Spandex as a Second Language
It takes me several tries to get the bunny head thing just right.
As with much in life, it's a matter of positioning. You have to make sure you place the decal in the exact same spot every time, or you'll muck up the whole enterprise. I learned this the hard way. Careless application brought me, in succession, a three-eared bunny, then a bunny with too many eyes, then a blobby bunny with a club-ear and no distinct presence. Today, at the start of my tenth tanning session, I made sure the sticker was stuck just so, and when I'm done, I'll finally have what I am after: a small white patch in my tan, just below and to the left of my navel, in the shape of the Playboy bunny.
The girls who use the bunny heads are something of an amusement here at the busiest salon in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The plastic dish of decals sits next to the towels on a shelf by the cash register, in full view of every beautician and customer in the place. When a girl reaches into the dish, the women who run the shop look up from whatever make-over or pedicure they're doing and give one another a knowing glance. Oh, these ladies know that their job is to groom, not to judge -- if you want your hair dyed a shade of copper-penny red that hasn't been seen since the days of I Love Lucy or your nails air-brushed blue and orange to show team spirit when you go down to Denver for a Broncos game, they'll oblige without comment. But something about a girl with the bunny tan sets the beauticians spinning. She's a little tacky, a little wild. The kind of girl who drives up to the salon in her Camaro fifteen minutes before closing, grabs a decal from the dish, and strides into the tanning booth for her ten-minute fake bake. Afterward, she's off to the Outlaw Saloon for a night of drinking, flirting, and, if the air is right, fighting.
That's not really who I am, but for my purposes, it's an image I can live with.
I have been making twice-weekly trips to the tanning salon for several weeks now. I started out pale as milk but I'm making significant progress toward my goal of a sensuous golden brown. Never mind that up close, my skin is starting to look knobby and taut -- a little like the texture of a regulation football. The color is fantastic. From a distance, I'm the picture of health. I've never tanned in my life -- I was a Goth as a teenager and didn't leave the house much during daylight in my early twenties, so all this dark, rich pigment is a novelty. I think it's great.
My dermatologist begs to differ.
I spent the morning getting yelled at in the skin clinic.
I stopped by to see the doctor about a strange and sudden rash on my chin, and in an offhand moment I asked her, oh, by the way, if she would, please tell me about the effects of using a tanning bed.
It was an innocent question, and I simply was not prepared for the response. I gripped the edge of the counter in the examining room as the dermatologist dressed me down with vitriolic force strong as the heat from a blast furnace. "Oh, tell me you're not tanning," she moaned, closing her eyes and pressing her fingertips into her temples in frustration.
"Just a little," I lied, my eyes averted to the diagnostic posters on the exam room walls. Sebaceous Glands 101. Skin Occlusions At-A-Glance. Melanoma Made Easy.
"You seemed like such a smart person when you walked in here," she shrilled, "but after hearing what you've just said, I have to treat you totally differently!" She went on to tell me that by doing only ten tanning sessions a year -- a year, she repeated for emphasis -- I increase my risk of developing skin cancer seven times over.
The doctor spoke with the certain fury of a true believer, and she assured me that she had science to back her up. She called for her assistant to bring in a packet of information about indoor tanning. Slipping the thick sheaf of papers into a plastic sleeve, she said to me, "Do yourself a favor and stop right now. If you bought a package of tanning sessions that you haven't used up yet, give it to someone you hate."
With goggles to protect my eyes and a towel draped over my face, I lie in the tanning bed bathed in the eerie blue-purple
glow. The industrial hum is oddly soothing, as if I'm a baby in a man-made womb listening to the muffled rhythms of the world outside. This snug, warm, thrumming space is all the universe I need. The white noise, the doctor told me, is part of what keeps tanning enthusiasts coming back, despite the known dangers. "Some people get addicted," she says. "Try meditation as a substitute."
In the packet she gave me is an article on the ills of tanning that says, "A tan is your skin's response to ultraviolet-induced injury; it's
trying to tell you something. Just imagine if your skin could scream instead of tanning." I remember Fran Lebowitz writing about being
on the phone with a Hollywood type, and describing him as
"audibly tan." I am quite sure this is not what she meant. It would give a sensible person pause, this screaming-skin analogy. And if that wouldn't, the facts would: A tanning bed zaps the user with a day's worth of concentrated sun in ten minutes. Frequent use can cause premature aging, irreversible skin damage, and sun poisoning. One bad sunburn can equal years of accumulated exposure to natural
But as far as risks go, tanning seemed pretty minimal compared to what I needed it for.
When a man gets engaged, his friends might throw him a bachelor party. They'll herd off to a club to see strippers, or order them in, and raise a glass to the groom -- that poor sucker, that lucky bastard. The bachelor party is a raucous, ritual demarcation between the chaos of single life and the mature orderliness of pairing off. One final night with the antiwife before wedding your wife-to-be, it's a time-honored way of saying, "Goodbye to all that."
But what does a former stripper do when she's about to get married?