At the tender age of 15 I was a young, persuadable, person. Maybe not that easy to persuade, but more so than now. What did I want more than anything? Like most young adults, I wanted to fit in. Those were the days of braces, acne, and before straightening irons had any real power. We were all awkward and growing into ourselves.
I’m not quite sure who decided that being ridiculously dark during a New York winter was the cool thing to do, but it became the look. Tanning beds popped up in our small community, appealing to the masses. As a half-hipster, as my brothers call me, I hate to admit it, but I fell into the trend. A hipster would never fall into the trend. Unless it’s a hipster trend. But, I was young, impressionable, and pasty. People called me Casper!
My friends and I would take our hard earned cash (mom can I borrow some money) and walk to the local tanning salon. Pick your poison, do you want the hurricane which makes you like tan mom, or are you going for a more au natural look, the Jersey Shore?
When I was diagnosed with lupus, my tanning adventures ceased to exist. I was told the true facts of lupus- we don’t understand why, but the sun can lead to flares. We don’t know why, but hormones can lead to flares. We don’t know why, but certain foods can lead to flares… This disease was clearly misunderstood. I was feeling misunderstood.
I’m over here trying to be tan and cool looking and you’re killing my vibe.
Besides being a confused and awkward teenager that felt like no one could ever possibly understand the complexities of teenage life, I further burdened myself with this notion that no one could ever understand me because of lupus. In some ways this still stands. Sometimes people don’t understand- you’re always getting sick. You’re always tired. these are things I hear enough to make me want to slap a kitten, but now I can handle that. Because I stopped caring about stupidity.
From the point of my diagnosis forward I avoided the sun to the best of my ability. Particularly immediately following my first two flares. One occurred while I was in Greece during the 2004 Olympic Games. I was traveling with my family, laying in the bright Mediterranean sun all day long, staying out all night. My body crapped out. I got so incredibly sick that they took me, in desperation, to a doctor. Who proceeded to diagnose me with appendicitis. Good job, Greece. I never wanted to experience that kind of sickness again, especially if I could control and prevent a flare.
Before I finish this story I want you to remember I was sixteen and shallow. Today, I am anything but vapid- I should probably take better care of myself.
Back to the story- so, I cried a lot. I just wanted to blend in and be like everyone else, but the lupus made me feel branded. Poor me, I know!
Right before I went off to my freshman year of college I looked at myself in the mirror. It was the end of August and I was a true white girl. And by white girl, I mean translucent, and by translucent, I mean I’m Eastern European. I’m really white. My mom, being the wonderful person she is, suggested I get a spray tan, if that would make me happy, and make me feel like all of the summer beach babes. What a
great terrible idea. Well, then I thought I was the cats pajamas, but it only took some peeling of my fan to realize What am I doing to myself?!
And that is the story (and picture) of why I embrace my paste. Now when people comment on how white I am I say with a plain face and blunt expression- I have lupus, I can’t be in the sun. I watch them squirm in their uncomfortableness. It makes me happy.