Roger Marolt: Missing a chance to save our skin
I look in the mirror and see deep creases in my forehead, lines bracketing my eyes, dermal crevasses at the corners of my mouth — all more pronounced when I smile — and I ponder a great question: What if sunscreen had not been only for amateurs in the 1970s?
We simply were not paying attention. You paint your house with the best product money can buy and within five years it is washed out, blistered and chipped. The bright colors of our ski clothing fade noticeably in one season. Rubber left to the sun’s rays gets brittle. Wood rots. Dashboards crack. It makes people in surfing villages sleepy in the middle of the day.
How could we have thought that sitting beneath our barely filtered high-altitude sun with nothing on our skin but a layer of baby oil could be good for us? We envied people who where as brown as beef jerky from exposure to the same radiation that shrivels the asphalt shingles on our roofs.
We over-exposed our skin on purpose in the name of vitamin D, even though milk on our Special K would have sufficed. We shunned sunblock for the sake of looking as quickly as possible like we lived outdoors year-round in a meadow with the deer. Wasn’t it an ominous sign that, after as little as 15 minutes of exposure, our cheeks, on our faces or otherwise (it was the ’70s), would turn red and sting like they needed to be rubbed with butter? Not only did this not cross our minds, we thought it was healthy!
Do you remember those first days in May when we lay in the sun, exposing as much skin as possible to its rays, risking dehydration and heat stroke, only giving up after we were burnt purple and blistering or the sun set, whichever came last? We called it “building a base tan” and it set us up to go shirtless or wear Daisy Duke cutoffs the rest of the summer and save a fortune on sun tan lotion. How did we find the time to lay around idly under the sun, basted in Hawaiian Tropics Deep Tanning Oil, oftentimes with reflective sheets of tin below our chins to intensify the effect? It was because we made it a priority! Yes, of course lots of people set timers to keep track of how long they spent sunbathing, but the buzz of an alarm was not to remind anyone to reapply or, heaven forbid, get out of the sun. It was a cue to turnover and get the other side.
It’s not like we were purposeless and using laying around poolside as an excuse to do nothing. We treated our bodies like the Thanksgiving turkey, taking serious care to evenly brown and crisp our skin, from the wings to the gizzard. And yes, because we abused our poor skin so, some of us now clearly do have gizzards.
The real point being that getting an even tan was harder than it looked. We assumed many awkward positions on lounge chairs and beach towels to have tan inner thighs and bronze armpits. Many a limb was put to sleep in this quest. I personally believe tanning may have been the precursor to hot yoga. It was a serious faux pax to cast a shadow by standing in someone’s sun while you spoke to them.
My father, a reformed smoker, used to say that, even though he hadn’t had a cigarette in 30 years, whenever he got a whiff of the smoke from someone else treating themselves to a puff, the old craving came back momentarily. So strong was the attraction he declared that, if he lived to be 80, he was going to start smoking again. And so it is at those times when the sun hits my unprotected face unexpectedly, I shut my eyes and tell myself to be patient until I am 80, at which time I will take up sunbathing again in earnest. Of course I will be even further from shirtless shape then, so I will have to be content with installing a tanning bed in the basement. But, it is going to be a powerful one! Stock up on the Solarcaine.
I often wonder what things we are partaking in today that will eventually prove to be so obviously terrible for us that we will be shocked none saw it at the time. I have no idea. For now I am just grateful that the internet, social media and video games came along. Every hour devoted to these is an hour out of the sun’s damaging rays.
Roger Marolt wishes he didn’t have a mole for every nickel he saved on sunscreen when he was younger. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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