My First Tanning-Bed Experience Was Beautiful (But Slightly Frightening)

dennnis / (Shutterstock.com)
dennnis / (Shutterstock.com)

I’ve spent the first month of lake days and pool parties pale—but technically summer just “began” in late June, so that’s my excuse. But to make up for lost time, I walked into our local Sun Tan City, dragging my also-pale best friend with me after I bribed her with an iced coffee to come for moral support.

I flipped through their little flipbook of beds while nodding at the employee’s rambling about their different features. Shockingly, she was not orange. It comforted me to know at least one stereotype of tanning salons wasn’t true. Maybe I won’t get skin cancer, either? Confused as to the difference between the cheapest and most expensive bed, I chose the cheapest one. I mean, isn’t $80 a bit excessive? I’d rather only pay $20 for a sunburn, thank you.

After deciding on the cheapest bed, I looked at the sales clerk with desperate, worried eyes and squeaked, “I also need tanning lotion.”

Super-excited she exclaimed, “OK! Which one would you like?” and gestured to the wall of bright bottles behind her.

Why are there so many? I’m not even sure why I need lotion. Could you just give me the cheapest one without making me have to ask for the least expensive one and sound all poor in front of the $80 bed users? I forget if I even said anything or if she just saw my panicked face and started shoving bottles at me. I started smelling various bottles that looked as if Ed Hardy designed them. I eventually narrowed it down between two colorful bottles. I was leaning toward the light blue “cooling” one but wasn’t sure if it was hot in the bed. Is it? That sounds miserable.

Because making big decisions isn’t an area where I thrive, I picked the tattoo-protection lotion. I’m sixteen. I don’t have tattoos. I’m not planning on getting one for like five years. Whatever.

After swiping my credit card, I was told I couldn’t tan today. My mother had to come back and sign since I was under the age of eighteen. Isn’t being a minor a blast?

The next day was my day to shine. I walked up to the counter with my overly priced lotion and hideous pink goggles in my Vera Bradley tote, ready to tan. A million thoughts ran through my head as I eyed the large, wrinkly lady sitting in the waiting room looking right at home.

What do I say? “Hi, I’d like to tan now.” Or “Please burn me.” Or “Is this where you get skin cancer?” Or “Is there a bed available?” Or do I just go right back? Is she going to show me how to use it? I sipped my Diet Coke nervously and handed her my tiny orange card and scanned my French-manicured index finger. As I followed the happy little employee to my bed we passed a former Miss Teen WV USA looking super-tan and relaxed from her session. “Wow, I am so cool,” I thought to myself.

The cheery employee showed me a nice room and pressed a bunch of buttons explaining how the bed worked. It was very stressful and a lot to take in. “Will it shut off after my time is up?” I asked. I think she said yes, but I’m not sure. I really wanted to ask her if I was allowed to use my iPhone in the bed but decided I would just go home and Google it. I was doing everything I could to not look like an idiot.

“You have five minutes to get ready. Don’t make a mess,” she said, laughing to herself.

Five minutes to get ready? Is it going to start automatically? What if I’m not ready? I stripped down quickly after making sure the fancy door was locked. I squirted some very brown lotion on my hand and sloppily slathered it all over my pale body as if I only had 30 seconds. My tan is going to be all smudgy now. Without wasting time to get my backside, I awkwardly got in the bed.

Like an impatient kid on an old computer, I pressed the down arrow button repeatedly. Ohhh maybe you close it manually. Yupp, you do. So it doesn’t completely shut? That is such a relief. I started to relax. It wasn’t too hot, and I wasn’t feeling claustrophobic.

Two minutes into it I freaked. I realized I forgot to wear those $3 goggle things. Was there a way to pause this? I squinted my eyes shut and hoped I wouldn’t go blind.

I spent the next four minutes accidentally turning the fan up really high instead of changing the music. My goal for tomorrow is to try to figure the radio part out. And wear goggles.

I left the salon and stepped outside into the sunlight feeling very accomplished. My thighs looked very tan against my white shorts. With a burst of confidence I decided to go into this lovely little intimidating store. Although my minimum-wage job and babysitting money do not usually enable me to afford Lilly Pulitzer and the non-sale Vera Bradley, I felt tan enough to shop at this expensive boutique. After browsing for a bit and realizing being the only person in the shop put a lot of pressure on me to buy something, I discreetly left.

Tanning is a beautiful but slightly scary experience. TC mark

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