My friend Mamie wrote me this fascinating piece in response to my deep tan.
The bit on tanning was very interesting, since, of course, all American children discover the "tanline" phenomenon quite early; it's so old in us it feels like innate knowledge. It surprised me to rediscover that you have to learn to wear things that won't leave lines in the wrong places. I can remember moving bikini straps around with my friends at age about 12, down at the Swarthmore Swim Club, in order to get that perfect tan. Although, in general, I rather liked the contrast of the untanned under-strap and the brown shoulder--it seemed like a mark of progress.
One summer I was on the Swarthmore Swim Club team, and we had garnet and white tank suits, which caused an all over stripe tan.
My mother, a southern bluestocking belle, always avoided the sun religiously, even in the sunny 70's when all the other moms were busy browning themselves. She now can pass for a plump older sister of mine, because the other women of her generation are wrinkled, and she still has smooth, lovely skin. My sister, younger than I, and a smoker as well as tanner, has more wrinkles than Mom.
African-American adults often look younger than their European-American counterparts, again because they are less wrinkly and dry. My next door neighbor is probably pushing 80 now, but looks about 50 at first glance.
I myself take a practical tack. I don't deliberately sit in the sun to tan (it gives me a headache, among other things). But early in the spring I start to build a tan on my arms so that I can ride my horse without burning once the sun gets really fierce. I leave the rest to happenstance--get a little exposure on the days I wear shorts or a swim suit, for instance--and usually end up looking like a Siamese cat by summer's end--all the points dark with a white belly.
My horse got a sunburn this year on her nose, which is white. The rest of her body is black, with copper hair, but the nose is not pigmented, and blistered up early on. It seems to have settled down now, though; I'm not sure how, without melanin. The barn's recommendation was to put block on her, but this seemed excessive to me. Civilization has run amok when you start worrying about sun block for a horse who spends 24 hours a day outdoors.
T. Kaori Kitao, 06.21.98