West coast has the sunshine
and the girls all get so tanned.
I dig a French bikini on Hawaii island
dolls by a palm tree in the sand.
Boys, “California Girls”
The drunk guy coming out of the Dunkin’ Donuts held the door
open for me.
you look just like that girl on TV. That—uh—whatshername?
That Donna Summer.”
Well, that was a new one.
Because I really don’t look anything at all like Donna Summer.
For one thing, I don’t have a cascade of shining black hair.
I don’t usually wear sequin bustiers and earrings the size
of pancake turners. I don’t have a naughty smile that suggests
I work hard for my money (so hard for it, honey). But most
of all, I don’t have skin the color of dark, melted caramel
because I am a very pale, Caucasian woman.
I have skin the color of Casper, the Friendly Ghost. True,
I’m not exactly see-through, the way Casper was. But I am
pale enough to have inspired more than one snow-blinded beau
to say to me at one time or another, “Boy, you have really
No kidding—do I really?
My whole life I’ve wanted a tan. Because I wanted tan lines.
Because the Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost look just isn’t dish-y.
Because I wanted to be one of those girls whose flesh never
jiggles when they walk on the beach—and it’s the tan that
creates that non-jiggling illusion (it is an illusion,
So I started young, following tips from Seventeen magazine.
I used all kinds of different oils and lotions and all kinds
of tanning techniques.
I would place and re-place my beach towel in order to maximize
my exposure to the sun’s rays.
I turned myself slowly—like a kebab on a grill—in order to
try for an even tan. More than once I ended up looking like
a candy cane, red sunburn stripes alternating with my arctic-white
By the time I was about 15 I had decided that the only way
for me to tan was through suffering. I would simply lie out,
slick with baby oil, and fry myself to a red crisp. It hurt
like hell, but after a few days the red would give way to
a blotchy kind of tan and I could almost imagine the Beach
Boys were singing about me.
Over time I gave up my scorch and burn policy. Not even out
of concern for future wrinkles or greater horrors, but because
it was so painful and time- consuming. I decided that I was,
for better or for worse, pale.
And not only that, but pale with attitude. Me, get a spray-on
tan? I’d sooner marry a tennis pro. Me, visit a tanning salon?
I’d sooner wear a golf skirt. Did I develop a chip on my pale
shoulder? You bet I did. But I also figured I had no real
alternative. I would never be the Frisbee-throwing, healthy-glowing
girl on the beach.
And then a couple of years ago I heard about the new breed
of self-tanners that were really supposed to work. These were
self-tanners that didn’t turn you the color freshly-baked
butternut squash. And they were designed to look okay on even
the most Morticia-white of skins.
Desire makes people believe the most unlikely things.
Anyway, I bought one of these new self-tanners. I was heading
to Florida. I had a new bathing suit. I wanted a new look.
The night before the flight I spent an hour in the bathroom
applying it smoothly and evenly. I, Casper Jo, was finally
going to have a tan.
Trouble is, the next day in the airport bathroom my daughter
Madeleine asked me, “What’s wrong with your leg, Mom?”
Linnea, my other daughter, said, “I was wondering, too. What’s
that . . . right there?” she pointed to my right calf.
My right calf sported a racing stripe the color of the Tour
de France’s yellow jersey.
there, too,” she said, pointing again, “Down by your ankle.
It looks a little bit like mustard.”
Madeleine asked in that voice she reserves for reminding me
what a simpleton I am, “Mom, have you gotten into a bottle
you think anyone will notice?” I whispered.
course they’ll notice,” she replied crisply. “We noticed.
And we aren’t even out in bright sunlight on a beach. We’re
in a bathroom stall inside the airport.”
make it any worse than it is,” I said.
But hope dies hard.
This year I bought another new bathing suit. This year I’m
going to do another round with a new-and-improved self-tanner.
A friend—with naturally honey- golden skin—gave me advice
that sounded simple:
shave and exfoliate. Rub the lotion in really well. And, then,
when you’re done, make sure you wash your hands. And wait
ten minutes before getting dressed”
Sounds easy, but try it. Shaving, exfoliating, rubbing the
lotion in really well, scrubbing your hands and then
passing ten minutes with gratuitous flossing or re-reading
old People magazines takes a hell of a chunk out of
a day. Not only that, but so far the only result I’ve noticed
is that I smell like the self-tanner.
It’s not a bad smell. But smelling and looking are not the
same thing. And I am still looking for my tan.
I mean, I could grow to accept some unnatural coloration in
my kneecaps. I could cotton to a little jaundice in my soles.
Nothing’s perfect, it seems.
But just once—for the sake of nothing less than national unity
and world peace—I wish we could all be California girls.