Suntanning: Healthy Glows, Vitamin D and Laying Out

Forgive me for I am a little Black girl from the city. I never think of the sun and I don't care for it. I've slowly gained an appreciation. Just know this is coming from someone who once thought of the sun as unforgiving and cruel. I never exactly preferred dark skies, humidity and rain - I just didn't know the "benefits" of the sun. Again, I've avoided the beach. I've never gone on real vacations. I've also spent the majority of my life hiding my hair from the elements. I never correlated joy with the outdoors although I go camping. When I camp I'm usually indoors or out to play after dark.There has never been any wanted act of soaking up actual rays. Tanning on La Playa was my first ever experience with "utilizing" the sun. I've never understood the act of tanning. I never knew why it was necessary. I just rolled with my naivety and always pretended to get it. 

I've heard of getting ones Vitamin D. I think I first heard about this in college. Winter in Savannah, Georgia isn't the most inviting. The weather is in the teens, it rains for weeks on end, the streets flood and the moon takes the place of the sun. When and if there was sun my dorm mates would go jogging or go watch ultimate frisbee in the park. When they would return all sweaty and flushed they raved about getting their vitamin D. Sometimes this involved taking a lunch outdoors or walking the piers. I always tried to feel as they did and it never quite worked for me. When I quit college I became a camp counselor. There I stayed outdoors about 18 hours a day and I taught children about the supposed benefits about being outdoors. I asked that children get exercise, learn sportsmanship, recreation and get plenty of fresh air. I never once discussed the sun. I myself was always slathered in sunscreen, wore ugly caps and preferred to be in the shade. 

As an adult I treat myself to sunlight. I bask in it during the occasional walk, a sunroof or through sunglasses. I went through a tube top phase and noticed my tan lines and at times I'd skip the SPF and purposely try to gain an "even" color. I'm known to put on nothing but baby oil, a strapless maxi dress and drive around to get a "healthy glow". I pride myself on telling people I too can "tan"! I've even worked in cosmetics and told women of all colors to wear bronzer daily. I applied self-tanner to friends. The benefits of vitamin D still completely unknown and then I come to France. There is nothing like broken sunlight on ones back on a cold French day. You quickly learn to walk on the opposite side of the street to catch the sun. At times after days of rain and gloom there was a real need for vitamin D. Now I could see the health benefits, the refuge and all out privilege to be in the presence of our sun. 

As many "other" friends as I've had I've never experienced the act of "laying out". All my white friends are "burners" - incredibly pale people who don't tan and only sunburn. These are people I went to water parks and beaches to merely drink with. One of these people actually asked me why the beach had no trees. Clearly these individuals were just as inexperienced in the art of tanning. So no one really taught me or showed me how to get a "suntan". She was to inadvertently show me what tanning was all about. In just a few trips to the beach in Spain she taught me the ins, outs and what not to do with tanning. Oddly enough, I've been at the beach and pool with her before. I guess I never paid attention those other times or there was an overcast. In Barcelona, my friend bought tanning lotion. She also aspired to gain an actual tan. She also made it her business to lay out. While she ignored me I carefully observed the process. 

So in my eyes the process entailed lathering oneself in oily lotion that would bake and seal in a desired color. Once the said color is achieved on one side one turns to the other side to secure color there. Once all sides are even i.e. baked for the same amount of time one gets up and runs to the salty ocean water to "cool off" or in my opinion "blanch". Once up and away from the shoreline the only way to tell if you did it right is to check ones tan lines. My friend had single handedly ruined hers. I can't be sure if she laid on one side too long, the sun got harsher as she turned or I blocked sunlight from her arm but there was a visible line of demarcation on her upper arm. At first it was funny and then it became unsightly. It became something to fix on upcoming beach days and when getting dressed it was a stain, a huge bruise and a regretted tattoo on her skin. So we constantly worked to scrub the line away or fill it back up with sunlight. Meanwhile the rest of her was golden and sun-kissed and I was black as tar. I became so black that I could no longer see darkness in my knees and elbows. The only tan line I had was my purse strap across my shoulder and my thong sandal lines between my toes. 

While she decorated her tan with Spanish off brand coconut lotion and red orange nail polish I was trying to hide my new status as thee morena of Spain. Trust me what followed was a strange celebrity of being the darkest one on the street, at the bar, in the hotel and on the beach. I stopped people, they stopped me, they gawked and at first I wanted to hide. I soon grew to love my new color actually attempting to even it all out in Malaga. I never quite did the research but older men gravitated towards me there. Something about me walking down the street in a head wrap, a tie dyed maxi skirt and a sheer top made them crazy. I was actually grabbed at a few times, one day we counted all the "gaupas" and two men actually ran to me. I came to my own conclusions. I assumed there had been some mass exodus of sistas to or from Malaga and the men now age 50 and up were entranced by me. Me in pearl earrings and cateyed sunglasses on la playa - I was a short lived summer in 1963. I know after some time it annoyed her so I reveled in it. I'd found the secret to endless compliments and attention without trying. Meanwhile, her entire livelihood was hell bent on trying too hard when she was impeccably beautiful doing nothing at all. In actually, no one cares about a tan because those guys thought I came to this Earth like that. If they could only see me now. Her line finally faded unbeknownst to either one of us. I retained my color until I returned home. Each day it washed off just like a real, artificial or purchased tan. Yet I still kept my glow. 

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