TANS HAVE changed and nowadays it is impossible to distinguish between the authentic and the imposter. I say because recently I spent a few days by the seaside in the company of two women, one of them my own.
The other who is still on the look-out for a man arrived with an array of odd-looking bottles. Between the two it would be safe to say there were enough bottles to start a respectable riot. They sat on the beach making sure their backs were turned to the sun and when they got into their bathing togs they commenced a close scruting of the bottles.
They were deliberate in their movements, safe in the knowledge that the sun would be around for a while. Finally they uncorked a bottle each and started to apply the contents to the uncovered areas of the body. They did a thorough job and when all was completed they lay back with their hands stretched along their sides, their legs apart and their faces upturned to the beautiful sun.
They lay like this for the best part of an hour and when the top half was roasted they turned over to roast the bottom half.
When this was done they turned sideways twice allowing the sun to cover the entire body.
Having completed the initial roasting they went back to the bottles for more gravy as it were.
This time they used different bottles. The roasting technique which followed was exactly the same as the first one and I was glad to see that their pelts were turning red. Not trusting their own judgement they would turn to me and ask, “Am I getting any bit brown?”
I would assure them that the whiteness was indeed leaving the skin and that it wouldn’t be long now before they be as brown as October hazelnuts.
Greatly reassured they would lie down again and close their eyes oblivious to all the loveliness of sky and sea about them.
While their eyes were closed I took time to examine the bottles.
No doubt but the men who wrote the labels had vivid imaginations. The wife’s bottle was a minor masterpiece. I am sure that the midnight oil was burned over its creation.
“Helps prevent sunburn,” it said, “and provides vital nourishment for the skin.”
Nothing outstanding about this, however. It was in the small print that the creative writing resided.
“Your pores,” it said, “are our business. In our laboratories day and night our scientists and chemists have discovered what the pores need to counteract the rays of the summer sun. In this formula are special ingredients never used before.
“In three days you will have a deep-seated tan. To retain this tan you should go to your chemist and ask for our deep, deep formula.”
Fair enough, I looked around amongst the bottles and there sure enough was the deep, deep formula.
It was a modest enough formula but on the picture was a bikini-clad girl with skin as brown as gooseberry jam. She stood with her hands on her hips provocatively exhibiting her hourglass figure. “You can be like her,” the label promised.
“Deep, deep penetrations beneath the skin and saves you from ultraviolet rays. For a glossy brown tan that lasts over the winter take three courses.”
There was more but the women were waking up to start with the second course.
“Are we getting any bit browner?” they asked.
I told them that it gave me all I could do to recognise them. This delighted them and they rubbed in the lotions with a will.
Having done this they lay with upturned faces and eyes firmly closed.
As they lay simmering I looked around me and every other women of all shapes and sizes were doing the same thing. Some were rubbing and some were smearing. Others were lying half asleep giving the sun every chance to do a thorough job.
What matter if there would be sore backs and shoulders that night. It would be worth it when the first, faint brown hue took over from the winter whiteness of their bodies.
Those who were already tanned sat smugly on deck chairs as if being thoroughly tanned were the most natural thing in the world.
As I sat and looked I thought of the tans of other days and of women who wore shawls and hid themselves and their bodies from the browning beams of the sun.