Do you think you look better with a tan?
A lot of us naturally pale people do. Fashion historians date the advent of the stylish suntan to 1923, when Coco Chanel came back from a Riviera cruise on the Duke of Westminster's yacht sporting a bronze tint. Not long after, Vogue started using tanned models, and that was that.
About 50 years later, I was a child with my nose perpetually in a book. I remember my mother insisting I read in the back yard so that I could "get some color.''
I'd have been happier on the couch. But between my mother, my friends and the media of the day, the pro-tanning message got through, and I've got the skin damage to prove it.
There may be lots of ways in which today's kids are smarter than I was, but tanning isn't one of them.
Last year, the American Academy of Dermatology surveyed teens and young adults under 25 and found that 80 percent said they looked better with a tan. And despite the World Health Organization's declaring them the worst kind of carcinogen, tanning beds remain popular with teens.
A few brave souls in Tallahassee have tried banning access to tanning beds by Florida teens. The best they've managed is to require kids under 18 to get a parent or guardian's signature before tanning. Children under 14 have to have the parent or guardian with them to tan. What special bonding moments those must be!
Nobody should have been surprised last month when acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak announced that cases of melanoma — the deadliest skin cancer — have nearly tripled in the past 30 years.
And unlike with cigarette smoking, another bad habit that teens keep embracing, the damage from tanning does not take decades to show up.
Melanoma "is one of the most common types of cancer amongst U.S. teens and young adults,'' Lushniak told the Washington Post.
Especially for those living in Florida, where it always seems as if somebody you know is at the dermatologist getting something snipped off, you might think skin cancer is no big deal. Tell that to the 9,000 people a year who die of melanoma. Or to the survivors, who undergo painful, scarring surgery and the fear that their cancer might recur.
Lushniak timed his announcement to reach people heading for the beach in August. But for Floridians, sun exposure is a year-round thing.
I have tried to follow the 1-ounce, or "one shot glass," recommendation when it comes to the amount of sunscreen the average adult needs for full coverage. Have you ever measured out a shot of the stuff and smeared it on? That is a lot of sunscreen. Especially considering that you need to reapply whenever you swim or sweat — and every two hours no matter what.
Still, I do my best to slather the stuff onto exposed areas, and I am learning to love protective hats, clothing — and shade.
Recently, a friend told me I looked good. She asked whether I'd been out in the sun.
My heart sank at her well-meant words. I no longer think of a tan as healthy or attractive.
Maybe old habits can die, however hard.