I attended a Southern all-female college where the avowed goal of spring semester was to procure a glowing tan before Valentine's Day, lest the boyfriend offer a ring and the developed pictures unearth a shockingly unprepared and pasty-looking bride-to-be.
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Thus, openly mocked for paleness in a world of tanned people, I did my stint of "laying out" atop the school's gymnasium.
I now bear stitch marks on one arm and an eyebrow, while two competing scars zigzag across my nose as testament to the fact that I made more than a passing acquaintance with skin cancer while I lightly toasted as I spun in the sun like a rotisserie chicken.
The closest I have come to success in matching the bronze norm was from the use of a skin lotion designed to dye me while leaving my skin as soft as the Snuggle Bear.
All the same, the "gradual enhancement" of my "natural colors" left me sporting the even tones of an oxidized apple and gave others the impression that I was developing a blood disorder that manifested itself in a tendency to easily bruise.
Despite having a fashion sense that stagnated when Madonna was inspiring masses of females to hitch up wavy perms in a high bow, this is the summer I am finally well in style. According to news sources, the tan is passe, and, outside of those with a medical condition, I sport the most blanched dermis on a human. As traffic cone is to orange, my skin is to white. I am glaringly reflective and very noticeable, even from far distances.
Even though Taylor Swift and Emma Stone are milky white on the red carpets of fame, I am not seeing indications that the shunning of a Garfield-orange hue is being adopted where South Carolina's sandals meet the sidewalk. Even as evidence mounts that tanning is as toxic as puffing on a Pall Mall, we in the Palmetto State continue to send the message that pale is sick and tans are beautiful.
To avoid admitting our natural skin tones, we still submit ourselves to procedures and processes that give us the shading of a used jack o' lantern.
My mime-white foundation and I simply and very obviously do not fit in with the rest of the masses. I eventually gave up the fight and stopped seeking the natural and unnatural solutions to matching the prevailing color. I knew without question that a tanning bed or spray tan would not be a successful part of my beauty routine as I have difficulty committing to a regular appointment for a haircut and do not possess the requisite dedication to successfully complete even routine cosmetic procedures.
I believe I have done a masterful job of applying make-up if I arrive at a location without having to finish the task in my car's rearview mirror. I sometimes glimpse similarly chalky people and I secretly applaud their bravery, even as I wonder what they must be thinking to venture out in public looking like that.
If a sea change in thought has occurred and "ghost white is all right," I will believe it when a potential Miss South Carolina steps on a stage with her bare midriff as naturally alabaster as an uncooked slab of cod rather than sprayed to the color of George Hamilton's hand after a big bag of Cheetos.
Until then, I will maintain the year-round beauty routine I have devised to avoid revealing my skin: my arms will remain in sleeves and my legs will forever bear the indentations left by a pair of tan knee highs.
Stephanie E. Holler retired from the Charleston County School District where she worked as a school psychologist. She lives in Charleston and volunteers (indoors, of course) around the tri-county area.