After spending a week outdoors in Arizona, I managed to unwittingly accomplish something I’d been striving for since age 12: I got horrible, extremely noticeable tan lines.
I was thrilled.
I pulled back the strap of my tank top to mere acquaintances and shouted, “Look!” and they backed away nervously.
I am the anti-tanner. I am the girl who burns at the slightest kiss of sun and then peels violently, right back to the shade my mother once deemed “Fish-Belly White”.
Maybe it was the altitude, or maybe it was the thick layers of sunscreen I readily applied on vacation. All I know is, part of me was brown-ish, and I felt skinnier, healthier, and more judgmental of others than usual. I was ready for the west coast or something.
“Hey,” said someone at work to me when I got back from my trip. “You look kind of tan.”
I swelled with pride and thanked her with a long history of my inability to tan and my flushed success with this completely accidental turn of events.
It felt great, for a second.
I was then immediately terrified of it going away. In just days, my psuedo-tan would fade and then I would just be the pasty Midwesterner I have always been.
The following Monday, I decided to go to an LA Tan after work. I’d long eyed their ever-present “$10 Mystic Tan Mondays” ads but this particular day, I was determined. First, I ran home and took the world’s fastest shower, scrubbing away at my elbows and knees per the internet’s recommendation prior to getting spray tanned.
I walked in and the handsome guy behind the counter looked me over, his perfectly coiffed hair unmoved at the sight of me. I am pretty sure they don’t let you work at a tanning salon unless you are devastatingly attractive, and the way he looked at me made me wonder if maybe you weren’t allowed to walk into one, either.
I told him I wanted the $10 special, and I filled out a terrifying, in-depth form, swearing I was over 18 and would wear protective eyewear in the tanning beds.
I explained I wasn’t going to be doing regular tanning, but he said the form was required for all first-time customers, should they change their minds and decide to use the beds later.
He led me to the Mystic Tan machine, which a floor-to-ceiling black stall in a small room, next to a basket of towels, shower caps, and make-up removing wipes. He explained that, after I put on a shower cap and took off any make-up I had on, I needed to get into the booth, push the button on the inside, and then immediately pose with my feet at shoulder’s width and my arms out at my sides crooked at 90-degree angles. Then the sprayers would turn on, and I’d have to turn around the moment they shut off again. After “about five seconds” they’d turn on again to get the other side of me.
It occurs to me now that I should have asked more questions.
I stepped in and pressed the button and waited with my eyes closed tight. The sprayers turned on before I had time to catch a big gulp of air. Can I breathe in this thing? I wondered, although I was pretty sure the answer was no. Then I panicked and wondered how long the first spray lasted. I needed some oxygen because I was sure I was suffocating in the fumes.
What a way to go: choking on faux-tan mist at an LA Tan.
Mercifully the spray stopped, and I turned around as directed, gasping for breath. The air tasted chemically and left an unpleasant taste on my tongue. I breathed deeply in and out, waiting nervously for the second round of spraying to start.
It did, mid-breath. I coughed, and then once again held my breath without having the chance to get a good gulp. My head pounded from the deprivation of air to my brain. At least that second time I had a better idea of how long it would be, but it felt like forever.
I stepped out of the booth, fumbling blindly for the door. The guy had told me to wipe off all the residue as soon as I got out, so I wiped my face and eyes first and then the rest of me. I slipped into a pair of black shorts and a black tank top, which I picked on the internet’s recommendation since they wouldn’t get stained, and I left the salon.
That night I pestered Kevin, asking if he thought I looked tanner, or more evenly-tanned.
“Sure,” he said, but I continued to examine myself until bed.
The next morning, there was no mistake that I was a different color.
And that color was weird.
It wasn’t a huge change from my natural tan, but it was darker than I would have wanted. My feet represented the most extreme part of my transformation: they were darker than the rest of me, but the white in between my toes betrayed me and my feet look, at best, slightly dirty.
The weird thing was, part of me didn’t care — I wasn’t pale, and that was all that mattered right then. And, I knew the results would last maybe a week, and wasn’t it great to see my legs looking less like undercooked chicken? It was.
The spray tan lifted itself from me in patches in a couple places, but they were both easily covered by clothing. The rest of the effect was more subtle in its exit and was completely gone a week later.
It’s really hard to deny how great to feels right after you get a hair cut you love, buy a new dress, or after you come back from vacation with your first-ever tan(ish). It’s always fleeting though — and I guess that’s the way it should be, or else it would never feel different from any other time.
I probably wouldn’t get one again, and it would be way too expensive to try to maintain all the time, even on $10 Mondays. It was a fun experiment, anyway.