Sunday, September 13, 2009

I walked into the dark, windowless room, flipped the lights, and examined the space-aged looking tanning bed that lay ahead of me. I took off my shoes and then struggled with how many articles of clothing I was supposed to take off. Noticing the already counting down timer, I quickly peeled off my shirt, shorts, and socks and determined I’d leave the rest of what I had on (how often are my other parts exposed anyways…I was pretty sure this was not one of those times I wanted to expose them). I climbed in and lied down on the uncushioned bed, fiddled with the strapless goggle contraption they gave me, and then trapped myself in, closing the top of the bed. My first time getting a “fake” tan. It felt more like being in a coffin than a tanning bed.

I took a few deep breaths, trying to rid my mind of the thoughts a claustrophobic might have. As I was trying to relax, the nagging voice of my mom began to creep into my head. “Fake tanning gives you cancer. You really don’t want to do that Grace.” I tried to shake the tenacious voice from head. “Just relax,” I tried to tell myself. Her nagging always seems to pop into my head at the wrong times. A few minutes later the low-pitched, scolding voice of my conscious popped in my head, quietly repeating, “Cancer, cancer, cancer.” The voice gradually got louder as repentant images of future worst-case scenarios started to swirl around, taking control of my mind. I told my conscious to shut up and then tried to turn over onto my side, only to realize I couldn’t move because I was stuck in this confining bed.

I had always been against fake tanning. I always thought, and still do think, that most of the girls who go to tanning salons look worse than if they didn’t go. Their tans always look like a brash, overly dark shade for the season that they’re in, or some other strange tone of orangish brown. They look fake, which I guess makes sense.

I didn’t want to be one of those superficial college kids, and I especially didn’t want to get addicted like I’d seen many of my friends get. Tanning is like a weekly quick fix for a lot of people. But here I was making myself vulnerable to this addiction, laying in a tanning bed getting one of those disgustingly fake tans. I have always been tanner than most people, but then suddenly everyone around me became all-year-around tan making me for the first time feel somewhat pale. They had all been going to those tanning salons my mom strongly dissuaded me from. As it became a nationwide activity that in my head almost every girl (and some boys too) took part in, I started to gradually become less bitter about tanning salons, and eventually secretly wanted to try the trend out myself. One day I eventually caved in and decided to jump on the bandwagon. I tried to justify my decision with the fact that my gym offered free tanning. So after my workout, I timidly went up to the front desk at my gym and asked for 15 minutes in the tanning bed. What a mistake.

Thoughts of skin damage and cancer popping into my head left and right making me feel like my first instinct was true and maybe this really was a coffin. The World Health Organization just released a study that showed that using tanning beds before age 30 increases risk of skin cancer by 75%....Yikes! It looks like my thoughts weren’t that off track.

For one thing, I definitely wasn’t enjoying myself. People always told me how relaxing it was to go tanning after hitting the gym. I certainly wasn’t relaxed and would’ve rather been out in the light, open air where I could stretch out and cool myself down, not in some dark, tight, life-threatening space.

Before my allotted time was up, I decided I was getting out of the “coffin”. I wasn’t ready to consciously bring on my own death. After doing some later research, I found that melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women ages 25-29. I do not regret my decision to hop out of the tanning bed early.

After standing up, I looked in the mirror and noticed I had tan lines already. No wonder people get addicted to fake tanning. However, most addictions are harmful to the body, and this was one that definitely wasn’t worth it. For me since I couldn’t relax, it wasn’t even appealing, comfortable, or fun in any way.

I guess now I know for next time to stick to the post-workout stretching rather than running upstairs to the death beds.

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