I did it. I took everything I stand for as a human being and threw it out the window. What made me digress to such drastic measures? Nothing more than a simple glance at my calendar: T-minus 14 days until my cousins wedding. And what first came to mind? Wedding cake? Dancing the night away with questionable relatives? Staking out the open bar? No, instead, my first thought was of my cousin’s wedding photos – ruined by the reaction of the flash to the sheer, ridiculous whiteness of my skin tone and her subsequently having no tangible memories of her big day. Dramatic, I know. However, my choices seemed immediately clear: Stock up on colored pencils and prepare to recapture the family photos through my stick figure sketches, or go to a tanning salon.
As one who failed to have anything more than contempt for such bronzing bathhouses, I found myself a complete foreigner in the exotic private island that seemed somehow misplaced in the middle of a strip mall. I should have turned around at the first red flag, the woman who owned the place. This woman was no longer tan. She had reached a higher plane. She looked as though, on a lucky poaching expedition she killed a rare, deep purple elephant and had now decided to wear its hide for kicks. She was what I will term “the purple elephant in the room” – no one wanted to tell her what she looked like, but we were all thinking it. If she were a prune, she would have won a prize at the county fair. You get the idea. Was this what I was to strive for?
Against all of my better judgment I let Prune lead me into a small room that smelled of old coconut and gym socks. I spent 15 sweaty minutes in the “sun coffin of doom” and couldn’t help spend what seemed like hours contemplating the irony of the high tech, high effort process I was going through to receive a highly “natural” glow.
This got me to thinking: How much do we really go through to make it seem that we do nothing to achieve our looks. Perhaps it was the coconut fumes or perhaps the fact that I was in an oven, but I began to think of the many of us who spend countless wasted hours to create our “natural” beauty. Acrylic nails, hair highlights/extensions, fake tans, all help to create this illusion, and I won’t even mention cosmetic surgery. I have pasty freckled skin, undyed hair that will never grow past my butt, and I bite my nails – all “naturally.” Why this isn’t considered the typical image of natural beauty, I don’t know. It is, after all, my unaltered self. How can there exist a standardized template for natural beauty? If looks were really that systematic, it wouldn’t be natural. Perhaps the answer can be found in an emerging inequality between the terms “natural” and “unaltered.” If this is the case we have two options: Recognize that natural beauty is multi-faceted and does not always come in a shade of bronze, or simply call it something else. The irony of labeling very specific features as natural could be avoided if it was termed in another way. For example: “sun god beauty” or “melanoma chic.”
Furthermore, tanning salons are better known by the economical prowess as “cancer sellers” because they produce a marketable exchange of possible disease for money. What is it about UV rays, which have the ability to seduce our generation out of thinking in the long term? Skin cancer has been found to be the common form of cancer with a staggering 90 percent of all cases traceable to UV exposure.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m a hypocrite, as I too succumbed to the lure of the tanning bed. However, I learned my lesson, the hard, aloe vera-ridden way. My butt checks are so sun-burnt I could lead Santa’s sleigh. I suppose it goes to prove that again, naturally, my bum has never really seen the sun’s rays. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to. I love my white ass and if that’s not natural beauty, I don’t know what is.
As far as the wedding, at least I’ll be in family photos that show where I got my physical characteristics from – a whole snow-covered family tree of pale heritage. After all, I suppose if I had further pursued my tan, I would only end up looking like the black sheep of the family, or rather, the purple elephant.
Jacqueline Bartter is a junior political science major.