I'm A Reformed Sun Worshipper

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I once worshipped the sun. So I can relate to the woman addicted to tanning booths. With her white lips and eyes and orange skin, she looks ridiculous. Poor thing, a company is even making a Tanorexic action figure doll in her image. I could be an action figure, too—thanks to several surgeries to remove squamous and basal cell cancers, I now have a Harry Potter lightning bolt scar on my nose.

It started innocently enough. Every morning of every summer when I was growing up, my mom dropped me off at Huron Valley Swim Club. I practiced with the swim team, jumped on the trampoline, took diving lessons. I was basically in the sun all day long. Sometimes I wore zinc oxide on my nose, sometimes I didn’t.

Then I hit junior high, when our gym teacher warned us about protecting our skin. We considered her old-fashioned and stupid, so did we listen? Unh, unh. We did such stupid things to get a suntan. What was with that combination of Baby Oil and iodine? We even used aluminum foil to intensify and reflect sunlight to attain that highly coveted radiant glow. This was best done around noon. What were we thinking?

These days, my dermatologist says, “Life-guarding is a hazardous occupation.” Now they tell me! To be fair, even back then I knew it wasn’t a good idea to burn and peel, burn and peel. But it was tough to find a more glamorous minimum wage job. I don’t remember anything beyond Coppertone, used to darken our white winter skin. Broad spectrum 30 SPF wasn’t even on the horizon. I sat out all day with my megaphone and whistle soaking up UV radiation. So much so, in fact that now, years later, I could live in a closet and these little squamous and basal cell cancers could continue to pop up. Luckily, so far I haven’t gotten any of those very scary melanomas.

Cycles do continue. I worried about my own kids’ sun exposure. Knowing they wouldn’t listen, I tried to be sneaky and started our hometown chapter of the Hat Club. They fell for that only so long – until their peers were thumbs down on hat wearing.

By the time my daughter reached high school I had given up on clandestine tactics and nagged her outright about the dangers of sun exposure. What a guilty look she had when, the week before prom, I caught her walking out of a tanning salon. My concern was well-founded. According to a recent study, frequent indoor tanners are up to three times more likely to develop melanoma than those who choose to bake in the sun.

I’ve learned to live with the zig and zag line on my nose. With me there was no magic involved – like the curse that caused Harry Potter’s scar. All I needed to do to avoid my bad fortune was slather and cover, slather and cover.


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