Welcome back to Lady Things, the column in which we scuba dive into the muddy waters of womanhood.

We've been gone for a week, vacationing on a tropical isle, drinking bubbly drinks in rainbow colors. Or at least, that's probably what you'll think when you see our healthy glow.

lady_things2This week, I decided to go deep into a feminine ritual I have long watched inquisitively from a far: the fake tan.

I grew up in Oregon and back in the old days, before you carpetbaggers were here, we had wet, dark, long winters. If you were in the Portland area this weekend and looked outside, you would have gotten a tiny taste of what we used to experience for roughly eight months a year. In those days, also known as the '90s, fake tanning was super popular. Everyone was kinda sure it caused cancer, but the variety of rationalizations for spending 10 or 15 minutes under ultraviolet light was wide. Some people did it to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some people did it before prom. Some people did it to "get a base" before they went on a mid-winter vacation to Arizona.

I have never been a tanning person. Besides the fact that I avoided things that caused cancer religiously until I was about 22, there was also the fact that I am lazy, nearsighted and have a mother who doesn't know how to apply eye shadow. Tanning was never a part of my life and when I got sad in the winter, my parents suggested exercise.

Still, I believe in experimentation and the scientific method and now that I am 33, I am less concerned with occasional exposure to carcinogens, since I am like 96 percent sure I will die of some kind of cancer if a car doesn't run me over first. Also, I am older now, so any physical attractiveness I could scrounge up just by being young and fresh-faced is slowly dissipating. As such, I decided to try the experience of fake tanning.

Most people have heard the history of the tan-as-beautiful trend. An alabaster-white shut-in Victorian used to be the most prized type of woman to have or be but thanks to Hollywood and probably a teen Brooke Shields, now the sun-kissed glow of late summer afternoons is the beauty standard for all women who want to appear young and fertile.

There is nothing I would love more than to have strangers look at me and subconsciously think I am young and fertile. If a little simulated sunlight and some chemicals is all it takes to make that happen, well, why not?

Let us start, as we must, with a before picture:

The author, sad, wet and creepily taking a picture of her stomach outside where the light is better.
The author, sad, wet and creepily taking a picture of her stomach outside where the light is better.

On Saturday, as the classic Oregon rain rained down, I walked to the Palm Beach Tan on Northeast Broadway.

A very nice man with bleached blond hair and manicured eyebrows greeted me at the desk. I had already decided on a tanning cocktail, which seemed to me to be the best deal: six minutes (the FDA-set limit) in the tanning bed and then a spray tan. Immediately, he tried to up-sell me. "If you get a membership and you tan even twice a month, it pays for itself and you get the Beauty Angel red light therapy whenever you want."

While I'd never heard anyone so perfectly mix the Madonna-Whore Complex into one brand name, I decided I didn't need to spring for "Beauty Angel red light therapy" or a membership. He then told me I was required by law to purchase "eyewear" and that he wouldn't ever even dream of tanning without the special lotion which was, luckily for everyone, on sale.

My cocktail package, which over the phone came to the quoted price of $39 ended up being $55.12. He scanned my fingerprint for dubious reasons ("in case you end up getting a membership") and led me into my first room.

Is PRISM connected to Palm Beach Tan?
Is PRISM connected to Palm Beach Tan?

Tanning is not for the claustrophobic. It is for the person who loves the aesthetic of the Drive movie poster.


I slathered my body in the lotion that promised to make all other women tremble in fear when they saw my ColorAttract™bronze SkinStatus™, dripping with AvocaDew™moisture.


The tanning bed may be a known causer of cancer, but it also had an iPod hook-up, so I put on Adele, laid down in the futuristic spaceship cryosleep deck, put on my "eyewear," pulled the cover down over over my body and pushed what I thought was start (I am exceptionally blind without my glasses).

The futuuuuuure!
The futuuuuuure!

The federally mandated six minute maximum is barely enough for two Adele songs, but it is enough to feel both nicely warm and absolutely terrified. I thought about earthquakes and laying out at the beach, which led me to thinking about tsunamis and then just how easy it would be to murder me while I lay naked in a dark room wearing bug goggles. I was glad when the UV lights switched off and I could get out of the sun coffin.

The next part of my beauty cocktail was the spray tan. A tanning bed is scary, and the cancer risk is obvious, but somehow a spray tan seems worse. What is in the spray and how quickly will it kill me if I get it in the wrong orifice?

According to this scary ABC News report, the dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, in spray tans "has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage" when it's inhaled, which it kind of says on this poster. I couldn't read it though, because I can't read anything with my glasses off.

Another poster in the room was much more fun. I also couldn't really read anything but I managed a blurry picture. I couldn't wait for my Confidence™ to appear!


Spray tanning is complicated. I tried to follow the directions the front desk guy gave me, that were also outlined on another poster, but felt certain I'd missed something.

This does not seem easy.
This does not seem easy.

No one ever mentioned to me before that you had to use nose plugs when you went into a spray tan booth.


In the booth, even though I didn't yet know that DHA would mutate my genes, I tried not to breathe through my mouth. It was impossible. I pushed a button, a voice started talking to me and the chemical mist attack began.

A spray machine mists your body, dries you, tells you to turn and then mists you again. Your body gets misted a total of four times and then you are supposedly dry and ready to go.

When the machine told me to, I stepped out and removed my safety gear and immediately wondered how much of the spray got in through my ears.

As I got ready to leave and put on my shoes, the blond man said, "Try to stay dry! You don't want streaking."

Outside, the rain got harder.

You aren't supposed to get wet for eight hours or so after you get a spray tan. I did my best, though there were a few moments when the rain hit my hands and my pants were pretty damp by the time I made it to my Car2Go.

Later that night at dinner with my family I said, "I need to be careful not to get my spray tan wet," and my boyfriend said, "I'd be okay with you never saying that phrase again."

The next day, the tan showed up. Apparently, I hadn't applied enough barrier lotion to my hands:

At breakfast, again with my family, my brother said, "Your nose looks orange."

Outside, I took more creepy pictures of my body while my confused family shook their heads.


So, did my fake tan cocktail turn me beautiful, damn the cancer, gene mutating consequences? Did it give me an effortless glow? Turn me from a woman in her mid-30s in sweatpants whose eggs are quickly drying up into a beautiful pretty princess?

You be the judge.


I think that what I realized is a spray tan required a lot of make-up. It's like a base for a pound of foundation, blush, pink lipstick and dark eye makeup. Without those things, which require a ton of effort I am obviously not willing to put in, the fake tan accentuated my huge pores, rendered my lips colorless and ultimately made me look like an old, dried-up Oompa Loompa. Plus, you know, the cancer.

There is only one conclusion to draw from this experiment and that is if you want to be beautiful, it is much, much better to be naturally beautiful.

So, how do you become naturally beautiful? Tune in next week when I take steps to make not only my body more beautiful but my soul more beautiful too.

Also, if you have any lady things you really think I should test out, leave your ideas in the comments!