Monday, August 30, 2010

Rebel Without a Clue

Big has drawn a line in the sand. Specifically, the Jersey Shore. Up until now,she would wear the full body pink bathing suit meticulously chosen from the children's catalog for its coverage/spf ratio. If it was zipped up,it covered every cancer prone part of her sweet little three year old body-except her face. That was slathered with sunscreen and forcibly hatted with a matching spf swim hat. She was proud to prance about in her pink bodysuit, buying wholesale my advice that it was really the best choice she could make. She and her sister looked like some strange girlie hazmat unit on assignment as they dug in the sand in their matching ensembles. They could frolic on the beach in the blistering three o'clock sun without getting fried, we saved a fortune on sunscreen, and no pervs ogled any part of her body but her strong Scottish ankles and kumquat shaped toes.

I am not Muslim, but I want their bathing suits-aptly and sadly named "burkinis"- which are exactly as you'd imagine. An adult sized full body bathing suit in a cute color with a matching deep sea diving style hood. No unsightly flab, no damaging sun, no surprise bosom escapes that no one tells you about until you go to the bathroom. Aside from the gasps and stares-what's not to like?

Well, this year it was all fine with the big pink suits until she saw her cousins wearing bikinis. The cousins are also sisters, each slightly older than mine by a few months,who happen to have gorgeous olive skin that turns caramel colored in the sun.My children have alabaster skin that turns fire engine red in the sun. Big took one look at the divine polka dotted bottoms and the adorable bow in the back of the top and kicked her full body suit to the curb. She literally threw it across the room when I asked her to put on her bathing suit. Luckily, I brought her yellow one piece with the tutu around the bottom in case we swam in a pool. It is super cute but not even close to a bikini. I have an aversion to little girls in bikinis.Too soon is all I can say. They have plenty of time to discover the joys of dressing provocatively when they get older. However, I did let her wear the yellow one to the beach with her cousins after a serious one sided discussion about the dangers of overexposure to the sun. She tearfully clung to the yellow suit, begging for the very same sunscreen she'd slapped away just one day before. I held my ground for the first five minutes in favor of the long pink suit,but eventually gave in because I really don't want her to have a complex. We are pale people, but no one is going to end up in a side show because of it. She sashayed to the beach in her yellow bathing suit,her body glistening with sunscreen. I did make her wear a hat as part of the deal until they got into the water.

I am so insane about this issue because I spent most of my youth frying in the sun. Every photograph of me is squinty and freckled. I am certain I will pay for it later. I have yet to take one of those infrared photos that shows you exactly how ruined your skin is, but eventually I will have to because I expect it will be bad. In middle school I slathered baby oil along side my peers on my pale thighs and ended up fire engine red and/or freckled while everyone else turned golden brown. I stopped in eighth grade after it just seemed like a whole lot of effort to peel for three weeks afterward. By ninth grade I had resolved that this was me and I wasn't going to be able to change it. I was reminded of my differentness when a popular girl in my class,with gorgeous tan legs, stopped me on the way to gym one afternoon and peered at my legs with concern. She pressed a manicured finger onto my upper thigh and pulled it back, saying,"you really need a tan". I mumbled something in response, resisting the urge to say "Well, you fucking moron, if you knew anything about genetics, you would know just by looking at me that what you just said is as offensive as if you told a black person to lighten up a little. It's just not possible." She wasn't wrong, I suppose, as pale skin just doesn't look as nice as tan skin does when exposed in public. I wore shorts only when mandatory and phased them out entirely when I was liberated from high school.

Watching Big prance and play in the yellow bathing suit gave me mixed feelings because I want her to cherish her pale skin and not try and make it something else like I did. I want her to protect it and not envy other people's golden tans. Unless she goes the spray tan route, she will always be pale. She will try to tan with the sun and she will get freckles-lots and lots of freckles. When I was in my twenties, I tried self tanner and ended up with a lovely golden hue. I was delighted until I went to the gym and noticed that the tanner seeped through my clothes when I perspired, leaving gigantic brown sweat stains everywhere. I must have looked like I was bleeding internally as I made a hasty exit from the gym. I tried rub on bronzer but,again, any contact with moisture rendered me an instant leper, with blotchy, patchy skin. I also ordered those melatonin pills from a magazine ad but was dissuaded by the carrot color of the "after" pictures they had in the brochure.

I used to tell myself that when I was sixty, I will have beautiful skin while everyone else will look like old shoes. Dermatology has come a long way and, now that face transplants are available, the playing field is definitely leveled in that respect. However, the cancer thing will always be an issue, and with the common recommendation being "avoid the sun between 10 and 4 daily" I can only hope that my vigilance with my girls will pay off down the road.And let's be honest-aside from the cancer issue- my resolve to avoid the sun is also a modesty issue. After two kids and forty one years, Victoria's Secret isn't offering me a modeling contract anytime soon, so I choose to remain a mystery to everyone but my immediate family. My girls love to pat my belly roll before I get in the shower or jiggle my behind while I get dressed. They think it is hilarious that I go to the beach in a hat, leggings and a linen tunic. I will say that,while a few other people at the Shore wore sunhats, I was certainly the only person wading in the water with their clothes on. Frankly, there were several people staring at me in their bathing suits who could've used a few more clothes themselves.

I want my girls to appreciate their bodies for what they are and not spend their teens and twenties wishing they were different like I did. I realize now that my body is beautiful, despite the parts that make me cringe, and that I need to regard it as such. It tells the story of me in every wrinkle,freckle, spider vein and pound of unshed baby weight and, if I am lucky, I will be in it for many many years to come. In the words of Popeye the Sailor "I 'yams whats I ams, and dats all that I 'yams" so I might as well choose to be happy about it. Perhaps it will rub off on my little ones like the self tanner that dyed my palms a lovely lingering shade of burnt sienna all those years ago.

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