The other day I saw some before-and-after photos of a young lady who several years ago modeled a certain brand of suntan lotion.
In the “before” shot, her skin was a rich, golden amber, supple and smooth.
In the “after” shot she looked like an old Naugahyde sofa that had been left out in the rain.
The gist of the story that accompanied the photos was that today’s vibrant, golden tan is tomorrow’s winkled, deep-fried epidermis.
A scientist explained that “tanning occurs when skin produces additional pigment (coloring) to protect itself against burn from ultraviolet rays.”
In other words, tanning is Mother Nature’s way of telling we humans: “Hey, either put on some clothes or get in the shade. You’re burning to a crisp.”
A “healthy tan” is an oxymoron.
Of course that’s not the message we’re being sent through advertising. A golden glow is supposed to indicate how active and robust our lifestyle is -- and also send a latent message about our economic and social standing.
A rich tan says that we’ve been spending a lot of leisure time on the tennis courts and aboard our sailboat, or lollygagging on the beach and around the swimming pool.
(Other body-part tans suggest just the opposite: a one-armed “trucker’s tan” or the sunburned neck and forearms of a farmer suggests they haven’t been hanging out at Malibu Beach.
It’s interesting how the social tan-o-meter has changed over the years. At one time pale skin was a sign of prosperity and lofty social status -- it meant that the person didn’t have to labor outdoors in the hot sun.
Plumpness likewise was positive. It indicated that the person was sufficiently affluent to afford to eat well.
Pale and plump were good.
Tanned and skinny were bad.
Nowadays that’s flip-flopped. Advertisers don’t use wan, overweight people to peddle their products.
I gave up trying to get a tan many years ago. It wasn’t due to some sort of supreme wisdom about tanning’s ill effects. I just couldn’t keep a tan.
I’d sunburn, freckle and peel, then repeat the process. I cringe to think about how many layers of epidermis I went through during my high school years, trying to get tan enough to impress Wanda Sue Wattenbarger.
Wanda Sue was one of those pigment-charmed people who can get a rich, dark tan by just walking out to get the morning paper off the lawn.
Our gang of teens hung out at the State Park swimming pool during the summer, and Wanda Sue stayed as darkly-tanned as the lifeguards who kept flirting with her.
Meanwhile, I lay in the sun and worked on my freckles.
A couple of times I thought I was getting tan, but it washed off in the shower.
Eventually our gang drifted off to college, and Wanda Sue and I and went our separate ways. I heard that she married a rich guy and spent most of her time aboard his yacht, working on her tan.
A couple of years ago I bumped into Wanda Sue at our class reunion, and after years of intense sun-tanning I had to admit she looked great. For a Naugahyde sofa, that is.