Tanning Queen

Shot by Albert Watson for Vogue, 1977

Shot by Mert & Marcus

Via National Geographic

Via Vogue Italia

Shot by Klaas Jan Kliphuis for AvantGarde

Via LIFE Magazine

Shot by Venetia Scott
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by Mattie Kahn
May 21, 2014
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Or at least…duchess of the spray variety

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.

REPLIES
  • GapToothedGirl

    i’M A PALE WHITE PERSON TOO…
    and I’m not afraid to say it!
    xox, Love. Gap.
    http://www.gaptoothedgirl.com

  • reversecommuter

    Best little treat outside a manicure! Especially after this winter!!!!!!

  • http://adeliberateimagination.wordpress.com/ CJKEYS2

    Mattie, I always love your posts! I got a spray tan recently as well. I did it on my lunch break, so my coworkers would come by my office to look in and laugh at me. I LOVED myself with a spray tan, though. Did you take one million selfies too? Did you think of Ross Geller the entire time?

    • Mattie Kahn

      In those 72 hours, I took more selfies than all the Kardashians kombined. It was so worth it.

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        Mattie! Can you spare any of those selfies for this here audience? Just like the editors of
        People Magazine, I love a good Before and After

  • yvespink

    Summer ready body
    http://yvespink.blogspot.com

  • Dominique
  • Charlotte Fassler

    Remind me to whip out my old computer and show you a picture of my spray tan at age 14. I did mine in a booth a la Ross Geller and it kind of looked like a rolled around in some orange dirt but I thought I looked amazing. Around the same time I went through a Jergen’s phase, but ultimately I have learned that no matter how “tan” i get, I will still be significantly paler than most people’s “palest.” So it just isn’t worth it for me.
    I will be interested to see if in 5 months what you think when you look back at your tan selfies.

  • Heather Funk

    I just tried a spray tan THIS WEEKEND, because I don’t want to be the same color as my dress for my wedding that’s 3ish weeks away, and the “need to find the right color” allowed me this little indulgence this weekend. I wasn’t able to stop looking at myself all Saturday, to the point where I lifted up my shirt on a major intersection and pointed to my stomach and commanded my fiance to “LOOK AT MY TAN BELLY” because it’s never been tan before. I’m sad because it just faded and I no longer look like Jane Birkin except less lithe, gamine, stunning and French.

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    I did my first at-home spray tan last night, and I have to say it came out better than I expected! Luckily for me, when I tan, my skin naturally takes on a bit of an orangey tone…so self-tanners for some stupid reason look okay on me.

    Bring on the summer!

  • http://www.702parkproject.com/ Sarah @ 702 Park Project

    I’m as pale as they come, and I gave up on trying to be naturally tan a long time ago. But I love love love spray tans! I get them for every occasion, and they never disappoint! :)

  • boyfriendsandblazers

    I was just discussing this with a friend. I’m quite pale myself, and considering my Israeli background it’s pretty unfortunate that I missed the olive skin chromosome. I have never done a spray tan as it also feels very “Victoria Gotti” to me. Considering I have a memorial day party, and i’m single, maybe do to my skin color? I have conceded to experiencing Manrepeller’s life changing spray tan idea.

    • Mattie Kahn

      If Victoria Gotti is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

      (Just kidding. Ask for a “1″. You’ll be fine.)

  • sev2108

    where’s the photo of you with your tan?

  • CarlotaLMorais

    IM FROM PORTUGAL! Wiiii! DId you enjoy Algarve? Did you come to Lisbon or Porto? I hope you did :)
    I’m light in the winter but i get sooo dark, 2 weeks in the sun transforme me! I look much happier, thiner and better! Love getting a tan. But with sunscreen always I dont want to damage my skin that much

  • Astrid

    The “a one, a two, or a three” question made me think of Ross from Friends getting a spray tan. “I’M AN EIGHT?!”

  • Whitney McCabe

    Last year, drunk at Gay Pride, I signed up for a year of spray tans. While my hangover wore off the next day, I was embarrassed and pissed that I had actually signed a fucking contract to get “tan” for a year, but let me tell you, it ain’t bad! As a fellow whitest girl, the new and improved spray tans are the cats pajamas!!

  • http://swimgirlnyc.blogspot.com/ swimgirlnyc

    last time I had a disaster, this bad bollywood movie … but I am up for it again
    any suggestions ?

  • http://www.madelienerose.com Madeliene Rose

    No! You know how Narcissus ended up now don’t you!? Pale skin is timeless! Ah well, at least if you went to the dark side you got to have fun dancing in your underwear! http://www.madelienerose.com

  • Roxana Zegan

    things that can, and almost always go wrong with fake tanning:
    - looking like a cheetos
    - leaving marks everywhere: sheets, clothes, furniture
    - uneven skin patches
    - every little skin imperfection gets amplified

    I’m a fan of pampering yourself and playing up your natural attributes, but I have to say I have never seen someone not looking silly with a fake tan.

  • http://publica.co.nz Sophie Miller

    I loved this post!! Definitely with you on this one

  • http://fortuneeteller.blogspot.com/ Fortune Tarantola

    I’ve always wanted to get a spray tan but haven’t had the courage to go — I’ve seen too many orange nightmares

    http://www.fortunetellerfashion.com/

    xxFTF

  • http://www.lezu.com/ L’ezu

    Sometimes a sun-kissed glow can be the perfect accessory for summer. If done right, spray-tans can be a godsend! http://www.LEZU.com

  • Finnish

    Oh. My. God. Nars has a tinted moisturizer called Finland? That is just… Too funny! And it’s like super white? Haha! I’m Finnish and I have olive skin and I tan so easily, that I get stupid tan lines if I wear a top with cut-outs one day! It’s a pain, really. PS: It’s on average 30°C (86°F) here in Finland this summer:)

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