My Life As Alabaster.

John Hoppner, "Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita." Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.
John Hoppner, “Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita.” Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.

I do not tan.

Oh, how I’ve tried. In my twenties, like so many undergraduates, I donned those weird winkie things and lay back in tanning beds — not enough, I hope, to wreak significant UV damage. (I knew better and it never worked for long, anyhow.) But I didn’t stop chasing a tan, no way. I’ve bronzed. I’ve lotioned. I’ve spray-tanned a few times. But the fact of the matter is, my half-Viking, half-Scots-Irish self ain’t gettin’ nut brown for long. I am a pale thing.

When I’m in yoga, my near-albino-ness is more evident than usual. There’s more of my skin to see in the yoga room; in Bikram, you’re one sweaty strap away from nude. Even in winter, when most yogis are not actively tan, I stand out in the room as though there were a beam of moonlight shining on me. This observation is not clouded (milky?) by the fact that I’m commenting on my own body and it’s hard to be objective about oneself. No, it’s really true that I’m vampiric compared with everyone else in the room.

All through school and into my adult life, my palest pale skin was a source of shame for me. I was enraged that I couldn’t manage to turn more than barely-toasted marshmallow for more than a couple days. All these honey-colored girls seemed to prance about without a care in the world from May to September, their bare, sun-kissed shoulders tossed insouciantly at recess. Then the girls became women and were effortlessly tan at parties, at bars, at charity events.

But growing up is highly recommended. As years go by, you (hopefully) start to care slightly less about such surface things, or maybe you start to love yourself more. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting more people — because the more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet people who are totally into what you’ve got going on. That’s the best discovery of all. Being told that my pale skin is pretty, even beautiful, is a great way to get over it. Someone told me my near-translucent skin was “gorgeous” once and that very day I stopped feeling like a cocktail shrimp.

Whatever physical difference you’re annoyed about, don’t forget for a second that there’s someone out there who thinks you are seriously hot precisely because of the thing you’re freaking out about. There’s someone out there who will howl at the moon for you and try very hard to take you out/kiss you/marry you/etc. because you’re so unique. Trust me on this. I don’t know a lot but I know this is true.

And so today, in beautiful New York City, as all the Soho fillies passed me by in their short shorts, enjoying their Coppertone souls, I donned a cute, lacy white dress I got at Neiman Marcus that perfectly matched my pale skin. I turned a few heads, too. Probably because the sun actually glinted off me. That’s what sunglasses are for, people.

9 Responses

  1. Gay Barrett
    | Reply

    Okay, scoot over…I need to sit next to you on the alabaster bench. In 2003, I was going on my first cruise, and I knew that my time would be miserable if I did not preface the misery with pre-misery via tanning beds.

    I told the Malibu Barbie that waited on me at the tanning “salon” that I burned easily and needed special attention. She giggled and said, “Five minutes. But, it will be a totalllllllll waste.”

    I agreed that the five minutes of laying on something out of the movie Logan’s Run seemed to be a waste until that night. My body developed a wicked set of hives and internal combustion was imminent. My eye balls even fell to the evil the UV bulbs held because I thought that if my eyes weren’t frying,they were at least alive with U & V bugs…nevermind….I didn’t know and didn’t care. I just lived my life with regret ever since. And as I stare down a trip to Mexico in November, I know that the “tanning” conversation is going to come back around.

    What would Coco Chanel do?

  2. Carrie
    | Reply

    Oh Mary! What a storyteller you are. I love reading your posts! I am especially keen on hearing your inner thoughts on following your guy to strange, exciting NYC. I left after 58 years, as I’d had enough! You’ve always quilted, I for only a year now (tho I’ve sewn for more than 5 decades.)

    Keep blogging! I’m so living this!

  3. Judy Tucker
    | Reply

    I bet you looked stunning! Your smile and bright eyes is what I always notice. Sorry, never noticed your ivory skins. Hmmmm and for the dress: was someone running off to marry Mary? Just askin!

  4. Coley
    | Reply

    I am perfectly fine with being pasty. I burn then tan, but I don’t really like being tan. I just bought some SPF50 spray on sunscreen for when I go on my bike rides. People are always shocked to hear that I’m 29 because I look so young. I tell them, “Don’t smoke and stay out of the sun. That’s my secret.”

  5. Lisa D.
    | Reply

    Yes Mary,
    I had my DNA done, and my mitochondrial(female ancestors) were the first people in Finland and we left with the ice age 30 thousand years ago. At least that is what the evidence of the oldest of the DNA there tells. The people there now aren’t my relatives. I too am Viking, Scotch-Irish, and yet I am 1/4 French with the Hebrew(though didn’t get the nice olivey skintone)… I love it… I knew we were cosmic twins. No mind to the feeling that we are ghostly white and not feeling sporty. Where we come from, the main sport is snow. Those that sport like us would find us to be superior in our splendid array and sheen of light. We are bright comets who shine and must lead! You inspire me, I too, am tired of not embracing my gleaming self, as I sit here in my spandex knee length swimming attire and smelling of tan-me-quick!
    Cosmic Twin,

  6. becky m
    | Reply

    Preach on! I join you in the choir of the pale. #paleisthenewtan I will admit i tanned for my wedding 7 yrs ago and had a knowledgeable (or maybe savvy) sales person who had me in there for 1 minute a day for 2 weeks. Then up to 2 minutes and so on. Yup, I spent a fortune, but at the end, I was tan enough to be a different color than my wedding dress. That was end of my career as a bronzed goddess. My family teases me at the beach, but I know they all scoot closer to catch the reflected rays off my legs!

  7. What Happened. | Mary Fons
    | Reply

    […] or of hemoglobin in the blood, resulting in pallor and weariness.” I’ve always been pasty and pale; now I know there’s a reason I look like a character cut from Twilight. When taping the TV […]

  8. […] your reading pleasure, a post written two summers ago when I was living in New York City, which seems like it was a galaxy ago. A very close, very familiar galaxy […]

  9. […] the sun. And besides feeling great, the sun looks good on me! My anemic, Norwegian/Scots-Irish, pasty complexion gets an upgrade when I “get a little sun.” In the summer months I usually get some […]

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