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Commentary: Tanning to death? It won't happen to me

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 29, 2008- Tanning - 1 a: to convert (hide) into leather by treatment with an infusion of tannin-rich bark or other agent of similar effect b: to convert (protein) to leather or a similar substance 2: to make (skin) tan especially by exposure to the sun.

Tanning is something I have done almost all my life. When I was a teenager until I was in my mid-30s, I was lying on a lawn chair from 9:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. I used baby oil rather than tanning oil, because I got darker when I used it. Sun block was never in my medicine cabinet; I didn't want to block the sun, I wanted all of the UVA and UVB rays I could get.

Looking back, I realize that I equated being tan with being pretty. The darker I got, the prettier I thought I was. It was very important to me, and it was a ritual I did every summer. It was every bit a beauty regimen I followed. Some people diet, exercise, and get manicures and pedicures. I tanned. I would look at people who didn't have a tan and feel sorry for them. On the flip side, if I saw someone who was darker than I was, I would be a little jealous. I wouldn't go to a tanning booth, it had to be the sun or not at all. I took days off in the week if I thought it was going to be rainy on the weekend.

My mother used to tell me that I was going to get cancer and/or wrinkles and that I should stop. We had the same discussion every summer; she never gave up trying to get me to stop. I would laugh it off. Those things would not happen to me. I had the 10-foot-tall-and-bullet-proof attitude. I was immune to all of the bad things in life. They all happened to someone else. That is a mistake that quite a few people make, it's not even an age thing. We all think that way to a certain extent.

I haven't gotten skin cancer, but boy was she right about the wrinkles. I am in my 40s now, and I have that "lived in the sun" look. I don't have the permanently leathery complexion, but I have many more wrinkles than I should have. I don't doubt that if I had continued, my chances of getting cancer would have risen dramatically. My sister is just a few years younger than I am, and she doesn't have any where near the damage I do. She listened to my mother, and the results are dramatic.

Logically, I knew that lying in the sun was detrimental to my health and looks, but the satisfaction of the moment outweighed my reason. I wanted to look my best now, no matter what might happen in the future. Besides, it wouldn't happen to me anyway.

I realize now that -- whether it is spending too much time in the sun, smoking, or even using all our fossil fuels without regard to our future generations -- it is all essentially the same self-destructive thinking. It feels great in the moment, and the consequences don't always make themselves known at the time you are doing it. So, you continue and inevitably have to face facts: You are not 10 feet tall or bullet proof.

Lea Harrell is a freelance writer. This article was written through Helium.com , where freelance writers can find topics and submit articles for possible publication.

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