The bronzed and the beautiful

Like all pasty-white chicks, I thought I could only dream of wearing a white bikini and gold lam

Published August 3, 2005 6:27PM (EDT)

I am a pasty-white chick. Sure, I take pride in my fair complexion. But no matter which way you spin it -- alabaster, ivory, porcelain -- I am the color of chowder.

I want more from life. I want to wear white bikinis and gold lamé sandals and grease my bronzed cheeks with silvery body shimmer. I want to amuse my friends by pretending to grab my sunglasses whenever a less fortunate, pale person walks by. I want to devour Angelina Jolie's makeup tips. I want a tan.

It doesn't help that I grew up in a Southern California beach town, where my high school peers matched their sun protection factor with their miniskirt size and where my own attempts at pigment permutation bordered on the sadistic. (I burned. I peeled. I burned again.)

Well, give away my Wednesday-afternoon therapy slot! I just found my savior, and it's called Neutrogena's Build-a-Tan Gradual Sunless Tanning Lotion!

Sure, I'd heard about fake bakes before, but the thought of turning into a streaky, orange mess has always frightened me. But when a particularly vain friend told me of his success with Build-a-Tan, I hotfooted it to Duane Reade, plunked down my $9 and smeared the lotion on my face and neck. (The directions recommend that you exfoliate first, but since I never leave the house with gratuitous skin flakes anyway, I was already one step ahead.) About two hours later, I saw that unmistakable glow emerge. I looked amazing. By the next afternoon, I had slathered the rest of my body, secured blond highlights and bought two new lip glosses. Lost Brazilian tourists were asking me for directions.

The advantage of Build-a-Tan is that you don't go from sickly to swarthy in one fell swoop. Rather, you slowly darken with each application. But I was barely the hue of Golden Grahams when I began draping white scarves around my head and practicing sultry pouts in the mirror.

Since then, every once in a while that annoying little voice in my head speaks up -- and warns me that I am at risk for getting sucked into a world of false values that would have me nipped, tucked and Botoxed by the time I am 40; that I need to come to my senses and realize that my "hint of color" is fleeting and will fade within a week; that I need to recognize that Build-a-Tan cannot heal adolescent trauma and make me whole. I have to do that myself.

"Oh, shut the hell up," I tell it. "I'm having too much fun." For the first time, I don't have to be that dorky, dough-colored 15-year-old on the beach. I, too, can enjoy the tanned life. For less than $10, that is a deal.

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Object Lust subjects are chosen solely on the discretion -- and unabashed enthusiasm -- of the writer. No product manufacturers are paying for this feature.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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