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It was the morning of my cousin’s wedding. Since I was working as an intern at the time, I wasn’t looking my best. Overworked and underpaid, I was a Frankenstein composite of Steve Buscemi’s eyes, Bill Compton’s complexion and Carson Daly’s personality.
With little time to fix what zero sun exposure had done to my already-fair façade, my mom suggested that I get a spray tan.
At first, I scoffed. “Only women get spray tans,” I thought.
But after a shameful glance in the mirror – and being a believer of the “mother knows best” mindset – I headed off to the tanning salon quicker than you could say, “You’re going to regret this.”
I walked into the tiny salon like a nun entering a strip club. Nervous and nearly shaking, I approached the absurdly cheerful orange lady behind the front counter. As wind chimes and soft rock sang gently in my ears, I asked for the standard spray, and was escorted to a white room with plastic coating every wall.
My nerves – temporarily taking me out of reality – whispered to me that this tiny white space was where men’s dignity came to die.
I noticed the silhouettes of past customers still painted on the walls, like chalk outlines at a crime scene. As I stood studying past victims, I spotted a mirror before me. As if having this done wasn’t demoralizing enough, this twisted woman was going to make me watch.
I was instructed to strip down to my underwear, which I did reluctantly, and was forced to stare at the 20 pounds of muffin top I’d gained in college. Then Orange Lady entered the room with a weapon: a spray gun with the roar of a million cellphones vibrating on a hardwood floor.
I was quickly coated with a spray that made no visible difference to my skin. When Orange Lady asked what I thought, I made the rookie mistake of telling her that I didn’t notice anything. Another, more generous coat was applied.
Awestruck, I stared back at a freshly powdered human Cheeto. My dignity had joined the tan graveyard of those before me.
I dragged my butt (the only pale part of me) home. I thought that if I was lucky, or a lunar eclipse rendered the world blind, nobody would notice.
The drive to the wedding was tiresome. It was an unseasonably humid September evening, so naturally I started to sweat – a lot. By the time we arrived, I looked like a half-melted Creamsicle.
But before anyone saw me, my mother reached into her purse and went to work ridding me of my orange-tinted sweat. After several minutes of rigorous dabbing from a napkin kissed with saliva, I finally thought I looked passable.
Cue the rain.
Though it wasn’t enough to postpone the outdoor wedding (the outdoor venue was another surprise to me), the rain fell gently and persistently, softly soaking my now-streaking face. I looked like a freshly drenched Carrie, only instead of pig’s blood running down my face, it was a rusted-orange gunk.
After the ceremony, I rushed to the bathroom and washed what I could of the spray tan away. Though like Lady Macbeth, I will never be able to wash myself clean.
The remainder of the evening seemed to go without a hitch – thank God for the darkly lit hall and open bar. But it turns out I fooled nobody. Everybody knew of the faux tan, and I was mildly mocked at many future family functions (and forced to relive this moment through the occasional tagged Facebook album).
But it serves me right. I mean, what was I thinking?
Here’s the kicker: I’m a redhead. Of course I’m not going to be tanned. Have you ever seen a suntan on a redhead? Chances are if you have, it’s our freckles giving that illusion.
After some necessary self-reflection, I decided to embrace the positives of pale skin. For instance, it’s a dream to tattoo (something I’m very thankful for, as I’ve collected quite a few over the years).
Redheads’ aversion to sun also keeps us looking younger and less prone to skin cancers. And hey, a lot of the sexiest celebs play it pale: Emma Stone, Anne Hathaway, Katy Perry, Christian Bale, Alexander Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, to name a few.
Sometimes it is tough to “love the skin you’re in,” especially when that skin’s the same colour as your hair, or it is so sunburned that you can barely move. But we’ve got to work with what we have; there’s no other choice, really. When I tried to work against my genes, it led to one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
Like Ross Geller (though I’m much more of a Chandler), I went too far off the deep end with the spray tan. I tried to cover my insecurities with a superficial treatment that only made me even less secure.
So, I recommend you spray at your own risk. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve yet to revisit a tanning salon, and I doubt I ever will.
Bobby Box lives in Toronto.