Two weeks ago, I experienced spiritual enlightenment. The revelation did not require meditation or prayer or a juice cleanse. But it did demand that I strip off all my clothes, hold my breath, and allow a complete stranger to mist my naked body from head to toe.
On a quiet Monday in May, I got a spray tan. I now feel certain that my life will never be the same.
I had toyed with the idea of such artificial enhancement before. It was fun to think, “What if?” Like another person might have idly debated the placement of a delicate tattoo or the particulars of a subtle piercing, I wondered about spray tans. Hypothetically, of course.
I have always been pale. Many years before Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton made our ghostly complexion into a kind of high-fashion statement, I came to accept fair skin as my bright-white lot in life. It wasn’t easy. To protect my prone-to-sunburn pallor, my mother insisted not only that I slather myself in sunscreen by the pool, but also that I swim in an oversize cotton t-shirt. When I complained, she assured me that milky skin was a sign of aristocracy: “Think of Elizabeth I!”
I considered my sopping wet graphic tee and the neon flotation devices that left angry welts on my arms. How regal.
Still, I doused myself in Coppertone and dutifully toweled off in the shade. After all, I had learned my lesson. I had tried tanning once. I burnt my legs so badly I couldn’t wear pants for two weeks.
The truth is, pallor suits me. It is elegant and refined and requires more maintenance than you would believe. It is academic — in a way. It suggests I spend an intelligent number of hours in libraries and earns me compliments at my dermatologist. For years, I resisted the siren song of fake tanners. They seemed disingenuous. They smelled bad. I once knew a girl who swore by them. She looked like a carrot.
But then I planned a trip to Portugal with one of my best friends. We’re truly kindred-skinned spirits — we even use the same shade of Nars tinted moisturizer. It’s called “Finland.” We were headed to the Algarve with two olive-skinned friends who, we were certain, would caramelize within minutes of our arrival. It was so unfair! So unjust! They would return from holiday and look like Gisele. We would more closely resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy.
So I dared her. “Let’s get spray tans.”
Five minutes later, we’d booked ourselves back-to-back appointments for “Beaubronz” treatments. She made me go first.
Eager to leave a lifetime of pastiness behind, I donned a paper thong and stepped into a small plastic tent. Then a soft-spoken lady exfoliated my elbows and knees, asked me whether I wanted to be “a one, a two, or a three,” and proceeded to spray every inch of me with amber liquid.
Do you think Narcissus used Jergens Natural Glow? That would explain a lot.
For the next three days, we admired ourselves in every reflective surface. We looked down at our chemical-kissed limbs in awe. Spray tans — I soon discovered — were made for Snapchat. Nudism suddenly made a lot of sense. So did dancing in my underwear, which my skin-twin and I did for approximately two hours late one night.
After a few blissful mornings and sandy afternoons, the tan faded. While I was sorry to see it go, I know it will not be my last. I never wanted to be royalty anyway.