The Yes Woman: I’d rather be a vampire than an orangutan
I succumb to a spray tan, but all I get is an orange hue and the smell of onion bhaji
‘False tan does not mimic a real tan. It looks obvious, always.’ Photograph: Adam Gault via Getty Images
The premise of this column when it began almost a year ago was to take someone who lacked any real sense of adventure (me) and send her off in search of one. The hope was that by behaving like the sort of person who approaches change with anything other than jaw-clenching chagrin, I would open myself to some new experiences.
For the most part, it has worked. I have felt nauseous on a trampoline; been lovingly trampled by friendly lurchers; and gone to Al-Anon to see how well I have dealt, all these years later, with having an alcoholic parent. I have managed some meaningful and some frivolous personal achievements, and have stowed them all away inside myself as experience.
This week, however, I have found my personal limit, and it is proving a Sisyphean effort not to keen at the sky at the injustice of it all. I am now the colour of a walnut; a toasted walnut.
Like many Irish children of my generation, I was raised amid family accusations of paleness. Aunts would nod with satisfaction at the cousin who appeared to have changed ethnicity as a result of one sunny summer in Kilkee, then look at the white orb of my face with a gentle, disappointed tut. Limerick accents would declare that I was “very peeel”. I had been sent on expeditions into the sun, but would return most often looking like some sort of ham-based food, and so such efforts were given up for good.
The latent judgment was always there, however. Awed exclamations of “he looks almost Italian!” would be uttered at the sight of my less vampiric cousins, and it took me a while to embrace the whiteness of my complexion.
Over the years, however, I’ve grown fond of my pale skin. I like the fact that being so fair in a country dipped in false tan sets me apart. At least it did until this week.
I am standing in the nip – apart from a paper thong and a hair net, which somehow looks more naked than nudity – being sprayed with what appears to be a power hose by a benevolent stranger. As she calmly recommends that I really should visit Donegal, in the pleasant, lilting accent of that place, I pretend that I’m not naked, writhing with discomfort or striking various strongman poses. The poses are necessary so that she can spray nooks I would rather leave unsprayed. It is somewhat traumatic.
Smelling of biscuits
Back at reception outside, I am sticky and smell mildly of biscuits, and wondering how my life has got me here. While I wait, three women come in, panicked, saying that they are going on holiday this week and need a variety of procedures to “look acceptable”. Waxing, tanning, nails. Of course, everyone should be free to do whatever they want with their own bodies, but it makes me rather sad that these women are distressed by the idea of a holiday in their natural state.
Needing a tan to be in the sun seems slightly crazed. Why is it embarrassing to not dye yourself the admittedly lovely colour of the native people of a Mediterranean country?
At home, I have to keep the sticky tan on for four hours before I can shower, but I’m already looking somewhat orange, and it isn’t because the brand of tan or the salon weren’t reputable. I have avoided false tan for my whole life for two reasons: I’m happy to be pale, and false tan does not mimic a real tan. It is orange. It looks obvious, always. Unless it is so light as to make almost no difference, it has an orange hue, and that’s the end of it.
I shower and go to bed, but I am promptly informed that I smell like onion bhajis and that “perhaps the formula had turmeric in it”. I respond, glumly. I shower again. When I awake, I still smell like onion bhajis, which makes me wish that I had one for breakfast. Every time I see my own arm or leg, I long for the return of their natural pallor. I would rather be dealing with the pale-girl problem of corned-beef legs than look like an orangutan. There’s only one thing for it: I’ll shower again, glumly.
- Yes to . . . accepting your skin colour. No to . . . orangutan mimicry