So I’ve written about being a pale girl before. And as we head into true summer and the Minnesota air heats up, I watch as the people around me become tanner and tanner while my own skin stays nearly as colorless as it was all winter long. But I will now, finally, confess to you all something that I find both hilarious and shameful:

LAST spring – sometime around May – I began to notice something in my outfit photos. Despite the fact that I slather on the SPF 30 every single day, my face, neck, and arms were looking decidedly browner than my legs. It’s the legs that gets us pale white girls in the end. After six months encased in tights and pants, they absolutely glow in the warming summer sunshine. And I experimented briefly with using a lighter powder on my face to balance out the color difference, but it was no use. So, eventually – right after I’d received a few choice comments from people in my life and read a few beauty blog reviews – I invested in one of those slow-build, moisturizing self-tanner concoctions and began slathering it on my legs. And for a while? It looked decent. Not too orange, and not terribly dark. Seemed to be doing exactly what I wanted: Darkening my legs a little and making me seem like I was one, uniform color all over. Albeit a very light one.

But then? Then, friends, my body realized what was going on. And, as my body is wont to do, it rebelled. I noticed that I had a VERY dark blob/streak along the back of my right calf. The one on my left calf wasn’t quite as pronounced, but it threatened to get worse with further application. Believe me when I say that – in the three week period during which I undertook this experiment – I applied that gunk thinly and evenly over my legs. This was not user error. This was some bizarre self-tanner buildup being caused by my leg cells sloughing off at different rates. This was my skin saying, “Listen, lady. You’re pale. Why on earth are you trying to fake your way into non-paleness?”

I scrubbed and soaked and did everything I could think of to get rid of those blob-streaks, but they stuck around for the remainder of the summer. And that? That spooked me. I had jumped into this little project without giving it much thought at all. I mean really, I did zero research, paid no heed to the fabulous hypocrisy of it all, and failed to consider what would happen if something went wrong. I had willingly embedded molecules of dye into my own legs, and now they were hanging on for their little dye lives. What kind of long-term effects could this have? Would they turn infectious or carcinogenic over time? (Yes, I’m an awfulizer. There is no real evidence these products are harmful.) Would I have blob-streaks on my calves until I was 50?

Luckily, they’ve faded. I can still see their judgy little shadows, but they’re getting paler as time wears on. And I’m (kinda) grateful to them for sticking around in this slightly less obvious form. Because they remind me of my folly. These lotions work flawlessly for many women and are, in fact, a safer alternative to light/sun tanning of any sort and a cheaper alternative to spray tans. I don’t disdain them universally because every woman is different and every woman’s appearance-related priorities are different. For some, products like this mean they can ditch the nylons, feel less self-conscious at the beach, and feel confident about an aspect of appearance that previously caused discomfort or anxiety. All totally valid. The reason I feel this was an important lesson for me, personally, is that I realized in retrospect I’d done exactly what I rail against: I caved to peer pressure, bought something that cosmetic companies were telling me to buy, and never considered why I was doing so. I never asked myself how important this was to me or when my priorities had shifted. I never considered what the long-term impact might be or if opinions other than my own were doing the decision-making. I ran off half-cocked. And I’m thankful that my quirky little body put on the brakes for me.

Images courtesy Amazon

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