Before I begin, I need to make it clear that I’m not concerned about this. And I certainly do not pity myself. I think I made some really bad decisions when I was younger and I’m paying for them now.
I’m pale. I’m covered in freckles some of which are questionable. I make an excellent candidate for skin cancer especially considering what I put my body through during my impressionable teenage years. I wanted a tan so badly back then. I lived in North Carolina at the time. And that’s what girls did, they worked on their tans each and every summer. I am not a tanner. I’ve never been a tanner. I will never be a tanner. But I tried. I tried tanning oil, excessive amounts. I burned to a crisp like a fried potato. I tried baby oil. Burned. When that proved ineffective, I smothered myself in Crisco. Yes, it’s true. Caryn and I covered ourselves in vegetable shortening. All four of my best girlfriends had tans and they barely had to try. I was the only one who burned. And did I ever burn! There were times my skin actually bubbled. And then it’d peel. It was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done to my body. (Well, that was before I started smoking [I’ve since quit], so, it was the second dumbest thing I’ve ever done to my body.)
My search for a tan never amounted to anything. I just burned and peeled and then burned some more. One time I fell asleep in the sun and woke up to two swollen ankles dotted in blisters. I was so stupid.
During my pregnancy, certain weird skin things took shape. I read that this might happen, that pregnancy can bring with it skin tags, new moles, dark spots. Hormones can pretty much do anything they want to when you’re pregnant. I was warned and so yesterday I had an appointment with a dermatologist. It’s been an appointment I have been putting off for over a decade.
There was one spot that showed up during my pregnancy that was particularly alarming. It looked like a puffy scar. It took root right on my upper lip. It changed shape, got bigger, and then went down again after I gave birth. But from month five until month 10, the thing had a mind and growth pattern all its own.
I had it looked at. The dermatologist said it looks a lot like basal cell carcinoma, which is the most treatable form of skin cancer, (They dig in and remove, voila!) It’s also the skin cancer known to come from excessive sun damage.
I am not at all surprised by this. The doctor took a biopsy and I’m to get the results back within the week. The only reason I’m annoyed is because the spot is on my face, directly above my lip. And right now, it looks like I have a scabby red mole where she took the sample. If I have to have it removed entirely, the scar will be much bigger. And, well, that sucks. And the Catholic girl keeps letting me know that I kind of asked for this. Why hadn’t I taken better care of my body? What had I done to myself in order to fit in? What I wouldn’t give to have my natural, white skin back, the skin I was born with. (While you’re at it, throw in two clean lungs as well. Damn cigarettes.)
When I left the doctor’s office yesterday I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved that I had had a son. I know that boys experience their fair share of peer pressure (I’d love to hear what that might include since I was raised a girl), but it doesn’t seem as prevalent when it comes to their physical appearance. The cultural climate here in the states forces a lot of girls to make terrible decisions in order to fit in. My brothers didn’t smear themselves in Crisco and lay out on the back deck. They didn’t suffer from 2nd degree burns because of their desire to tan. I did. My brothers never had to fit into a size three or smaller. I did. My brothers didn’t get made fun of for their horribly frizzy hair, or their hairy legs, their boy like hips, or their freckles. I did. They were never made fun of because of the size of their chest. I was. And you know something? A lot of this stuff still affects me to this day.
I know my son will have it hard someday. I’m ready for that. But I take great comfort knowing that when it comes to how he looks he might not be up against as much pressure as America’s daughters.