I Blame America!

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.


  1. De-lurking to unite in the name of the fair (skinned and er sex). Every other summer but this one I have tried to “get color” and suffered instead. This year I slathered on the SPF and reveled in my paleness, despite the taunting. (My midsummer’s rant is here: http://tinyurl.com/yseq3m) Good luck with your test, and let me know if you have questions about living in Jersey – I moved here from Brooklyn about three years ago.


  2. Thank you! Melanie! Where in jersey?

    Gonna read your link now.


  3. Hey Michele. I had one of those removed from under my eye a few years ago. It was a pretty quick in and out procedure, and it left no scar. Here’s hoping your test is negative!


  4. I hear you on being the pale girl who did stupid things in pursuit of a tan when young. I once got burned so badly that I had to sleep with wet towels on my arms. My best friend’s mother, who was undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer at the time, gave me some of her radiation burn cream, and it was the only thing that helped. I have been lucky and only had to have one suspect mole removed thus far, but man, I curse myself (and all the peer pressure) every time I have to stand naked in my dermatologist’s office while she pores over my skin looking for pre-cancerous signs. Good luck to you, and I hope this spot is easily treatable.


  5. De-lurking too to say that I am very, very fair with freckles and (I had many horrible sunburns in my youth) had to have a mole like that removed a few years ago. Initially there was a small scar but now you’d never know anything was there. I stay out of the sun now and always wear sunscreen especially after my doctor told me to look at my face under a black light to see all the sun damage you couldn’t see with the naked eye. It was horrific!

    I hope everything goes well for you!


  6. You know what the weirdest thing is about pregnancy and yesterday’s appointment? I took my bellybutton ring out at month four. And apparently a big mole grew in its place. Isn’t that strange? I saw that it turned brown at some point but had no idea it was a mole. Toby thought it bruised from being pushed out so far. The doctor told me it was a mole but didn’t look suspicious. The hell is that about?

    Oh, and yeah, nothing is more humiliating than sitting on a cold table naked being inspected for precancerous skin problems. :[ What I wouldn’t give to have listened to my parents instead of my friends and culture.


  7. I’m in Bloomfield, but have also lived in the South Orange/Maplewood area.

    It might be a bit simplistic to equate sun exposure to smoking, as I did, but I can tell that it’s going to be a big issue as more young adults have problems with their skin. I think I might call the dermatologist soon.


  8. Ugh, honey, this is crummy. I hope all goes well for you.

    I was kind of in the opposite situation – olive complexion which tans really easily even through sunblock. I’ve only ever burned a couple of times, and that was when I was in Mexico in the height of summer, spending lots of time outdoors in the water and not being as vigilant as usual with respect to reapplying sunblock.

    Also, I was the Worst Goth Ever, constantly trying to cover up my skin with white makeup and powder. I would have killed for fair skin like yours! Why is it we always want what we don’t have?


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