Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of harping on tanning. Tanning is bad for you. Tanning is dumb. Tanning will probably give you skin cancer. But it’s time for me to be honest: the reason I’ve been writing about tanning is not only to educate people, but also to remind my own stupid self of all of the risks that tanning comes with. Because, you see, I used to love to tan. I still love to tan. But I also know that tanning doesn’t love me.
There are a few tanning salons in my neighborhood because, here in Seattle, if you want to feel the warm, shining light of the sun (or something like the sun) on your skin between September and July (and sometimes in between), you have to go to a tanning booth. And every time I walk by one of them, like a melanoma-causing Siren, tanning calls out to me. Come back! It’s warm in here! It smells like coconuts! I’ll make you feel good!
And it did make me feel good, temporarily. Busy, broke, depressed–whatever was wrong in my life when I was 19 or 20 or 22, if I could scrape together $10 in tips, I could go spend 15 minutes doing something entirely for myself. Something that made my skin look nicer. Something that was peaceful and calming. It was like a tiny vacation. It was also, it turns out, addictive.
Which, I think, is why so many young, smart women continue to hit the beds. And why I do feel some sympathy for Tanning Mom. Because tanning is, unfortunately, about more than having golden skin. It’s a ritual. It’s a way to feel better, both inside and out. And it is addictive. It leaves you wanting more.
Much like smoking (because truly, the paralels between smoking and tanning are many), the risks seem far away, while the rewards are present. Tanned skin is conventionally more attractive, it looks healthier to our primal brains–and to get it, all you have to do is go to a relaxing, indulgent place. It’s a break from everything else. It’s wonderful. Unfortunately, it’s also terrible.
Getting young women to step away from the booths isn’t an easy or simplistic task. It’ll take more than a Twitter campaign or a bunch of scary statistics. For me, it took very real stories–like this one, about a woman my age who was diagnosed with skin cancer–and the understanding that, without healthcare, such a diagnosis would be even more devastating. I’m still tempted by tanning, and frequently find myself rationalizing that “just once” wouldn’t hurt.
But just once could hurt. And I know that. Really, I do. And on days when I don’t, I’m going to find a study about how it could and write about it, because, much as I miss tanning, I know that it’s not worth it.
Image: Roman Mahmutoff via Shutterstock