Well, Tan My Hide!

When I was a kid in the 50’s, the predominant suntan lotion was Sea & Ski.  I can still smell it yet.  The olfactory memory it produces is one of days spent on the beach at Balboa Island in California, where my Mother’s friend, Pat, had a beach house.  It belonged to Pat’s parents but she had the great good fortune to be able to occupy it for a glorious couple of months every summer.  My Mother and I were lucky enough to be asked every year to spend a week there with Pat and her two kids. 

The scent of Sea & Ski is forever intermingled with the aroma of wet bathing suits and the slightly fishy smell of the giant jar of sandy peanut butter that produced our lunch each day.

sea and ski

Sunscreen was non-existent in those days.  Yeah sure, there was zinc-oxide, that white goopy stuff only lifeguards and albinos wore to keep from burning to a crisp like a piece of bacon.  The rest of us slathered on the Sea & Ski to get that deep tan that said you’d spent your summer at the beach, not indoors watching cartoons all day.

I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone in that era to be concerned with sun damage.  Tanning was way down the list of things to even consider as dangerous.  I mean, everyone smoked, ate food loaded with real butter, and seat belts weren’t even on the radar yet, so it would be a long wait before people got around to investigating the adverse effects of lying out in the sun. 

It was just a given that every summer you’d manage to get sunburned at some point.  Having peeling epidermal layers, much like a lizard shedding its skin, was normal.  Plus, it gave us something to do during the evening when we came back to the beach house.  There was always a contest to see who could peel the largest patch of skin in one continuous piece off their body.

If Sea & Ski was the “gateway drug” of childhood, then baby oil and cocoa butter were the hard stuff of the teen years.  The beach was always littered with glistening, well-oiled bodies and the chocolaty scent of cocoa butter wafted in the breeze.  Some daring souls mixed iodine in with the baby oil to create an early version of self-tanning.  I never resorted to that, preferring instead the “pure” tan I got from Old Sol.

Much later, after I was married, I used to take my kids to a special beach that had a calm lagoon area where they could paddle around in the water and I didn’t have to worry about huge waves dragging them out to sea.  It was a great place for awhile, until I started noticing one of the “regulars” who always seemed to be there every time we went. 

She was an older woman (no telling what her age was though) and now I know she was anorexic, although I hadn’t heard that term yet.  Her hipbones stuck out like those on an old cow, and I don’t think there was an ounce of fat on her.  She must have thought she was really sexy because she always wore a teeny bikini, but the effect was not a pleasant one.  The real kicker, though, was her tan.  She was so tanned and so skinny, she looked like a skeleton with really bad Naugahyde stretched over it.  It was painful on so many levels to watch her walk down the beach.

Many years later, when I moved to Texas from California, I had to get a new doctor.  On my first visit, when she appraised  my naked body, I thought she’d make some remark about my great tan.  Instead, she tsk-tsked and said “You have a lot of sun damage.”  Swell.  In California I was the norm.  Here, I was a freak.  The ophthalmologist I was working for told me one day “Your skin is getting awfully brown.”  I’d scarcely been out in the sun.  It seems I’m cursed with the ability to tan easily.  Blame it on those Mediterranean ancestors way back on my family tree.

A few years ago I found out I had a very early melanoma on my left arm.  My physician removed the offending spot.  I was referred to a dermatologist, who then took out a big chunk of surrounding tissue.  (My son-in-law said it looked like I’d been attacked with a melon baller.)  I wear sunscreen now (the old “close the barn door after the horses are gone” thing) but I can’t stay out of the sun.  We have a pool, which I love, and it’s pretty hard to swim without exposing some of me to the sun. 

I could always wear a “burquini,” I guess.  That’s one of those wetsuit get-ups for Islamic women who want to swim but have to be covered head to foot, kind of like the girls in the Duggar family.  It’s too late for me, so I guess I could be a cautionary tale for others. 

And, today I actually found a photo of a woman who looks a lot like the one I had to watch stroll the beach years ago. 

My gal didn’t wear a thong, though.  Thank you, Lord.


8 thoughts on “Well, Tan My Hide!

  1. Eeeewww! hurt my eyes….but thanks for this delightful read and the photo…affirms why I will never have a sagging skinny ass like that and why I will ever be thankful!

    I remember the QT -greasy-yellow-palms-orange “tan” smell too! Today’s products aren’t much better. Being a freckled red head with a daughter who is a dermatologist, well you get the picture- white as the belly of a dead fish fresh on the beach I am but…damn I smell better! Doc says surgery for melanoma is a carving experience. Fortuneately she did a year in surgery before going into her first choice of derm….knows how to cut….she wouldn’t have melon-balled you…you got hacked. Dr. should have used plastic surgery type cuts… BUT that would have cost more….HMMMMM….healthcare reform??? YOU BETCHA!

    Pulpit politics perpetuate ignorant fear,
    Bony ass, tits on sticks – thank God for Beer!



  2. Thanks Sybel! Some three years post surgery it looks pretty good, except for a keloid type scar, even though it didn’t look so great at the time. Ah, well…


  3. hey guys! i’m chic here. my name’s ana and i’m from Portland.

    i like baking and baking friends. oops i mean making. hahah.

    umm i require to forge unusual friends! expectedly a true strong people like johnny bravo to
    sweep me off of my feet and pick me up and waggle me like a baby! (…just kidding!)
    i think i like watching flick picture show trailers more than i like watching movies
    and i wish that people would condense all movies to 3 minutes on youtube.

    if you hope for to send me a back rub down i can pay off it in jellybeans or uh.. nevermind.. i can deal you out in jellybeans ONLY.

    i’m a pretty shapely person. i don’t worry about anything. except for myself.

    it’s wintry and cold here during the winter and most of the year, so how does a compact minor woman stay|presentable?

    i hardly get to go outside so i use spray tan. it works like demonic magic and it covers up whiteness.
    so don’t worry my flushed cheek friends (you don’t have to lie and hint that you put on too much blush anymore!) well anyway.
    i have boys swooning through me and let me tell ya.. i’m running| out of jellybeans 😉 😉 sooooooooooooo


  4. I too have such a strong memory of Sea & Ski and Balboa Island. In the 70’s, we spent many summers on the island at a friend’s house on Amethyst. Back when the Jolly Roger restaurant was still there and John Wayne’s boat would taxi around the harbor.
    Soo…I am trying to obtain a bottle of that great-smelling lotion – any ideas or anyone have any luck finding it???


    • Hi Ann—The house we stayed in when I was a kid was on Garnet, and then in high school my YWCA group rented a place on Pearl. I loved the Jolly Roger (it’s gone now?!! Oh, no…) and taking the ferry over to the Fun Zone. We used to go for walks around the island in the evening. You could go all around the island and what we called the “Little Island” in a couple of hours. Of course, most of that time was spent observing people in their beach homes. A great form of cheap entertainment!

      I just googled Sea & Ski and found they no longer make it but the company has retained the trademark. Maybe someday they’ll revive it. We can only hope.

      Thanks for stopping by—y’all come back!


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