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Confessions Of A Recovering Tanorexic

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I am having a slip.

I'm serving myself up a big slice of sun for the first time this summer. Lying as prone as one can while typing, laptop balanced precariously on thighs, I'm slathered in SPF 15, a risky move given that I had malignant melanoma 10 years ago. My dermatological oncologist (say that 5 times fast) would be wagging a finger if he could see me now, a bottle of SPF 45 in hand.

At the time I was not aware of how dangerous this disease is nor the high mortality rate. Mine was caught very early and didn't require anything more than excision (well, twice). And though it greatly curtailed the amount of time I spent in the sun, it did not totally eliminate stolen forays into the light.

The reasons for today's inaugural bake are threefold. I'm going on vacation in a few weeks (yes, by the beach) and want to build up a base tan. It's been suggested to me that my stubborn depression could be S.A.D. related (in the summer?) and that I should get more sunlight. But mostly, I just love being tan. Fake tan is just not the same.

I have friends who have "embraced pale" for years. But the opportunity to maintain an alabaster complexion (in my mind, the only look that works if you go sunless in summer) was wasted during a couple of years in school in Miami, Irish freckles emerging for, alas, life. My addiction to the sun had begun, and with it, the "unmanageability" of an addict and my first "C," the beach being more appealing than the library. Not to mention the appeal of après-sun activities when you are 17 and attending the biggest party school in the nation in the cocaine gateway to America.

There were 20 more years of sun worshiping. If the sun was out, I was in it. At the beach, in Central Park, at the bus stop. My malignancy was preceded by a jobless summer spent entirely on the roof deck of my building. It is amazing I look decent for my age. It is either my little bit of Native American blood, or just good luck.

I don't mean to make light of the risks involved with melanoma or the suffering of those afflicted, by cavalierly going in the sun. It's deadly serious stuff. But I do see my doctor every six months, as ordered, though I time my autumn visit well after the summer so my tan lines don't give away my transgression. And boy, do they ever check you out from stem to stern. Medical photos taken at the time of my illness which document every surface, nook and cranny of my body in alarming and exceedingly unattractive detail have been placed under lock and key with strict orders to destroy upon the event of incapacitation or death.

We have to admit that most of us look better and healthier with a little color, though the days of deep tans are over for me becaus e the aesthetic is just not right for the over 40 woman (drawn, leathery). But even more, nothing makes me feel better than a day of being in the sun. It makes you feel....well, sexy. I'm like a rabbit when I'm on summer vacation. Sadly, I am traveling with a girlfriend this year.

Vanity trumps sanity for me sometimes. I spent the first months of summer religiously applying gradual tanner (Jergens: too orange on me. L'Oreal: goes on easy. Neutrogena, too light but a good color, and with Helioplex - the go-to ingredient to fight harmful rays). So now I am (somewhat dangerously) rewarding myself. You'll see me on the beach looking slightly sheepish though secure in the knowledge that my dermatologist is nowhere near but in a cave somewhere wearing a beekeeper outfit and factor 60.