Monday, 25 April 2011
The rest of the year passes quite quietly, in part due to the murderous expression I wear in public deterring even the most lairy of white van men from hollering at me, but as soon as the sun comes out, all eyes are on me. Not because I'm shimmying down the street in a string bikini, bosoms bouncing. But because I'm doing something even more shocking instead. I'm completely covered up with only hands and feet poking out as I go from A to B...
While this stops me from being the colour of a lobster (and feeling as the kind of pain being said crustacean felt when being boiled alive), it really provokes people's attention. Men and women alike feel entitled to comment on my skin and my hair colour and my choice in clothing. Men seem affronted that I'm denying them their summer right to ogle my body in skimpy clothes (although if they'd seen an arse as pale as mine wandering down the road more often, they'd be less keen in future. It's more Caspar the Friendly Ghost than Copacabana.) Women seem to think I'm looking down on their hotpants and haltertops and everyone seems to regard it as practically un-British to not turn my skin red as part of the Union Jack.
You only have to see the frothing and gnashing and wailing over Nigella Lawson's burkini moment on Bondi Beach to see that the Brits regard exposing their tender flesh in large quantities and for long periods of time as something so dear to them that it should be enshrined in the Magna Carta. This is a woman who has a complexion that is just ripe for malignant melanoma and has lost her mother, sister and first husband to cancer and yet she has been castigated for covering up in the Australian sun. The fact that she has a sexy persona in her job means that she has no right to protect herself from short term discomfort and long term danger. Even the slightly less tabloidy readers of the Observer all had a opinion. Why couldn't she just wear a a T-shirt and leggings? Gloves? Factor 50? Sit in a box? Stay indoors?
But none of these things shut people up around the translucently pale. When I wear something as out there as a shirt in the summer, passers-by yell at me from their cars, tut at me in the street and pass comments on my chances of missing out my Vitamin D or needing some colour to look healthier or somehow being repressed. When I shuffle round in beer gardens to avoid the baking midday sun, people roll their eyes at me as if I'm acting like a total diva. If I stay indoors with the windows open, sampling the fresh air by proxy, people tell me I'm spoiling it for them, I'm no fun and I need to get out more. If I carry a parasol, they fall about laughing, cracking jokes about raining men and umbrellas. Going puce provokes howls of laughter and endless jokes. When I slather myself in Factor 50 million, they refuse to help me with the back bits I can't see, mock the level of SPF and then trot out the conspiracy that suncream causes cancer rather than protect from it.
Cancer is a frightening word and I understand that most people laugh in its face rather than think about its cruel realities, but from a very very young age, the spectre of skin cancer has hung over me. I am pale, the kind of pale that people gasp at, that veins glow through, that turns slightly blue in winter. I can't buy commercial foundations and even the sheerest tights look like gravy browning on my legs. I am also a natural redhead with a fairly good smattering of freckles (not that you can see 'em under the wrong shade of make up I have to wear) and I burn in the sun almost instantly. I famously once got sunburn over lunch in Glasgow. Even slightly overcast days have been known to give me water blisters. I am so Celtic looking people assume I'm Irish from 50 paces. I have a grandmother who never sunbathed in her life who had a melanoma removed and monitored for years. I am at such a risk from skin cancer, I'm like the poster child for dermatology students. Every time I go out in the blazing sun I am aware at the back of my mind that I might be paying for this period of pleasure for years to come.
Therefore it's beyond bloody annoying when people mock and mention my attempts not to die early. Yes, I also like staying out of the sun to avoid getting wrinkles and to keep my youthful complexion, but primarily, sun-dodging is for me about not ending up in pain and with a liefe threatening illness. Weirdly, neither myself or the sun police were so concerned by years of enthusiastic smoking and its wrinkle creating, cancer causing charms, rarely ever being told to give up or hearing any comments about it even though that's definitely the more antisocial habit. But everyone's got an opinion about my SPF habits...
I won't mind so much that interest involved telling me where the hell you can get a decent suncream with a high factor and good UVA and UVB protection that doesn't leave an unctuous oily white film on all exposed flesh while attracting every scrap of dust, dirt and dead insect life in a 40 mile radius, before sliding off and staining clothes, upholstery and melting plastic and leaving you broken out and slippery. Until then I'll continue with my attempts to dress like an eccentric Agatha Christie heroine crossed with a beekeeper and play musical chairs with the shade instead. And yes, I am hot and in my layers and I'm envious of your golden limbs and well behaved skin. Try not to provoke me further please with stupid questions. You won't like it when I start commenting on your crow's feet and wrinkles in return!