For the better part of two decades, I refused to bend to the pressure to be tan. After living in Southern California, trying to transform my freckled English/Irish/Eastern European pastiness into gleaming, Nordic bronze, I long ago accepted my true self. Ever since then, this is what I do: I wear enormous hats. I use nuclear-grade sunscreen even when it's raining. In summer, while the world skips around in tank tops and shorts, you'll find me in high necklines, long sleeves and pants. I wear my pallor with the pride of a courageous iconoclast.
Except in a New York summer, the long sleeves/pants combination can be unbearable, so sometimes I want to wear a skirt. (Yes, I slather on the SPF 100.) And when I do, I inevitably feel like an escapee from the freak show. Just like the rest of me, my legs are white. Gleaming white.
Don't believe me? Consider a reunion in Las Vegas I attended with my sorority sisters some years ago, right after I'd moved from Los Angeles to New York. I was by the pool in a black maillot, the very picture of Manhattan sophistication. I got up to fetch another cocktail from the poolside bar, picking my way across the sunny deck, and realized all eyes were on me. "I must look goooooood," I thought, sashaying back to my chaise like the hot thing I was. Only when I got the photos back weeks later did I realize: People weren't staring because I was good-looking. They were staring because my legs reflected the sun.
So yesterday, knowing it was going to be 88 degrees today, I bought some of that body lotion that is supposed to very gradually impart a "natural glow." I put some on, and sure enough, there was that gross self-tanner smell. A few hours after that I was no longer lily-white but ever so faintly yellowish.
And I'm kind of disappointed in myself. On the one hand, it'll be a relief to walk down the street un-remarked upon. On the other, I've caved. It's easy to be an iconoclast in a turtleneck sweater, leggings and boots. How courageous am I if I can't flaunt my pallor in the summer, when doing so means something? I keep thinking of "meta-vegetarian," a term the writer Douglas Coupland once used to describe vegetarians who eat soy products meant to look and taste like meat. Maybe I'm meta-pasty. Or fair-weather fair. Or, more fittingly, foul-weather fair.
But at least my legs aren't blinding people.