I got a promotional e-mail today from a tanning establishment in my neighborhood. They are celebrating Cinco de Mayo and their four-year corporate anniversary with an amazing offer: a free tan with a ten-tan punch card. I don’t know if premature death is worth it. Tanning is a dangerous business .
Four years ago, the national tanning chain opened across the street from my office. I watched the opening festivities from afar: balloons and streamers festooned the entrance, the neon logo shone like a beacon in the gray mist of February, and scantily-clad Pamela Anderson look-alikes managed the door wearing little more than bikinis and cover-ups to show off their bronzed bodies. If a person wasn’t familiar with the new retail on the block, they might have mistaken the excitement for an adults-only movie premiere. Or a casting call for a new reality porn show. Oversized sandwich boards and six foot banners gave potential customers incentives to Sun Your Buns: Ten Tans Free with the Purchase of a Lifetime Membership. “What would that person look like when his or her life was over?” I wondered. “Free Bronzing Lotion with Ten Tan Package.” Special lotion? Can’t a person just pack their own Nivea?
This tanning phenomenon has been troubling me since the place opened. It’s May and everyone in my neighborhood is tan. Or rather all the people in my neighborhood under the age of fifty are tan and have been every day since the rain set in last November. It wouldn’t be something to notice if I lived, say, in Palm Desert or Miami Beach, but I don’t. I live in Seattle, where the old saying goes, “In Seattle people don’t tan … they rust.” And for the record, in 2009 so far, we have had approximately five sunny days with temperatures over fifty degrees. The rest have been rainy and cold, but who’s counting? Nasty weather combined with the recession, swine flu and the increasingly popular “staycation”—I doubt anyone is traveling to get a tan.
The tannies are ubiquitous; they’re in the grocery store, at the local Starbucks, and at the school auction. It’s all I can do to keep myself from pulling our favorite babysitter aside and giving her a lecture … something akin to “Listen missy, lay off that tanning bed, you’re starting to look like an Oompah Loompah.” I want to grab that cute little check-out girl in the market by the cheeks and tell her “Sure, you look cute now, but how about in ten years when your sun-kissed face looks like a wrinkled Louis Vuitton handbag.” And then there’s the twenty-ish barista who can’t stop himself from calling me “Hon.” He’s so tan, I can smell it.
When I mention the smell to my friend Diana she tells me a story that sounds more urban myth than fact. Something about a very tan woman (let’s call her Laurena) waking up one day to the smell of tangy, burnt flesh. On close inspection, Laurena discovers that the odor is emanating from her very tan body. Naturally, she goes to see her doctor. He sniffs Laurena’s body, pokes and prods her abdomen and finally breaks the news to her that all that tanning has actually melted her innards—which explains the stench. I ask Diana, “Did she die?” She responds, “Not really sure, she was a friend of a friend’s cat sitter. I don’t really know her personally. But it’s true.”
Hmmm. Since hearing that story, I notice that my local Starbucks barista smells suspiciously like cooked liver.
P.S. Laying in a tanning bed damages your skin and can lead to skin cancer. Now you know. Check out the skin cancer physicians website  for more information on the dangers of tanning.