This week’s flashback, called a “Whiter Shade of Pale”, was originally published in April 2009.

Lindsay Lohan is a budding entrepreneur. I feel funny writing that, but it’s a kinder opening than my alternative: “Lindsay Lohan seems to have an awful lot of time on her hands these days.” Having started by designing a collection of fancy leggings (including a style equipped with built-in knee pads – the girl is nothing if not a visionary), she is now rumoured to be going into the fake tanning business. Now, I’m not sure if you’re the kind of person who reads this news and feels compelled to run out and try out fake tanning, or whether the fact that Lohan’s name is linked to such endeavour is enough to convince you to give it a wide berth. Either way, I have decided to capitalize on my first-hand knowledge of the subject, and put together another one of my educational posts, this one on the topic of “why fake tanning is not for everyone”.

Before I go any further, I feel that I should share a few pieces of personal trivia. One, I am one of Nature’s unfortunates – an indisputable ginger. Two, I am not actually capable of tanning naturally. For some reason, people struggle with this fact. I’ll break it down for you: after about 10 minutes of unprotected exposure to direct sunlight, I start to turn a gentle shade of pink. After 30 minutes, I resemble a boiled lobster. One summer, when I was 10, I got third degree burns playing at a public swimming pool for a couple of hours. The only time my skin is a colour other than paper-white or hot pink, is when my freckles get darker and start to spread; but the SPF 65 I spend my summers slathered in usually takes care of that.

Now, to continue.

Two winters ago, I decided to get a spray tan. I was heading to Cancun, whose beach is exclusively populated by people of varying shades of caramel. This time, I told myself, I wasn’t going to stick out like an undercooked hot dog amid a sea of lusciously tanned skin. I chose a spray tan because (a) home self-tanners are notoriously messy and prone to splotchiness, and (b) I can’t get a real tan. (Did you forget that already?) I booked an appointment at a reputable salon in town, and awaited the event with much anticipation. I entertained visions of myself prancing on the beach like Gisele Bundchen’s shorter, gawkier cousin. I was going to sizzle! [Ed. note: not literally. One third degree burn is enough for a lifetime.]

In due course, the appointed day came. I went to the tanning salon scrubbed, exfoliated and ready to be transformed into a tan goddess. The receptionist gave me a 10-minute explanation of the 30-second process, and popped in an instructional video for my further edification. I should have known then that my experiment would not end well. But, naïvely, I plunged ahead. The video demonstration lady did her job, appearing none the worse for wear (apart perhaps from a slight orange tinge to her complexion). She did it equipped with a couple of protective items I appeared to lack – goggles and a nose guard – but as they hadn’t been offered to me, I wasn’t too worried.

I proceeded to the private room where the spray tan booth was located. I had been instructed to strip naked prior to entering the booth (underwear optional) and put on a special kind of cream on my nails (to protect them from getting sprayed). The tricky part comes next. Once inside the booth, you have to assume the “position”: legs apart, arms bent out and away from the body, fingers splayed out like a claw. This ensures that the entire surface of your body (front and then back) is exposed to the spray. Standing in position inside the booth, like some spasmodic Superman in freeze-frame, you feel like a right twit. The really awful business comes next.

When you are ready, you press a button. And you wait. A spray tan is exactly what it sounds like – a spray of tanning solution. It is also very cold. There is no warning. For a few interminable seconds, you are hosed down. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The spray moves down the body and then up, a movement that is then repeated a few more times. When I say that it goes up, I mean that it goes all the way up … up into your nostrils – and God forbid that you should open your mouth in shock. Eventually, it stops. Relieved, you turn around for a repeat performance aimed at your back (the “position” is slightly less ridiculous here, in case you were wondering). Of course, by now, the damage has already been done and the second half of the ordeal is a relative cake-walk. And then you have to go through the whole thing all over again a few days later, so the tan can really “take”. Sounds like fun, right?

So was it worth it? Well, two applications of the level I spray tan (the least aggressive, colour-wise) resulted in a vague yellowish-orange tint which made me look, in photos, like I had been gently marinated in orange juice. The colour was unlike anything I’d ever seen in nature; a day at the beach gave me plenty of opportunities to discover the patchier bits of the tan, where it looked like I was afflicted with some strange skin disease. I ended up scrubbing off my tan that first night, and never looked back.
In my spray-tanned glory
Being a whiter shade of pale is my destiny. Now, this is not to say that spray tans are a terrible thing. Like I said at the beginning, they’re just not for everyone. The important thing is to have a good sense of humour. You’ll need it.

Ed. Note (August 2012): I remember that vacation to Cancun vividly. It ended up being uncomfortable for other reasons as well, primarily because my traveling partner was the boyfriend I broke up with a few weeks prior to the trip. [Neither of us felt like walking away from an expensive vacation.] We were given the honeymoon suite – and we weren’t stupid enough to decline it. Free upgrade is still … well, a free upgrade. Since we remained on cordial terms, things were mostly awkward rather than tense. Traveling with a companion can be, at the best of times, a bit of a strain on one’s nerves, because it’s relatively unlikely that you end up with perfectly harmonious daily routines. I recall that on my first Mexico trip with my (now) husband, at around the day-3 mark, I had a minor meltdown and told him that I needed my space, dammit! Luckily, he took it in relatively good humour – though he periodically reminds me of my erstwhile request any time I complain about us not spending enough time together.

The other funny thing about this post is the intro. God, remember when Lindsay Lohan was still somewhat relevant? Not a complete late-night show punchline? I had to look this up, but she is still only 26 years old. Twenty-freaking-six! Her most recent foray into acting (after a stint on a Lifetime movie playing Elizabeth Taylor – who surely deserves better) has involved acting with some guy who normally works in porn. An indication of things to come? Part of me is inclined to feel sorry for Lindsay – it seems like she got dealt a crap hand when it came to parents – but then I remember that she has been an adult for quite a few years, and is responsible for any number of poor choices in the interim. Not least of all leggings with built-in knee pads.

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