Dublin weather in December may not immediately make you think of tanning, but a stroll along Grafton Street might make you think twice. You’ll see some very tanned people, even in the middle of a cold wet spell. I noticed this on a recent visit and it made me think about the Irish interest in being bronzed. I used to like a little colour myself. When I was seventeen and on my first working holiday in Toronto, for example, I embraced the sun like a sun worshipper on speed. Along with 12 other students from Ireland, I made use of a roof that had full uninhibited exposure to the sun all day long. On my days off I would sunbath, protected only by baby oil. My only experience of any real sun before this was the glimmer we saw on a very lucky day in Ireland. Hence my cavalier attitude to sun block. People sometimes ask me now when is the best time to visit Ireland if they want sunny weather along with the Irish charm. I hum and ha for a while and then tell them there’s bound to be a day or two of sun in June, July, and if you are lucky August. But best to make sure that finding the charm is top priority.
Back to Toronto – and after a few days -or was it hours? – of sunbathing in oil, my Irish skin burned. But I thought “Great I am going red, give it a day or two and I will have a gorgeous tan.” I didn’t, I stayed red, peeled and then went back to my usual colour. During summers when I am back in Ireland in more recent years and on the off chance that the sun is out, I have noticed I am not the only one who believed/believes the same, if the half naked red bodies lying about the place is anything to go by.
But fast forward to now and after living in Asia, I am no longer a slave to the sun and to getting a tan. I became accustomed to not sunbathing at all even though it is very hot all year round. I have to admit to on occasion even using an umbrella when outside during the heat of the day – and not for keeping rain off. My husband used to walk ahead of me when I did this. Several feet ahead. I was probably also influenced by many people in Asia not really wanting a tan, as they prefer to stay a bit paler. You only have to look in the pharmacies to see all the products that help keep your skin pale to see this is true.
There are even different brands of deodorant that help keep your underarm white! And, as you can imagine, there are very little self tanning products for sale.
There was also a strong influence from Australia in Singapore and Hong Kong regarding the dangers of sun bathing. Our family might not be Muslim but burkas/burkinis were in for the kids and for me. My poolside attire might have resulted in arrest if I lived in France a few months ago. I did feel slightly out of place in the swimming pool here in San Francisco as I was slightly overdressed in my long sleeves and shorts as compared to the bikini-wearing San Franciscans.
I have just come back from Dublin and it was well into cold weather season with very little sun but judging from the extremely bronzed women walking around town, either they are going on holidays abroad regularly, using suntan beds (are they still legal?) or more likely using the vast array of tanning products in the pharmacies in Dublin.
I had already been exposed to many people still embracing the tan since leaving Asia especially among the Irish living in San Francisco. On a recent trip to Calistoga, a group of glamorous, sophisticated (and tanned) women were all sitting around the pool but had not put even a toe into the water. Given it was hot and the pool looked inviting it was a little odd. One of them said “I paid $40 for this tan. I am not going in the water. Are you going into the water?” “No, the hot springs will strip it off me, it’s not worth it.” And someone else added ” I will go in tomorrow when the tan has settled more into my skin and is less likely to wash off.”
These same women have tried to convert me to the merits of a tan as a recent birthday present testifies; a voucher for some fake tan application sessions with a beautician. I have not been broken, yet, and remain resolutely pale.
When it comes to the skin-deep kind of beauty, whether or not you prefer a tan may depend on what part of the world you live in. Just don’t go to Dublin looking for any kind of suntan that does not come in a bottle.