In Defense of Spray Tanning and Loving Yourself

Girls sitting in inflatable rings in swimming pool
Girls sitting in inflatable rings in swimming pool

Recently, I did one thing that it seems that millennial women hate to admit: I got a spray tan.

I came into this whole process with the idea that I was going to be able to laugh at myself for getting a spray tan. I really wanted to believe that I was above it.

To put this into context, I look like a pair of khaki pants year-round. I make a slight step up from khaki to a darker beige between July and mid August, but it's only really noticeable if you look hard. I am straight out of Scotland with green eyes, the name Reilly Kathleen and glowing white skin.

I didn't always resent the way that my skin looked. I had never thought anything of my skin, which is somewhat of a symptom that I didn't have to because of the obvious white privilege, but also because my skin felt like something that I couldn't control. I seemed to focus on hating what I felt like was in my hands. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that my pale skin was wildly unflattering in contrast to my bronze counterparts. The rise of Instagram and filtered photos have been like a pushup bra for my ever elusive tan, but I still desire the validation of being a golden brown.

The other problem with tanning and me is that I absolutely hate laying out. When all of my friends go to lay out by the pool, I sweat through two or three hours in hopes of being a few mere shades darker than before. Even with the fruity drinks and pretty sunglasses and poolside books, I still cannot stand laying out to fry in the sun.

Thus, I opted to get a fake bake. I have heard so many horror stories about getting a spray tan, which somewhat turned me off to the possibility for a long time. But alas, I felt ballsy a few weeks ago and did it anyways.

Another fun fact about the whole experience was that I got my spray tan during a tropical storm. I live in Austin which is fairly far from the coast, but we were all instructed to go home and stay indoors instead of venturing out. I powered through the storm and made it to the studio where I was going to get it. I was a little bit intimidated by the seemingly effortlessly beautiful front desk staff, but they came to me in my time of need as I expressed my hang ups about what I was about to do. They reassured me that they would make sure I didn't look orange, and I tried to trust them as much as I could.

Getting the actual spray tan itself was only semi-awkward. It's been a joke my whole life because I don't really have any problem with nudity. When you get a spray tan, you have the option to be varying states of totally naked, which is, of course, a little nerve-wracking. The woman tanning me was sympathetic to my nerves and explained it all out to me. The process is easy and quick. My tan technician and I chatted about her hometown and my school like I was not standing in front of her 90% naked. It dawned on me that she did this all day for a living and that she had seen bodies in ranging states, and that mine wasn't anything she would really think twice about it.

It's the moment right after you see yourself that makes people keep getting spray tans. It was like wearing a funny second skin that felt like my own, smelled like my own but wasn't my own. It's strange walking in and out of a building looking entirely different like that, but it makes sense why people do it.

I came to my internship the next day and received compliments of my newfound tan, but spent most of the morning secretly wondering if I looked ridiculous. For good measure, I kept a play by play diary style entry of my thoughts through the first morning of being tan:

June 17, 8:16 AM: I woke up and was a literal bronze goddess. I put so much lotion on because that's what they told me to do at the store, but I still feel like I could do more.

9:48 AM: I am sitting at work right now and pretending to do research, but in reality I'm actually researching spray tan horror stories. Oye.

10:27 AM: I have taken so many selfies this morning because my collarbones look so nice with the spray tan in them.

11: 49 AM: Okay, so my legs do look great, but they also are starting to look a touch orange. Maybe it's just how all tan legs look, or maybe I think they look orange because I look like a pair of khaki pants all summer and I'm not used to looking like this. They're super lubed up right now with both lotion and the condoms that I had to unwrap for work (don't ask).

11:52 AM: Do other people think my legs look orange? I asked another girl working with me and we all admired my bronze appendages. I both feel like I have to keep it a secret that I got a spray tan, but also I want to tell everybody just in case it looks ridiculous that I did it to write about it.

11:56 AM: I'm considering why I feel weird guilt about getting a spray tan. It seems ridiculous because it makes me feel good in my own skin, so why is that something to resent? I could see myself getting another one, and I don't think that requires validation.

11:58 AM: Holy shit, there's an orange splotch on my knuckles. What do I do?

11:59 AM: I just googled it, and it said to just scrub it off with a rag or exfoliate with a Q-tip. Stand-by for results.

12:02 PM: We're good! My tan goes back to looking banging. There's tan getting in the wrinkles on the back of my ankles, but I decide to leave them to avoid further scrubbing. My tan technician told me to avoid exfoliation unless I want my tan to fully come off.

12:10 PM: The palms of my hand are so tan, oh no. Whatever. Nobody looks at your palms, right?

12:11 PM: I take that shit back. Somebody just asked if I got mud on my hands.

Like I said, I found myself feeling somewhat guilty about getting a spray tan, like it was some sort of thing to hide. It seems that women feel the need to always play off that their look effortless. The whole experience brings me to question: Why is it that there is so much pressure on being born with some classic standard of beauty? Why is it so taboo to change something you don't like about yourself if you have the means to do it? This is in no way saying that everybody should run out and get a spray tan. I think pale skin is beautiful and elegant and the complexion that you are given is something to celebrate, but why is it such a big deal that I want to change mine? I got a fake bake because I feel good in my own skin when I'm tan, and why do we as women feel the need to resent that?

The whole process of this has brought me to a central question: Why is it that I have to validate loving myself and doing things to my body that make me feel good? I consistently felt like I had to explain to people that I wasn't "the type of person to get a spray tan", but truly, what type of person is that? Somebody who likes how they feel tan and spends the forty bucks it takes to tan on themselves?

It sounds silly that being tan could mean something larger than what's on the surface, but it really does to me. I have had to learn how to love myself the way I am, but also that there is no shame in wearing clothes or putting on makeup or doing things to my own body that make me feel good about it.

All in all, I'm sold on spray tans. It's not necessary something that I plan on doing year round, but it serves its purpose as a small way to do as Parks and Rec has told me and treat mah self.