This year, 2002, is the fifth summer since I started cultivating a deeptan, and I am far from giving it up. I'm deeper and deeper into it.
In March I realized that I had lost over the winter more color than in previous winters. Spring was late coming, and I didn't get to sit in the sun until late in March. But I caught up quickly in April, and by 1 June I got a good deep dark tan, darker than the deeptan that I had developed in previous summers. By June I was quite pleased with the tone of my skin. I am, in fact, so dark that, passing by a mirror I sometimes get a mild jolt from the coffee brown face of my reflection. I stare in disbelief at the face that stares back at me. Is this really me? Where is that fair-skinned Asian me? I ask myself in awe. I stand out, in particular, when I see other women in the mirror as it happens when I am standing in line in the ladies' room. I definitely don't look Japanese any more. I am unquestionably a colored person. I am ecstatic. I am asked now and then where I am from, the implication being that I look too dark to be Japanese, Korean, or Chinese, so where in Southeast Asia might I be from?
But depending on the condition of light, sometimes I don't seem so very dark. I look at my arms and legs, and they are not really so brown, only tawny, not even maple-syrup colored; it is so disappointing, having put in so many hours in the sun. But, then, looking around in a crowd I look at browned-skinned African Americans and realize that I am darker than many of them, and I am elated. But I am always envious of people who are darker, and imagine myself as I appear in the pictures of me that I touched up to look darker.
Obviously, my obsession to have a deep deep tan is showing no sign of regressing. It only continues to grow. So, every year at the end of the summer I wonder if I am darker than I was last year at the same time. I should be since I don't lose all the color over the winter. I carry over a good deal of brown from the previous year when I start sitting in the sun every spring, and it's five years now. But I am not even twice as dark as I was at the end of the first summer of tanning, though objective comparison is impossible. Then I wonder, too, whether the process of darkening the skin gradually slows down and eventually reaches a plateau. This has been a nagging thought.
On the other hand, aside from acquiring a darkened skin, there is a lure in the process of getting darker as I bask in the bright summer sun. To be more precise, there is a very special pleasure in the anticipation of getting darker. Moreover, even beyond the anticipation of the deep tan, there is the sensation of bathing in the sun. Since I started tanning, I came to realize that I like the tingling sensation of the sunlight searing the body. It feels particularly good, intense and invigorating, under the brilliant sun on a clear day, without a spot of cloud in the blue sky. On a hot and humid day, the skin doesn't tingle because it gets drenched in sweat. Most of my life, I hated sweating. But of late I started to enjoy the feel of the body drenched in dripping sweat that makes the skin glisten and get slippery. Hot and wet, this must be how the sauna feels like even though I have no experience of being in a sauna. On these sweltering afternoons, I don't read; I just lie limp, yielding myself totally to the shrouding warmth of the sun. Were I asked if there is any erotic aura to this experience, I cannot honestly deny it. To avoid dehydration from sweating profusely, I drink a lot of water when I sunbathe, and then I sweat even more. In the old days before I started tanning, I used to refrain from drinking water in summertime only so as to minimize perspiration.
So, the pleasure of getting the skin tanned began to extend to that of anticipating the tanned skin, which in turn began to make as pleasurable the sensation of soaking up the hot sun. So, I don't mind sunbathing even when it is very hot so long as the sun is out and the air is not excessively humid.
Now that I spend a half of my time in Manhattan, I am not quite as free in scheduling outdoor tanning whenever the sun is bright. In consequence, I go out to tan even on an overcast day; every little bit of the sun helps. Then, while in New York, I go sometimes to the Central Park to keep up with tanning and reading. I might go to Jones Beach but I haven't yet. But I am particularly fond of the promenade along the East River where the reflection from the face of the river in the morning hastens the tanning.
So, I am obsessed with the deeptan. But I now know that I am not addicted. I welcome the sun. But I have no inkling to step into a tanning salon, where no sun shines. The New York Times reported in May this year that bronzed skin is in again with teenagers, who flock to tanning saloons, apparently influenced by their idols like Britney Spears and the prevalence of tanned looks in fashion magazines. Reports came from Japan two years ago that the raging fashion among certain Japanese young teens was a tanned look, called ganguro, or "dark face"; and they would regularly attend tanning saloons to keep up their looks. I love getting bronzed, and I am obsessed; and I keep wishing I could get darker. But I am not addicted because it's not like I have to have it at all costs.
But this may be a wishful quibbling.
T. Kaori Kitao, 08.20.02