Voices of Summer: Tans - Rolling Stone
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Fifty shades of bare skin


Young woman pulling down bikini bottom to reveal tan line, close-up

Jonathan Storey

The most important thing about a tan is what it can cover up — everything from inner fears to weekends in a crack house. Even acting ability, as evidenced by the mystifying career of a certain performer who, to be fair about it, showed rare political courage by not publicly turning his back on Imelda Marcos when it would have been so easy to do so.

Tans are a summertime item, although not necessarily. Some great ones have been pulled off by city dwellers who’ve bundled themselves up to the neck and faced the sun in December from industrial-loft rooftops. Year round tans were once the province of the rich and possibly David Niven. But thanks to low airline fares, they’re available now to anyone who’s willing to throw over career and loved ones to go off and soak it up. Such individuals will be rewarded by the epitaph “He had a great year-round tan.”

Tans can be achieved in parlors, although this means lining up behind aging gay actors. And listening to staff assurances of how little damage they (the parlors) will inflict. It’s also possible to get some decent color by standing next to a microwave oven. But to get the genuine article, you’ve got to fling off your clothes and take your chances with the Big Hot Guy. Actually, it’s just the face that’s important and possibly the neck. A white neck does set off a tan nicely but also produces a priest’s-collar effect that you may not want.

Exposure to the sun is attractive in that it ties you to the ages. It’s comforting to know that the very same sun that beats down on your share at Bridgehampton once warmed Flaubert at Smyrna. For that matter, it’s the identical sun that may have ignited the primeval chemical soup, resulting in early life and eventually in Al Pacino.

Tans are the most democratic of institutions. Disadvantaged José from the Bronx has just as clear a title to one as does the high powered exec at Fox. At least at this writing. But tans are also polarizing. Walk into a room with a fresh one and half the guests will admire you. Others will be out to get you and possibly shoot down your Cosby-ripoff sitcom.

Not everyone is advised to show up with a tan. English rock groups who’ve ridden a ghostly pallor to fame would be wise to remain indoors. Investment bankers might want to think twice before throwing off the impression that they’ve been making sneak visits to banks in the Bahamas. Those with wasting diseases will only call attention to their difficulties by trying to come on as bronzed gods. And black folks look fine just the way they are; there is no need to open up a discussion of their puzzling relationship to the seashore.

Insofar as the West Coast remains a trend setter, the tan would appear to be in disfavor at the moment. The Bret Easton Ellis pack seems to prefer disaffected late-night fluorescents at various Fatburgers. Nor is the tan flourishing in the Industry. The tanned yup is not necessarily a canned yup — but there’s a feeling that the fledging mogul who’s been out sunning himself is not working as hard as the new management at Disney. Deals continue to be whipped together at poolside, but only by Martin Ransohoffian titans. Unless your outpourings straddle the decades, it’s best in Hollywood to come on pale.

The many health-hazard reports, of course, haven’t helped the tan’s image at all. Yet doctors are quick to point out that compared with all the other awful things that can happen to an Eighties’ person, the little c is a cupcake. Witness Bush’s cheek, which barely made the evening news, Reagan’s nose and LBJ’s recently declassified leg. Despite these drawbacks, don’t rush to write off the tan. It’s certain to bounce back. Terrorist attacks on our citizens abroad will only help; many of us are going to be staying home this summer and getting American tans. A great advantage of the tan is that it’s free. It isn’t tied to any Federal Reserve discount rate. You just go out there and get yourself one. It straightens your back, adds a bounce to your step and makes you feel healthier. Even though you may have blown a little bone marrow along the way. A tan makes you feel just a leetle bit superior to the tanless crowd around you. And there’s no need to fret about the worthwhile things you could have done with all the hours you’ve spent tanning. Who needs another book on the rise of Islam? The way you look may not be the way you feel, but it’s a start. Get out there and fry down.

In This Article: Coverwall


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