Tanning, Teasing, and Closure

I know you’re not supposed to care about what your exes – or ex-friends – think of you now but I’m going to spit in the face of this norm because I have something very important to announce:


There are two things I was teased about as a child and teenager. The first was my picky eating, which was a big pain to my extended family, and thus a big source of torment. After discovering a number of food intolerances, I got to tell everyone (1) it wasn’t pickiness, it was stomach aches, headaches, and genuine misery and (2) I love a much wider variety of foods now that I am healthy. The other big “tease” was my pale skin.

Every summer, I’d spend a little time outside and come back inside with one or more vicious sunburns. Sun block didn’t seem to help, and the “sunburn” never faded to a glowing tan. It just peeled away to reveal more white skin. The walk to the mailbox left me with freckles, too, which was impressive during boring summer afternoons.

I tried to blame my Irish and English heritage. With some Cherokee throw-back on both sides, every so often we had a single family member who could tan like a mamma jamma. My mom was one of them. Side by side in pictures before she died, I look quite stolen with whitish-blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes.

Through high school, I dated my ex-husband who was half Native American. His pale was darker than my dark, and it was frequently a topic of teasing at his home. In the early summertime, his dad would poke and prod as I’d climb out of the pool saying “Hot damn you’re pale girl.” Yes, he’d had a few beers and it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but it still hurt. I was a teenage girl after all.

My cousins could tan, my dad and mom could tan, and my boyfriend was practically made of tan, so I was plagued with a mix of envy and a strange feeling that something was amiss. Most importantly, I did not have that lovely porcelain or olive skin most people who were naturally fair had. Mine looked like it should be tan and appeared unhealthy in contrast.

Years passed and every summer I would attempt to get a tan. I’d announce my game plan, with beach towel and swimsuit in hand, and my ex-husband would laugh and say, “Remember last year?”

“Yes,” I’d say, “but I’m going to keep trying.” A lot of people would applaud me for my tenacity and grit. He would just laugh to himself and step out of my way. His laughter only egged me on, though. As trivial as it might be to the rest of the world, it felt important. This was my Goliath.

About two years after giving up gluten for good – the approximate amount of time it should take someone my age to heal from the harmful food – I began being able to brown just a bit. It took hours, starting in early spring, but there it was. The sunburns became less frequent and faded into slight tans. Last summer, I survived without sunburn despite many hours spent outside in the heat.

In the fall, I was diagnosed and treated for severe Vitamin D deficiency. In addition to a boost in my mood, it is April 29th and I’m tan. It’s a glowing, unburned, tan the same shade as my dad’s. Now we have more than just the same eyes!

Also, I win.

My ex-husband and his family do not play a part in my life today but – without fail – I think about my former in-laws and their well-meaning barbs whenever I see my brown skin in the mirror. It’s funny how these things stick with you. And how they can drive you to prove people wrong.

Anyway, if anybody sees them, tell them I say I love ‘em but they can all suck it. This Irish girl has a tan!