On having tanxiety

Some people call it tanorexia but I think tanxiety is the more appropriate term – for me, at any rate. I think it’s a phenomenon almost exclusive to Northern Europeans, or the descendants thereof. When you go on holiday you must come back with a tan, or else what’s the point of having been on holiday. And how will anyone know you’ve had fun?

I take it to a new level though. My tan, over the last few years, has been something carefully nurtured and developed over the course of months. Often there’s a fitful start with a couple of early burns, before settling into a slow but steady baking rhythm. Indeed, so seriously do I take my tanning that I’ve started to convince myself that if I participate in some kind of activity while I’m sunbathing, I somehow tan less effectively. So, no reading, no listening to music: I must lie there in silence, willing my skin cells to turn brown. OK, maybe with a beer or two to pass the time.

Then there are the positions: a simple front/back binary is nowhere near enough. Oh, no. To achieve the optimum tan, one must become something of a contortionist, lying in the most uncomfortable positions, legs scissored in the air, or sometimes just standing with one’s arms above one’s head, slowly rotating. Yes, other people on the beach may look at you askance, some may even laugh. But what are a few laughs at the end of the day? Ignore the stare-bears, scoff at their scorn: you’ll have the last laugh when showing off your wonderfully consistent and complete tan.

Achieving the best bronzing also involves making use of the surrounding environs. Use of nearby bodies of water, for example, can play an important role: semi-submersion in the shallows or use of inflatables to achieve maximum reflection of sunlight can be very effective in accelerating one’s bronzing.

Timing also plays a crucial role in the process: half-an-hour per position has become my norm, with the time to change positions indicated by a convenient phone alarm. Yes, I am obsessed. In fact, so famous is my tan obsession amongst my friends that one year I actually received a custom made reflector for my birthday to wedge underneath my chin to make sure I could achieve maximum face tannage: no more would I have to worry about my nostrils not being perfectly bronzed.

As my tan lines become more pronounced, so my satisfaction increases. Unfortunately, my tanxiety also increases at the same rate. How am I going to maintain it? What if it starts to fade? It’s at this point that the tan-check begins: a sidelong glance at my arm, a quick check of the leg. Friends have caught me at it before: “Were you just checking out your tan, Leo?”. They think it’s vanity. If only.

And then there’s the inevitable advancement of the year. As each day slips by, my tanxiety increases. Only x days left of summer. Only x days until autumn. My tanning time has an end date. This is closely linked to the mounting tanxiety I experience about how long my tan will last – if it’s a particularly strong year I might get a full month of bronzed skin after the last period of serious sun exposure. On a bad year, a paltry two weeks. All that work, and for what? Yes, by the end of the summer, I am as tanxious as an eighteen-year-old Essex girl nearing the end of her two-week holiday in Marbella. I’m a mess: cold sweats, panic attacks, the whole shebang.

When one is travelling for a significant period of time, and when those travels are largely taking place in the tropics, one’s tanxiety becomes even more intense. One might think that with so long to tan, one might be able to relax a little about it. Wrong again. Not only do you want to have the best tan you’ve ever had and not only do you worry about not achieving it, but what with the constant stream of images published on social media, you’re also constantly worried about other people judging your tan. What if they think I’m not tanned enough? What if they’re more tanned than I am? How will they know I’m having fun if I’m not golden? What’s the point in travelling if I’m not brown?

Then there’re the problems inherent to choosing to live in hot countries. In Spain, at least I only had to deal with my tanxiety from April to October. Now that I’m living in the land of year-long summer, it’s never-fucking-ending. So far, I’ve been pretty good at restraining myself from frying myself in coconut oil in the midday Mexican sun every day, but I’m not labouring under any kind of pretence that it’s not going to happen soon: if there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that resisting the urge to broil myself in thirty degree heat is just beyond me. And how on earth will my poor pale skin hold up to such exposure, week-in week-out? I’m going to look like an old leather handbag by the time I hit forty. Should I even make it that far, that is – but then again, I always did want to be a beautiful corpse.

One day, I’ve promised myself, I’ll give up tanning. And while people usually cite skin damage, premature ageing or fear of cancer as their reasons. Mine is simple: I can’t take the tanxiety for much longer.

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