having sex.  (I adored Judy Blume but have to admit I never identified at all with her characters.  I religiously read all of her books and "Forever" was my flat-out favorite, but losing my virginity and getting an STD wasn't something most teen-age Central Valley girls DID in the late 70s.  Seriously.  We just didn't.)

In the Golden State, it was all about your first bikini and "laying out."  

Young children play in the sun and view a pool as something to swim in (ah, to be so young and clueless!).  

California Girls (on the other hand) reaching the budding crest of puberty lay out in the sun and view the pool as something to do it next to.  ("Cool!  You have a pool!  Let's lay out!")

As with most of my friends, there was a pool in my back yard.  At promptly 9:00 a.m. (timing is very important), beginning usually the day after school got out, my sister and I, (sometimes with our friends, sometimes not), would roll out of bed, put on our bikinis, pull our hair back in face-lifting pony-tails, grab our towels and a bottle of  Johnson's Baby Oil and head out the back door.  We would face the sun (a very scientific process, because if you aren't lying in the exact same direction as the sun is rising, you will not achieve the Ultimate Even Tan), turn on the oven timer, slather ourselves with baby oil and lay completely still for 30 minutes.  The timer would ding, we would re-check our position, re-slather with baby oil and roll over.  

Every hour or so we would wipe off the baby oil and flop into the pool to avoid sunstroke (not to swim, mind you... just to dunk and cool off so we wouldn't die), but then we would climb back out, re-baste ourselves with oil, reset the timer, and get back to the Very Serious Business of Tanning.  

We would do this until exactly 2 p.m., at which time we would shower, hold our legs next to eachother and argue about who was darker, and consider it a day well spent.  

(Occasionally, our mother would hurl a giant monkey wrench into our Daily Tanning Schedule by forcing us to visit relatives or help clean the house, at which time we would pout and whine because if we were not out tanning at the exact moment that the sun reached Optimum Tanning Position, we would instantly become pasty white and our lives, as we knew them, would cease to exist.  Pasty White in California is A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH.)

(She was rarely moved by our empassioned pleas about how "our tans are fading!"  We couldn't believe she didn't care!)

Anyway, my promising career in Professional Tanning came to an abrupt halt one memorable weekend in April, circa 1980, when I went with my friend, Tina, and her mom to Carmel and Monterey, so Tina and I could get a jump-start on our summer tans and be ahead of the game by being darker than all of our friends.  (At least TINA'S mom knew what was important!)  

My mom bought me the BEST tanning bikini EVER for this trip.  It was a lovely royal blue, with ties on the bottoms for a lower tan line and strapless on top, with just a blue band covering all the Girl Parts that Nice 1980s Girls weren't as comfortable exposing as they are nowadays.  (I'm sorry, but "nipples" were not considered an accessory in the Central Valley in the Conservative Regan Years.  We kept them under wraps and I'm pretty sure I would have chosen death over exposing my private parts to the masses.  Take notes, Paris.)  

But I digress.

Anyway, Tina and I had a GREAT plan.  We would head out to the beach first thing Saturday morning, slather ourselves up with Tropical Tan, and bake ONLY our fronts that entire day.

Sunday would be devoted to tanning our back sides.

With such a well-thought out plan, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?  We were seasoned tanners; we knew EXACTLY how important it was to tan your front half FIRST.  

The hotel we were in was right on the beach, so bright and early Saturday morning we put on our bathing suits, grabbed our beach towels and tanning oil, and sprinted out to the beach.

We laid there in the sand, mere inches away from the frolicking waves of the Pacific Ocean, and never once got our feet wet.  We baked the front halves of our bodies for 6 hours, with visions of our fabulous tan lines dancing in our heads.  (Tan lines were a GOOD thing back then.  If you didn't have a tan line, how would anyone know how dark you were?  Duh.)

We were a little crispy that night, but being no strangers to sunburn, it wasn't that big of a deal.  We had dinner with Tina's mom, and after coming back to the hotel, we headed out to sit in the hot tub.  

Lord have mercy, it was like soaking in fire.  The pain of the hot tub on our sunburned skin was unbearable.  We headed back inside and went to bed, planning on getting up at the crack of dawn, driving to Carmel, and tanning our backs in the pristine white sand that makes it's beaches so beautiful.  

(Mad props to Tina's mom for understanding how important it was to her daughter and her daughter's friend to tan in a beach location.  Seriously, the ONLY REASON we went to the bay that weekend was to tan.  I absolutely loved Tina's mom.  And only a Californian would get why this was necessary and why, despite what happened next, I still cherish the memory of this weekend.)

The next morning, when I woke up to pee, I was mildly alarmed that I couldn't open my eyes.  When I reached up to feel my face, I was even MORE alarmed that my FACE WASN'T THERE.  All I could feel was an amorphous BLOB where my FACE used to be.  

I started to cry.

Tina's mom woke up and I heard her gasp in horror.  I was led to the bathroom and had cold water splashed on my face, and then she made a phone call to my mom letting her know we would be home VERY, VERY SOON.

Tanning in Carmel was flat out not going to happen.  (DAMMIT!)

I finally got my eyes opened wide enough to see the grotesque mess that used to be my face.  I was a giant, swollen, bright red THING with huge blisters covering my cheeks, chin, forehead, chest, stomach and legs (okay, the entire front half of my body).  My eyes were blistered shut, I could barely open my mouth, and wearing clothes was a torture that should only be reserved for the likes of Hitler and other mass murderers.

My mother took me to the doctor and it turned out that I had 3rd degree burns on my face and chest.  I had sun poisoning and was informed by the doctor that I would be lucky if I weren't "scarred for life."  (I remember my mother saying, "I hope she IS scarred for life.  Then maybe she won't do something this stupid again."  Thanks, MOM.)

Even worse, I was told that I couldn't tan FOR THE REST OF THE SUMMER.  


I went to the prom that year wearing a cream colored Gunny Sax dress with spaghetti straps.  In the photo, you can see that the front half of my body is a lovely cocoa brown (fortunately I had finished pealing by this time), while the back half is butt-white.  I look like an Oreo Cookie with the top cookie twisted off.  

The bottom line is that I survived with no scars, I went on to tan myself into a fine, fiiiiine crisp on many more occasions, and have even gotten one or two (or 100) more sunburns.  But I've had to be careful since then to not stay out too long, because if I do, my eyes will swell up and I will develop a rash, because my one severe over-exposure to the sun has created an allergy in my body.  

And now, at age 48, right along the lower half of my face, my skin is darkening with the dreaded "sun spots" that come with age.  And I know that this is my permanent reminder of Why I Made My Kids Wear Sunscreen and Why I No Longer Tan... because where those brown marks are is where I was burned the most severely.

Now I don't tan at all because cancer has become a reality to me (my grandfather died of skin cancer, my mother has had many cancerous moles and freckles removed) and God forgive me, I am so vain that I would rather be butt-white than wrinkled.  

And then I tell myself, "Imagine how young you would look now if you had just put on some sunscreen..."


2011 You

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