Tanned In the Place Where You Live

I’d like to think I’ll try anything once. (Here’s the point where stee shouts “Woo-hoo!” jumps up from his computer and starts making a list of all my female friends, ranked in order of hotness.)

So when Hilary called a couple of weeks ago to ask if I’d be interested in getting a fake tan with her, I waited until she said she’d pay for it before I agreed.

I’m a pale girl. Writers don’t usually get to spend that many hours outside, and you know, the sun is bad for you. I wear sunscreen. And jeans. But eventually I’ll have to get these pictures taken that will be seen for the rest of my life, so that makes you start thinking crazy thoughts about yourself. Like: “I wish my hair would be longer by the wedding. Maybe I should wear extensions.” Answer from my stylist-adjacent friend: “Are you nuts? Those would cost eight hundred dollars, and you’re just going to pile them up on top of your head anyway.”

But Hilary gets me thinking about the fake tan, to which Liz responds, “Brides are crazy. My other friend who’s getting married is about to try the same fake tan. Nobody wants an orange wife, Pamie dot com.”

At lunch before our appointment, Hilary and I share any tips we’ve heard from other people who have already braved the fake tan.

“They’ll put stuff on your palms and nails so they don’t tan,” she tells me.

“Sian said you have to raise your arms so it tans under your boobs. I might have to do a backbend.”

“Yeah. How are you going to get under there without touching them?”

“I have no idea. Is this stuff going to get on my bra?”

“They said it all washes out of clothes.”

“What if I forget to close my eyes?”

“What if I forget to close my mouth?”

“This has the potential to go horribly wrong.”

“I can’t believe we’re both about to go out of town.”

“We’re idiots.”

Hil and I show up at the spa and get bummed out when we realize we could have ordered a massage that uses self-tanner. “That’s what I want,” she says. “Me too.” Instead we have somehow ordered up an airbrush tan.

We sign forms that say we understand we can’t sue the spa no matter what. There’s a warning not to inhale when the tanner is in your face. We’re dealing with all kinds of smarts here in Los Angeles, you guys.

Hil goes first, entering a nearby booth. I sit in my robe and flip through a Maxim. I can hear Hil chatting with the woman hosing her down with paint.

I decide to ask the woman at the front desk a few questions. “Will this fade evenly?”

“You have to moisturize every single day, and in about four days it’ll start to fade. But if you moisturize and exfoliate, it’ll come off just fine. Or you could buy these products, which will make the tan last longer.”

“I’m going out of town. Are you sure I won’t be all blotchy?”

“If you’re going out of town, I’d buy this tan extender. Then you don’t have to worry about it. It’s forty dollars.”

“No thanks. Hey, will this hurt my clothes?”

“No, it all washes right out.”

Minutes later Hilary emerges, looking much browner than when she went in. “I splurged for the gold shimmer,” she tells me, twisting her arm in the sunlight. “See?”

“Yep.” She looked like she’d just come back from a two-week vacation in Cancun.

“It’s going to get darker over the next four hours,” she tells me. I try to imagine just how dark she’ll be. I get scared.

It’s my turn. I walk into the booth and say as quietly as possible, “I don’t want to be that tan.”

“Okay,” she says, putting a shower cap on my head. “Do you want the shimmer?”


“We can spray you with something that’s clear and the tan comes in later, or you can get the tan now, which will get darker over the next six to eight hours.”

“What’s the difference?”

“One’s more fun because you can see the tan now.”

“But the clear one is better for my clothes?”

“No, it washes right out of your clothes.”

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this shit did not wash right out of my clothes and has ruined one of my pretty, pristine white Victoria’s Secret bras. Those things are not cheap, and it was dumb of me not to wear the black one to the tanning place.

“I just want it to be very light. And not as tan on my face as the rest of my body. Barely a tan on my face.”

“Now, your friend is much paler than you are, and she braved the real tan.”

“Yes, well.”

“You don’t want to look like you just got back from vacation?”

“I want to look like I once in a while get outside.”

She puts cotton in my ears and moisturizer on my hands. Then I stand, naked, on a box. There’s a mirror across the booth from me, but it wisely only shows me from the chest up. If I had to stand naked, staring at myself full-length with my arms extended while someone airbrushed me with paint, I’m pretty sure I would have left. It was already making me ashamed of myself.

The paint is cold and the room is colder and all I could think of was how close this woman was to my totally naked body. Wait. I was wearing a shower cap. Sexy!

Speaking of sexy, she got to my chest. “I’m going to lift now,” she says, and holds my breast up as she paints underneath. She must have seen the slightly mortified look on my face because she goes, “Every girl with real boobs has to get the lift. That’s your curse for being blessed with them.”


“It’s weird when women come in here with these huge breasts that don’t need to be lifted at all. Sixty-year old women with these large balls on their bodies. Or the girls who don’t need bras because they’re so stiff and fake. It’s scary.”

“Yeah, that’s weird.”

“Turn around and bend over slightly.”

And that’s when I thought of all of you, sweet readers. As that woman airbrushed my ass, all I could think was, “How did we come up with this? Why are we all doing it? Why is someone willing to paint naked women for a living? Am I bending over too far?” And finally, “At least I have a story for my fucking website.”

Arms out, bent at the waist, paint in my ass crack, I again had that moment. “Damn you, Los Angeles,” I thought. “You are a weird place to live.”

I get no warning before she sprays my face, so of course I’m inhaling at the same time because that’s how my life goes.

For those of you wondering… Uh, she totally paints everywhere.

I walked out of the booth. “Your face looks great!” Hil says. “You look really glowy.”

We walked to our cars. Hil got a look at herself in the mirror. “Oh, my God! My face is so dark!”

“I think if you shower right now you’ll stop the tanning,” I tell her, concerned about the dark shade her face has taken. She drives off and I don’t see her again for a couple of weeks, so I never found out how dark her tan got.

Four hours later I was happy with my arms and legs. My clothes screwed up the tan in parts, where my bra hit my body, the waistband of my jeans. I wish they’d told me to wear loose-fitting clothing. Not that anybody was going to see the parts of the tan that had wiped off on my clothes, but it did leave me with a sock tan that prevented me from wanting to wear sandals. My white bra was totally brown the next morning, and I threw out a pair of white panties that looked like they’d been through hell. I’ve washed the bra five times now, and it’s faded to a light tan.

My tan faded in about six days. Only one day seemed a bit blotchy. I covered myself in moisturizer until it faded away. I don’t know that I’d ever do that again. Nobody seemed to notice, and that might very well be because I did the lightest possible setting, but I’m not sure it’s worth sixty bucks. I’m thinking a bottle of self-tanner, a pair of gloves and an energetic fiance can get the job done cheaper and with much more fun.

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