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Do you get tan?

Spring is here and treating us to unusually warm temperatures unusually early.  It’s 70 degrees in Philadelphia today, 15 degrees above average, and it hasn’t even hit St. Patricks Day yet (but, oh, it will hit - and it always hits Philly hard. See: Erica Palan’s spot on  preview of the imminent St. Patty’s debauchery in Philly). 

With warm weather comes more color and less layers (time to dry clean my winter coats - dare I jinx it…), fresh air and fresh skin.  And with the fresh skin, seasoned by winter to an unsightly white, at the first sight of someone’s comes the question: "do you get tan?" And I ask, “why do you care? Why does it matter?”

I think it’s a very strange curiousity to ask someone if they get tan or if they just burn.  You’re forced to uncomfortably divulge that no, you just freckle or yes, you just get red and burn.  Maybe that red turns to a tan (but as we all know, that’s not really a good thing.  Just an indication that your body’s natural sun defense has given up, waved the white flag, if you will, giving way to the red flags).  Or perhaps you grin and gloat that yes, you tan, oh boy do you tan.  Just wait and see how tan you get.  (Again, we know that’s not really a good thing.  Pick up any copy of Cosmo for at least 3 references to SPF, skin cancer and the importance of wide brimmed hats.)

We are all guilty of constant comparison, be it weight or wealth, clothes or cars, and perhaps our skin’s genetic ability to tan or not to tan is yet another trait up for discussion.  The difference is, when we all start wearing swimsuits, showing more skin and spending more time outside, we don’t ask each other: “how do you gain weight?” or “how do you respond to tree pollen?” It’s personal and publicly-irrelevant knowledge, same as melanin levels and uncontrollable tanning capabilities. So, why do we ask our friends “do you get tan or do you burn?”

Next time you see your friend’s forearm in the sun, don’t ask her how she tans, instead, tell her her epidermis is showing.