CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While cleaning my inbox, I found an old email from one of my favorite people ever, telling about her brother and his colorful (now ex) wife.
"True story," she wrote. "You know you're a redneck when your wife is standing on the porch buck naked, and you use an industrial paint sprayer to spray-tan her, then dry her off with a leaf blower! She looked like an Oompa Loompa."
It seems appropriate that the email would resurface just now, since my husband was noting that we've once again entered the season of Things That Are Orange, But Shouldn't Be.
Although the concept that fair skin is beautiful has been marketed to the masses for a good many years, most still seem to view porcelain skin (also known as "winter pallor") as sickly looking or dated, calling to mind a time when corseted women sat beneath lace-trimmed umbrellas, fanning themselves daintily and swooning if the sun's rays made contact.
There's something about having a tan that can make a person feel slimmer, healthier, prettier. More confident. A good tan can camouflage spider veins and allow age spots to disguise themselves as freckles. And maybe best of all, a good tan convinces people that you spend more time outdoors than you actually do, which somehow seems virtuous.
Artificial tanning products have come a long way from Coppertone's Q-T (for Quick Tan) back in the 1970s. The original Q-T formula needed a good bit of time to work its magic. Once applied, it took hours for the person to realize they were turning a freakish shade of orange. Today's products have improved to the point where orangeness can be achieved almost instantaneously.
The thing that manages to sucker me in is when I see celebrities showing off artificial tans that look incredibly good. For every Oompa Loompa, there seems to be a beautifully bronzed swimsuit model who claims she hasn't set foot in the sun since she was still wearing Swimmies.
I've had just enough success as a do-it-yourselfer that every now and again I'll become convinced that I'm capable of applying self-tanning lotion in a thorough and careful enough fashion that I'll end up looking as though I've been kissed by the sun.