The perfect tan is of course an untan; a snowy and virgin dermis unpenetrated by UVs A or B; a triumph of health over vanity and of the science-sated super-ego over the Barbie-basted id. Any sensible girl should team her digital-dreamy Peter Pilloto prints with an ivory parasol, in a chic little homage to the new My Fair Lady film, and emulate the pale, English-rose sweetness of its rumoured star, Carey Mulligan.
Should. Very much, in the light of the many authoritative and rightfully scary skin cancer campaigns out there, should.
But this is a familiar battleground for the female species: Sane vs Thin. Because tanning quite simply makes us look thinner. We may claim that we love that ‘healthy glow’, that ‘athletic sheen’, the blemish-veiling, teeth-whitening, Ralph Lauren vigour of it all, but really we’re just thinking: Mmmm. Thinner thighs. Those toxic rays shade our buried bones and puny muscles in a way no amount of bronzer contouring can. They hit the spots – collarbone, cleavage, abs, biceps, shins – that help every one of us celebrate the nascent Macpherson under our tired, grey, dimpled, over-insulated skin.
Tanning is part of a long and respected heritage of century-spanning stupidity – starving; vomiting; enforced pooing; cross-country running; lung-annihilating corsetry; purchasing patronising, overpriced, pink and purple paperbacks with manic-eyed, gauntly grinning women in leotards on the front – dedicated to the holy grail of walking into work and being told you need to eat a biscuit, because you look ill.
This is a very serious matter, of course, representative of deep-rooted social, political, psychological, physiological and economic forces that conspire to keep women quietly stirring a vat of cayenne pepper and maple syrup in the Enchanted Tower of Childlike Self-Limitation while mankind gets on with fun, but it’s also just dumb. And I do it. I always cover myself with a thick rind of Factor 30, but I still watch my cheekbones freckle and my moles darken with glee. In my head, all I can see are those scary, blotchy UV-scans of prematurely aged women, but all I can think is: Mmmm. Thinner thighs.
I’ve never been a fake tan girl, of course. That simply smacks of vanity.
But all hope is not lost. This month, I discovered Xen-Tan, and loathe as I am to promote something already stupidly over-publicised, this stuff is easy, effective, and smells like pudding. Nice creamy orangey pudding. Which I can happily eat, because my thighs look well, at least one creamy orangey pudding thinner than they did last month.