Tanning is a fraught issue in my family. We have never been a tan people. Growing up, we were not allowed to go to the beach before 3:30 pm. This was a combination of two things: 1.) my parents belief that the sun is deadly and surely any time spent in direct overhead sun will kill you...immediately and 2.) parking was free after 3pm. We never were the family who packed up the car and headed to the beach for the day. God forbid. We never packed a picnic and toys and played in the sand, swam, napped, lunched, etc. We slathered on our sunscreen as the sun was going down and headed out with one towel each and a chance to "take a nice walk along the water," as my mother always says.
Things haven't really changed in these parts. My parents are now the owners of a beach house, yet they only go to the beach to watch the sunset. They absolutely, adamantly refuse to visit the beach while the sun is out. Part of me has come to believe that this makes sense. We are all very fair, there has been skin cancer in the family, and everyone knows that sun really is quite bad for your skin. Yet, in the intervening years, there have been inventions like...hmmm...beach umbrellas. So, if you don't even trust sunscreen, you can always sit in the shade. My parents think the UV reflects off the sand, so even in the shade, we are probably not safe. They are a little extreme.
However, I am not so different from them. I am not really the type to want to sit on the beach for the day. I like a good hour or two, and then I'm pretty much set. I still have massive guilt about sitting in the sun between the hours of 11 and 2pm, even if it's for half an hour with ten pounds of sunscreen slathered all over my already glowingly white body. But, I do have to admit that everyone, and I mean everyone, looks good with a little tan. I know the few times in my life that I've had a tan, I was suprised at how much healthier I looked.
But therein lies the conundrum. With a tan you look healthy, but tan is actually damage that your skin has undergone, and in twenty or thirty years, those "healthy" days of your youth turn into those wrinkled and shriveled days/years of your middle age. This is a constant battle my sister and I have. "Get out of the sun," I yell to her from my umbrella covered perch, and then later that night when she is looking like a veritable Barbie with her white blonde locks and brown skin (she is the only Whitehouse who tans), I am secretly a little pissed I decided never to be seen in the bright light of day. What am I? A vampire?
I am always one of the only people to return from summer vacation as white (or sometimes even whiter from all the sunscreen) as I was when I departed. And, I rarely, if ever, have the glow of "health." But, this might be one of those situations in which I am willing to trade superficial beauty for true health and protection. My parents certainly are too extreme. I hope to take my kids to the beach someday for an afternoon picnic. But you better believe they will be wearing sunhats and eating their sandwiches under an umbrella.