I faced a dilemma in my closet this morning — one only pasty, white girls like me understand.
The morning weatherman told me to prepare for a hot and humid day. Sounds good. One of the best parts of being a woman (with a nod to Shania Twain) is the prerogative to wear a dress or skirt to work.
But here’s where the dilemma comes in. I have a lot of cute, summer dresses. But I truly don’t think the world is ready to see my legs. I’m not being overly sensitive here. I’m being realistic. The shock of white reflecting off my legs to my co-workers could be blinding.
But concerns for other people’s ocular health is just one of many challenges faced by we pasty, white girls.
1. Wardrobe Troubles
Not only do we have to be constantly aware that our skin tone will be hurting people’s eyes, we have to carefully consider how colors look on us. When we wear black, we immediately look goth. We frighten young children with our Wednesday Addams impression.
White isn’t much better. It’s hard to see where the white shirt ends and our arms begin. Remember when those milk mustaches ads were all the rage? I was working as a TV news reporter back then. I was assigned to do a fun little live report when the Milk Mustache Mobile came to town. They were asking people to stop by, take a swig of milk, then snap photos of themselves with their own milk mustaches. What you may or may not know is that the milk mustaches famous in this ad campaign didn’t come from regular milk.
To have it really show up on camera, they mix the milk with a little vanilla ice cream to make it cling to the lip better and show up on camera. That’s the idea anyway. I did my report, then took a swig of the concoction on camera thinking that I was showing off a great milk mustache. As the anchor back in the studio pointed out, my milk mustache didn’t even show up. Milk on milky skin is a bust.
2. Safety vs Vanity
You’ve all heard those people that go to tanning salons or lay out to get a “base tan” before going on some tropical vacation. Aside from the fact, that dermatologists say there is no such thing as a safe “base tan,” people like me can’t get a base tan. We have two shades: sour cream or cooked lobster. I mentioned to a co-worker of mine that I admired her deep golden tan. She told me her color came from just two weekends in the sun.
Holy hell fire.
I could lay out on the white hot sand beaches of planet Mercury and I would never get that dark, let alone from a couple of weekends outside. I’d hate her, but I choose not to hate people based on their skin color. Still, I am tempted in the earliest days of summer to forgo the sunscreen, just to get a little color. Can’t I just slightly baste my skin like a chicken breast in the saute pan? That would be no. For me, the burner is always on high and my skin starts to sizzle.
3. Comments, Questions, Concerns, Criticism
“Are you okay?”
“You look a little sick.”
“You need to get outside once in awhile.”
Those are all things I’ve been asked. Here are my answers:
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“No, really, I’m fine. I’m just fair-skinned.”
“Go to hell.”
Okay, maybe I didn’t really say that last thing. But I wanted to.
Once while wearing a pair of shorts someone asked me if I was wearing white tights. Another time I was speaking at an elementary school career day l when I asked the students if they had any questions about my career as a broadcast journalist. Instead, one little boy asked me why my skin was so white. The teacher turned red.
It’s not quite fair but people make assumptions about you if you don’t possess the “healthy glow” of a tan. You’re sick or you’re an anti-social vampire cooped up in your house all day. Other very sweet souls will say, “Oh, you’re so lucky to have pale skin. You’ll never get skin cancer.” While I appreciate their well-intended words, they actually have it backwards. We pale folks are more likely to get skin cancer. I’m not pale because I stay out of the sun to protect myself. I’m pale because I was born this way and any exposure to the sun is a lot more dangerous for me than you.
4. Self Tanner Troubles
We pasty folk try to fit in with you “normal” folk by slathering self-tanners on ourselves. (It is the solution for me when I want to wear a dress to work in the summer time.) But self-tanner comes with it’s own set of troubles: mainly ankles, knees and elbows. No matter how hard you try it’s hard to get a smooth application on rough areas of your body. Your thighs might look toasty and golden, but your feet look like you were staining your deck.
Self-tanners have gotten a lot better in recent years. Remember QT? I tried it as a pasty teen back in the ‘70s. QT stood for “Quick Tan,” but its application was so clunky on hands and feet that I was forced to wear mittens when I went to the convenience store to buy my Pop Rocks and Tab.
I was happy to see a couple of years ago, that the British drama Downton Abbey was inspiring women to embrace their pale skin. On the flip side, some women of color found this to be a disturbing trend. What would it be like if we could all embrace the color of skin we were born with and stop trying to be what we’re not? And while we’re at it, I’d like to buy the world a Coke, too.
5. Do you want to build a snowman?
Hey, we like summer like anyone, but we of the pasty variety don’t mind when the hot rays of summer go away. The air gets cooler and all you people with the gorgeous brown legs have to cover up. Fall is the great equalizer. And winter? You are fabulous, Old Man Winter. Pale looks okay in winter. We don’t stick out like Rudolph’s red nose anymore.
In the grand scheme of things, I know this is very much a first-world problem, so please don’t send me any angry emails. I’m just glad that society seems to be a little more accepting of all kinds of skin colors.
I grew up playing with Malibu Barbie and hoping upon hope that all my freckles would just blend together to make a one big tan. I slathered baby oil on my body and laid on top of my parents’ black Buick sizzling like a French fry in a deep fat fryer.
But I don’t see my daughters doing that and I couldn’t be happier. They’ve grown up wearing sunscreen as part of the “Baby on Board” generation. They proudly walk around in their shorts with their white skin showing. Of course, I think it looks great. I also think that about other people who seem to embrace their pastiness. Now I just need to start seeing it in myself.