Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Neurotic Health Watch Wednesday

Today is the day I usually blog about whatever health scare is numbing my brain at the moment. But a couple days ago I said I would post some writing examples to sort through to get an idea about where I should be concentrating my efforts. So, this post does have to do with a health concern of mine: SPF 50 and skin issues.

A while back I wrote this book that was rejected everywhere(but rejected with such nice comments.) It was nonfiction. I called it This Ain't No Glamour Detail: Beauty for Here and Beyond. I tied Biblical teachings and principles to today's woman, who is bombarded by the media to meet a certain standard of beauty. I used my own experiences.

This is a chapter from that book and you judge if I should put it back into the drawer from which I dragged its molded pages. It's a bit long.

The Law of Sunshine

by Crystal Warren Miller

“Before a girl’s turn came to go into King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Esther 2:12 (NIV)

Beauty is tough. It didn’t even come easy to natural beauty, Esther, so celebrated in her book in the Bible. I mean, c’mon! A whole year? How many years would it take for me? I shudder to think I would have to endure beauty “treatments” for an entire year for a job interview. (Eeek.)

But yet, I know I have given in and attempted to do the very thing that is so blatantly and openly talked about concerning Esther. I have tried many things to get beautiful and measure up. The one thing that has tormented me is something I just would not accept about myself—I’m as pale as an albino. And beautiful women these days have “color” or that thing I don’t—pigment. Melanin is something with which I was barely blessed. Dermatologists ka-ching their way through appointments with those my age, preaching SPF to the nth degree and tsk-tsking—but it doesn’t matter—people still want a tan come their Florida beach vacation or in the summer months. I have been no exception to this.

With my gene pool heritage deeply embedded in the Scandinavian peoples, despite my Cherokee side (not sure how that plays out in me,) I fit better into Victorian times than I do in modern day America. My blue veins are like neon highways on my clear porcelain surface and people ask me what is the matter with me. Have you been ill?

Even my husband’s family who have known me for 25 years ask why I just don’t go out into the sunshine and “get a base tan.” In the day of SPFs and knowing our skin limitations, people still love that sun-enhanced, golden brown skin coloring, if they don’t already have it. But back in the day, just as I hit my teens, mini-skirts and bikinis were all the rage. And getting a tan was a hobby for many a teenaged girl, including me.

Some women radiate natural sun-kissed skin without trying—those lovely shades of skin tone, which beckon to the world and blaze “true glamour.” Some of the most beautiful women I know have dark skin. And if you cannot get into the real sun to get that “healthy" glow, tanning beds are even in the smallest of towns, sometimes in the place where you do your laundry, in every state of the union,(especially those states which have fewer months of warmth and the tanning rays grinding down on our downy heads through the ozone hole.) And lives are so busy—at work all day, inside. Even if you work and live in places like Florida and California or Hawaii, you might not get a glimpse of God’s sun for days on end, according to your work schedule. So, you find a tanning bed to make you look as if all you have to do everyday is decide whether to jet to a Mexican or your private island beach on your lunch hour.

I wanted to believe if I "just tried hard enough" back in my tender-skinned youth that I could have a tan. I wanted to think, if I did it “right,” I, too, could have a delicious brown-baked hue to flash my pearly teeth whiter, and my blonde hair blonder. One trick we used was to mix iodine with baby oil. This concoction supposedly caused you to tan faster and deeper. The whole summer was spent carefully slathering this stuff on all of our exposed areas, dying the surface, and frying the upper epidermis. I suffered severe burns in those days before it became chic to apply SPF 15 (no higher than that, or you won’t get a “tan.”) It was before we knew DDT was toxic, before cell phones gave you brain cancer (what’s a cell?) and PBA needed to be free.

My best friend in high school didn’t help matters, either. Lorrie was dark-haired and dark-skinned, and she tanned even more with little effort. Boys flocked around her, pushing me aside to get a chance to speak to her. In harsh sunlight, you wouldn’t notice me as I sort of faded out in a ghostlike aura. I finally gave up the effort after college. SPF 114 became my new best friend.

But then, my husband and I were going on one of those Bahama Mama cruises with his cousins. My girlfriends, who all had gone on cruises or had vacations on beaches,advised and insisted that I could actually achieve a tan and wouldn’t have to resort to an orangey tan in a tube. They were certain that if I just got a “base” tan, my skin would be “protected” from the rays so near the equator. Despite years of finding out otherwise much farther from the equator, I very much wanted to believe them, especially when they told me of the “Super-Duper Accelerator Tanning Bed 2000” (prior to 2000) that guaranteed “no burn.” It was a dream come true. Answer to my prayers. I could have a tan to shine out underneath my new swimsuits and slinky dresses on the ship. I would blend in with the crowd and stand out to my husband. This promise launched my ship. Elvis had left the building of reason.

I plopped down my money for ten sessions. The great part was that I would have a private cubicle. NO TAN LINES. I would be almost normal for the first time in my life. Miss Sunshine at the desk, popping her gum and definitely a positive advertisement for her place of employment, rolled her eyes as I quizzed her about the UV rays, the timing for someone like me, and I insisted on assurance that I wouldn’t burn. She told me, “If anyone needs this, you do.” Then, she sold me this viscous solution called an “accelerator.” She rolled her eyes again and told me to stay in the bed for so many minutes, after applying the gooey stuff. I would be well on my way to the tan of my life. Warmth and a gradual tan in 10 sessions.

The private tanning bed area turned out to be one in a row of closet spaces set up in the store with thin, cubicle walls that didn’t even go to the ceiling. If I sighed, gasped or talked myself through it, I would be heard. Clearly. I delicately squeezed into the room, locked the door and shimmied out of my duds. I had a soft towel to lie on. I spread that lotion stuff all over and I began to feel actual excitement. I slid onto the hard surface, with the towel underneath, belly-side down. Headphones went on and I set my little timer to the length prescribed by Dr. Sunshine, who had just become my new beauty guru. She had all of my answers. I was ready to have the first tan of my life. I closed my eyes, pressed the button so the top lid lowered, and sunk blissfully into the warmth. Ahhhh. Radio station set to a soothing beat, this was even therapeutic. I enjoyed this!

As my heart slowed to a resting rate, I thought how I could do this all year round. It was a beauty treatment that was worthy of a queen. My mind embraced the thoughts of relaxation. It was wonderful. Heavenly sunshine nurtured my soul, but artificial sunshine soothed my emotional state.

Soon, my little timer said, “ding!” in the most melodious of voices. I reached over to press the magic button to raise the lid and then I could turn over to get my front side. I would reset the timer for another few minutes, and then be done with my first session of what was going to stretch out into a weekly event all year round. I pressed.

Did I mention that the walls were very close? Did I tell you this machine doubles as a coffin in the off-hours?

Nothing. Nothing happened when I pressed that button. I’m not one to panic. Plus, I was new to this. I figured I didn’t press hard enough. Hmm. Just a bit more pressure. I pressed again with the force of Conan the Barbarian. Nothing. This time I whipped off my headset and it hit the floor. Hoping no one heard that, I breathed in deeply, just as in my Lamaze sessions before the birth of my first son. I whammed that button with all the power I could muster. Again, nothing. This time I took the full force of my palm to whap that button. NOTHING. Not even a grunt. No whirr of the machine lid opening. Stephen King movies flashed across my mind screen.

Flexibility and sheer strength is often pumped into veins of those in situations where adrenaline-induced moments overcome otherwise limitations to a person’s usual everyday mild-mannered demeanor. I arched my back and twisted my arms behind me to physically push the lid up. No budge. Not even a smidgeon. All that crud about a woman having the upper body strength of ten men was obviously a fairy tale. This tanning bed lid must weigh tons. The thought flashed across my now panic-induced blonde brain that if one bolt slips out, I would be paper thin. Mashed like a raisin. I forced myself back to my Lamaze breathing. Deep breathing. In. Out. Was there any air in this place???!

The message rang loudly in my ears, screaming silently with only the whooshing of massive amounts of adrenalin pounding through my eardrums: I’m trapped in a tanning bed in a tiny locked cubicle with no clothes on.

I had several options still open to me at this point. I could scream bringing everyone in the building including Miss Condescending Sunshine, and maybe from the street to my aid. Maybe she’d call 9-1-1 and the fire department would bring the “Jaws of Life.”

I immediately ruled out this option. Did Esther ever call for back up during one of her treatments? Probably not. She was a woman of grace and natural skin pigment. She had all of that cool, calm, Save My People legacy. I was just trying to save my hide and pride.

A desperate woman can think in ways, and contort her body, which even a yoga instructor would appreciate. I could hear Yoda, the Jedi master, whispering into my ears, “Use the force, grasshopper.” Well, maybe it was the headphones on the floor and a flashback to Kung Fu. I shimmied a bit. Yeah, breathe gently into that goodgriefnight, Crystal. Squeeze and suck in because just maybe I could squeeze out the side. Maybe I could liquidate my skeletal structure and become a jellyfish. Maybe my true super powers would finally be revealed. Looking out of a corner of my eye that I didn’t even know existed, I see there’s an opening at the end of the bed just big enough for me to crawl out. But, the wall loomed large and thin beyond. My coffin, er, tanning bed was nearly flush with the wall. Just a teensy opening, but it was larger than the sides.

My decision was made. I was going for it! I still had my towel, slightly soggy from a mixture of perspiration and the viscous accelerator. I inched forward like a worm. My head is out! My head flopped down, and I morphed into a prior experience. What was it? That’s it. My birth. I had not seen this scenario since my birth. And thus, began the journey that no baby is born to endure—to be born of a tanning bed. For a flash of a female moment, it crossed my mind that my tan ought be really great by this point.

Slithering up the wall, inch-by-inch, I realize that this wall has a nubby surface. My front side has just adhered and been left behind, as I forced my progress. But, at last I breathed again. The adrenaline slowed its rush into my blue veins. Like a paper doll coming off the page, I flaked over to my freedom. I heard a poet croon, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I know what she means.

I glanced at the timer. Had it really only been 10 minutes?

Dressing gingerly, I unlocked the door and poised myself to walk like a spy with a top international secret to my contact, out to the lobby. I paused by the desk to ask about the refund policy. Sorry lady, Miss Sunshine beams. No refunds. I can, however, transfer my nine remaining certificates to immediate family members. I smile with my Big Tooth Christian Smile and say, “Thankewverrymuch.” Pride and modesty has kept me from panicking. I am free. I can walk out. Just without my money.

That evening I had a severe reaction to the tanning accelerator. My skin puffed out like a toad. Beauty is truly a miserable process and until this moment, I had never fully appreciated what that Cinderella Esther really had to endure in her year of “beauty treatments.”

On the brighter side, I was able to transfer my session certificates to my husband. My husband who gets a tan shoveling snow out of the driveway.


Terry Whalin said...


What a great chapter about tanning! I love it. I'd call it something like, "The Real Reason I Have No Tan."

I'd love to see this chapter in a magazine article. Get going on a query letter or work it into a magazine manuscript and get it out there. You go.

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LeAnne Benfield Martin said...


Greetings from your fellow albino-like friend. I love this! You are so funny! I can see myself in this situation. Just about every woman out there should be able to identify with something in this. I agree with Terry. Send it out. I know it's made the rounds as part of the big package but what about on its own? Hey, did I mention that you're really funny? Even without a tan.


Sheryl said...

Oh my ... you had me laughing so hard! I could just picture you trying to squirm out of the tanning bed :-)

I loved it, and agree with Terry. Query it as a magazine article. It would be great! And you never know what doors it might open for the book.


Cara Putman said...

Oh, the silent laughter just about shook me out of the chair. This was great. Do what Terry says -- he's the expert. No ifs, ands or buts, get it out the door!

Anonymous said...

I'm agreeing with everyone else. You did a great job with this and you should send it out!