Fake tanning has been a part of my weekly ritual since I was about 16. As soon as I landed a part-time role as a sexy sales assistant in Sainsbury's (the ‘sexy’ part wasn’t technically an official part of my job title, but I feel with my Cheryl-esque red hair and excessive ear piercings, I probably fit the bill), 10% of my monthly wage was dedicated to stocking up on the bronzing stuff.
My first foray into fake tanning started much earlier, however. In my early teen years I was convinced that after three days of layering up Johnson’s Gradual Tan, I was going to look like I’d just spent a long summer sunning it up in the South of France. The reality, however, was two erratically patchy legs, palms the shade of satsumas and a suspiciously biscuit-ty aroma that followed me around like an uninvited afterthought.
I persisted, however. For a little context, my Nan is a redhead and although I missed out on the light eyebrows and curly hair, I did inherit a distinct paleness that sees me burn to a crisp before I develop any hint of a natural tan. Fake-tan-less, my foundation shade is Ivory or below. That should give you an idea of my natural hue.
Once I had a little more money in the bank, I was able to ascend in the same way most of us do: Johnsons Daily Tan, St. Moritz, something slightly more expensive which probably doesn’t exist anymore, and then your Fake Bakes and St. Tropezs. Name the fake tan, and I will have road tested it, always hunting for that perfect formula which doesn’t crumble in the inner-elbow or fade to nothing after a few enthusiastic showers. The goal was to look like I wasn’t wearing anything at all, whilst also looking like I definitely was wearing something because I was slightly orange but that was okay because it was better than nothing at all.
Since my teens, this routine of full-body shaving, scrubbing myself silly, moisturising my feet, hands, elbows and knees and meticulously applying a generous layer of bottle badness has been non-negotiable. There was a period of a good few years where I simply wouldn’t entertain the idea of going anywhere without my tan on. Spontaneous night out? I guess I’ll just have to smell slightly sticky all evening and hope to God it doesn’t rain. No time to tan? Sorry huns, you’ll have to do this one without me.
As I’ve gotten older my dependency has weakened, but I’m still absolutely devoted to the bottle. I rely on this weekly ritual to make me feel good - to make me feel not only confident, but myself. The best version of me is a tanned me. The pale me is the one I keep for accounts and hoovering and crying over the fact my tomato plant snapped in half after months of nurturing it from a baby (it was emotional okay, I was invested). The tanned me, on the other hand, is the sexy LBD wearer, the conversation-commander, the give-no-shits I-give-a-great-blowjob woman. It’s the happiest version of me, and the one that I feel is most attractive.
Lately, however, I’ve started to question my relationship with the fake stuff. I know I love it and I know it boosts my confidence, but how toxic is that dependency?
Because I don’t enjoy the process of fake tanning. It’s long-winded, laborious, and irritatingly temporary. It’s a job I have to force myself to do - a chore akin to changing the bedsheets or cleaning out the fridge. I don’t want to, but I know I have to.
And that’s how I’ve come to feel about this weekly ritual. It’s not really an option, it’s an obligation. If I opt out and decide to go tan-free, the next day I’ll inevitably be pissed off with myself because I won’t look the way I want to look. My photos won’t be the best that they can be. My dark circles will look darker. My spots will be more visible, my teeth more yellow and my hair more brassy. I’ll be taking the back-room version of me out into the real world, and back-room version of me should stay in the back-room where she belongs.
At the crux of it, though? I know my dependency on fake tan is closely tied in with my weight. When I first started tanning up it was still a-okay to posit that bronzer-in-a-bottle makes you look slimmer, and I bought into that massively. The idea that I could give the illusion of a thinner, more toned frame with just a quick application and a few touch ups was delicious to me, and I know in my heart of hearts that I still fall victim to this same seductive promise now.
I’m making peace with my body, but it’s a process. Sometimes I still catch myself in the mirror and feel guilty for deceiving the internet, choosing “flattering” photos from a bunch of 200 and sporting outfits which skim over the spare tyre that mexican-waves every time I take a step. To be comfortable with yourself and to be comfortable with how you present yourself are decidedly different things, but gradually, I’m getting there. The thought of doing this fake-tan free, however, is almost obscene. It’s unthinkable.
Sitting here now, I’m trying to think of the sum of money which would make me forfeit tanning forever. I can’t settle on a number, mostly because I keep having flashbacks to Italy and how shit I felt by the time my spray tan had worn off and I was just pale and burned. For something which is seemingly so small, an entrenched routine and dependency would have to be broken overnight. Maybe then I’d actually have to come to terms with my body as it is, rather than my body as I feel I can accept it. Maybe that’s, in fact, what I would find most difficult.
Am I likely to give up fake tan any time soon? Honestly, no. It makes me feel more confident, more attractive, and happier with myself. From now on, however, I will think more keenly about how beneficial that dependency is, and how, in fact, it might be masking something more sinister.
Until next time lovelies x
Before we left for Italy, I'd made my mind up. I was finally going to kick my arse into gear...