This week, I broke the first rule of being pale: I went outside.
However, I don’t really know if I can even consider myself pale anymore. I’m only part pale– other part, cherry.
I know I talk a lot about being pale but it’s one of those easy things to make fun of myself about. Also, I don’t know– I guess it’s my “thing” or something. I’m the Pale Girl. It works for me… I think.
Anyway, I guess this is a story of hope, and then crippling disappointment and agonizing consequences. This is what I get for looking up. I hope other Pales will be reminded of our ghostly values after reading my cautionary tale and always remember that hope for a darker pallor is a mistake.
Earlier this week, I was compelled by a sudden wave of spontaneity to go outside. My friend invited me over to her apartment’s pool and against my better judgment, I accepted. The day was a scorcher, one of the handful of days this summer to reach and surpass 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is at least 20 degrees above my melting point.
So innocent a day turned into monumental torture. All I sought was some poolside comradery, yet what I received was the flame penalty. I’ve got the blatant scars to prove it, but believe me– you don’t want to see it.
Look, do we all know what I’m talking about at this point? I got sunburned. Bad. I should have known better, but I didn’t.
The thing is, I didn’t even forget to put on sunscreen! Believe me, I put on sunscreen! SPF 50! (Because I couldn’t find SPF 9000.) But. I only put the sunscreen on my shoulders and tattoos, and my nose and cheeks, because those are the places I care most about not being red. And after 20 years I know enough to know those are my sunburn hot spots. Majorly susceptible to being dyed red by the outdoors. So yeah, I put on sunscreen.
Okay here’s how bad this whole thing was: I brought the sunscreen with me. I even put an additional layer on the aforementioned locations! As I was sitting outside, roasting like a hot dog in a bonfire, perfectly and readily available sunscreen was sitting ten feet away from me. Sunscreen that I even interacted with a second time!!!
So why was I such an idiot? I can explain.
As you know, white people in America aren’t supposed to be white. I mean, that’s a whole debate, but for the most part, any white “Jake” or “Rachel” would rather be tan than pale. And then black people aren’t supposed to be black; they’re supposed to be as lightly-colored black as possible. I don’t make the rules, and trust me–I don’t think it’s right–but that’s how our country sees things. And stuff like that can get to you after a while.
Anyway, so I was feeling a little shame–not a lot–but a little, and I was thinking of maybe hopping on the ol’ burnt bandwagon. So as I was getting ready, slathering sunscreen on my shoulders, I made the fateful decision to forgo putting sunscreen on my legs. NOW-HEAR-ME-OUT: in the past, I have opted out of “screening” my legs, and they have experienced no change in color. At this point in time, I realize this is often the case because most of the time when I’m in direct sun exposure, I am either walking or standing, and the inappropriate contact between the sun’s presumptuous rays and my innocent legs is minimal. But I figured, “My legs could use some color,” so any sun they caught–I foolishly figured–would be an improvement.
Oh man, here comes the kicker: my friend and I, we sat by the pool. We weren’t in it, we sat on the side. With our legs dangling in. So my thighs were an optimal plane for burning some shit. Not my shins– just my thighs… Oh yeah.
But it gets better. Not my whole thighs… Just the tops.
Did all that sink in yet?
[Pause for reader to laugh hysterically at my horrific misfortune. I imagine you pointing your finger at me as you mentally enjoy my humiliating condition.]
So this is where we’re at: I sat by the pool with my friend, and the tops of my thighs roasted. I mean, it’s pretty bad. And I was so ignorant. Read this in the chumpiest voice you can imagine: “My legs could use some color, huh huh!” Yeah, they’ve got color now; they’re cherry freaking red. (My face is absolutely stoic but you know it’s okay to laugh here because we’re friends.)
Okay, so I’m at the pool and looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and my thighs are beginning to radiate red.
At that point, I just kind of shrugged. I noticed a difference in shade between my exposed thigh and the skin just beneath my bathing suit, but I was pleased, actually. I WAS PLEASED. “Good, some color.” Of course, I had sunglasses on, so everything in my eyes looked brown. “Good, brown.” But in reality, I was nodding my head in approval at red.
The thing about sunburn is that it starts off kind of pink, and then an hour or two later it gets so much more red. So. Much. More. Red.
So after (truthfully, and I do mean this) a fantastic time with my friend, I came home. And discovered my new reality.
My thighs began the “flesh on fire” phase of sunburn, so I checked out my wounds in the mirror and they were horrific, though comical. Nodding my head in apathetic acceptance, I looked directly into my eyes in the mirror and relayed a look of absolute disappointment and disgust. “You did this to yourself,” I said sternly, gently shaking my head.
So the next thing I did was to text my boyfriend and ask him to buy aloe vera after work. He replied, “I can’t. I need to start saving money.” So then I had to let my financially sensible boyfriend know how awful and dramatic this whole thing was. Needless to say, I was rubbing aloe vera on my ‘burn by the end of the night.
Sunburn… Ah, sunburn. How can I describe how sunburn feels? Well, it feels like the sun planted little sun eggs under your skin while you’re having fun, and then when you get home, all the sun babies hatch and start burning your skin all over again. It’s like your flesh has been roasted raw, or like your skin has worked a 14-hour shift on its feet all day and just wants to lie down after a hard day but can’t. And when you poke it, it turns white for a second (to remind you what you had and lost).
Then, later that evening, I had a beautiful moment of clarity (a bit too late, but nonetheless): as I was staring at my hideous strawberry thighs, I realized I wanted my pale back. I don’t want them to turn tan after the burn dissipates, and I certainly don’t want them to stay red. I want my milky white skin that would never hurt me like this, betray me like this– my skin that I didn’t have to work for, or sweat for, or go outside for. My skin that has always been there for me, even on a cold day. I vow to my skin that next time I sit next to a pool I will not neglect putting sunscreen on my legs. I just hope it’s not too late. I just hope the tops of my thighs eventually fade back into the pale they once were– it may be a while though……….
I’ll keep you posted.
[Disclaimer: I actually was very excited to hang out with my friend at the pool and I had a great time. Also, tanning isn’t bad (well, aside from the plethora of health risks) and neither is tan skin but I love my pale skin and it’s always good to love yourself! I encourage you to do the same.]