Once upon a time, people worshipped at the alters of St Francis, St Sebastian and St Mary. But these days there’s a different holy grail – and it comes in a 500ml bottle. St Tropez won’t feed the 5000 – but we’ll happily settle for looking like we’ve spent the past month lying on a beach in Ibiza.
According to a probably unreliable source I just found on the internet, 41% of women are regular fake tan users. This statistic should have surprised me, but it didn’t. Shortly before my google-ing, I had asked a friend and loyal fake tanner to tell me a little bit about her use of St Tropez. She boldly stated that she’d happily give up all other makeup for the chance to keep using fake tan. Why, I inquired? “Because without it, I look ill. I lose all my confidence”. This is coming from the tall, blonde Edinburgh University student who, during her school days, won “Best Body” in the yearbook. Golly, I thought. But it seems hers is not by any means an unusual stance – the £40 million spent on the tanning industry per year is testament to that.
Sadly, I cannot count myself amongst this sisterhood of the bronze. And it’s not for want of trying – it’s just that, on me, fake tan looks, quite frankly, sh*t. Depending on the brand (and believe me, I have tried almost all of them), I either look like I’ve been rolling around in a giant bag of Wotsits, or superglueing streaky bacon to my legs. In most social circles, neither of these outcomes is considered particularly desirable.
So what about the real deal? We all know that sunbeds are a no-go, lest we fry our internal organs. But sunbathing is still kind of okay, as long as we slap on our factor 30 first, right? The summer I left school, I ended up on an all inclusive package holiday to some Spanish resort; the concrete blocks were pure Soviet, but at least, I was told, we could “catch some rays”. So, every morning we would trek to the beach down winding, dusty cliff paths, carefully lay out our towels on the grey sand and settle down to achieve that all important golden glow. Safe to say, this wasn’t for me. I finished my book in the first couple of days, my iPod ran out of battery, and I just didn’t fancy listening to the couple next to me have a passive aggressive discussion about whether the cocktail waiter was flirting with her. I also did not change colour. At all. I stayed as pale as I’ve always been; there was no need for me to haul my bikini straps down – because there was absolutely no chance of me developing tan lines. That said, on the second last day I fell asleep lying on my stomach (other than “sunbathing”, the other component of this holiday was “clubbing”, and by this time my body was obviously rebelling against the lurid concoctions of vodka and sugar). I don’t know how long I was merrily slumbering for, but when I woke up all I could feel was fire. The next few days were spent wearing the kind of baggy patterned trousers favoured by teenagers who, after spending a month in India, have succeeded in “finding themselves”. Still, it was better than admitting to all of Salou that, while my shins were ivory, my calves were pure magenta.
So far, no luck on the tanning front. However, such is the march of technology that a host of new options are appearing on the horizon. You can buy pills for pretty much anything on the internet, and tanning is, of course, no exception. Slug a few down with your orange juice in the morning, and get on with your day, whatever the weather. Apart from, like any pills you buy online, you have completely no idea what lurks within those jolly little capsules. It’s like Russian roulette, apart from the punishment is having to explain to people why you look like a giant anthropomorphic carrot, and why you can’t just scrub it off. Same with the new (and, as yet, untested) nasal spray (with added side effects of nausea and migraines). Does anyone really want to be caught in the bathroom feverishly shoving a tube up their nose, only to end up missing the party because they were too busy vomiting up their Tesco Value baked beans? And how about the risk of buying a particularly potent formula, and ending up looking like a cast member from Made In The Only Way Is Geordie? Needless to say, I have avoided such lengths; neither my budget nor my pride caters for them.
So, in the end, I decided to embrace my paleness and be done with the whole tanning thing; but not before making one last ditch attempt while in Italy this summer. Nothing extreme, just some “Summer Glow Lotion” and a sun lounger. The same process as always; slather it on and wait for the magic to happen… Turns out, I’m allergic to the damned stuff.
Image: Anna Samson