M. Giant's
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Thursday, April 06, 2006  

Seeing Red

Being descended as I am from a race of bog people whose melanin-deprived offspring rose from a sunless island somewhere in the North Atlantic, my natural skin tone isn't what you'd call bronze. Combine my genetic head start with my lifelong love of the indoors, and I end up a shade that's kind of a blue-green. I've always been self-conscious about it, even the first time Trash saw me naked:

"Why are you so self-conscious?"

"Because I'm so pale."

"You can turn the light off if it bothers you."

"It is off."


So naturally, on those rare occasions when I go a long period of time with nothing between my alabaster complexion and the sun but a little atmosphere and ninety-three million miles of outer space, the results tend to get ugly. Here then, is the story of the great sunburns of my life. A portrait in red, if you will.


During my teen years (and tween years, before they were called that), my family used to go up to a resort on Bowstring Lake in Northern Minnesota the last week of July. You think of Northern Minnesota and you think of cold, but I think of hotter weather than we had in Mexico last weekend. And a lot more mosquitoes. In any case, even then I spent a lot of time in the cabin reading, but I still spent enough time swimming in the lake that it would be one week at the resort, and then one week on my bed at home wrapped in wet towels. Eventually mom started encouraging me to swim in a t-shirt, then in a hat, then I started college and quit going before I had to start swimming in pants.


Trash used to think that I could get tan if I just got some sun. In her world, you either tan, or you burn and then peel and then tan. She never believed me when I said I started out white, then went red, then peeled back to white again. After this summer, she believed me.


We spent an afternoon canoeing down the St. Croix River. Funny thing about that: it was a sunny day and an aluminum canoe, so the sun not only fried me from above, it simultaneously reflected up and cooked me from below. I was like a rotisserie chicken without having to spin. Easily the worst sunburn I ever had. When we got home, Trash made me spend the whole evening steeped in a bathtub full of cool water and Lipton tea bags. She made me apply aloe vera gel liberally for the entire next week. After the peeling finished, my legs were, much to my astonishment, darker than ever before. Rather than their usual, bioluminescent white, one might almost have called them a listless shade of taupe. I began to wonder if there weren't something to Trash's theory about peeling to tan after all. Or maybe I had just been dyed by the tea.


After 1996, only the second time I'd ever called in sick to work for sunburn. Go ahead, laugh. See how your boss likes it when you show up in a condition that precludes pants.


Spent the Fourth of July weekend at my bandmate's parents' house, hanging around by the pool and the hot tub in hundred degree weather, trying to hurry up and read my book before it melted. Tried to recreate the success of 1996. Except for having to apply liberal amounts of aloe vera gel, was unsuccessful. Should have tried tea bags again.


My third trip to Mexico. I'd never burned there before, probably because Trash is always so vigilant about keeping me laminated in stuff that comes in a bottle labeled "SPF" with a whole bunch of numbers after it. This time I only used SPF 30, a milky liquid thinner than Ranch dressing, because that's all we had. And then I sat at a table on the porch next to the hotel bar. I was facing east, with the bar to my left, so when I sat down in the morning the sun was to the right and in front of me. When I got up an untold number of pina coladas later, the sun was to the right and behind me. Despite having reapplied throughout the day, I was pretty well lobstered. Monday we flew back, the most physically uncomfortable four hours I've ever spent in an exit row, and then when I showed up at work on Tuesday, everyone was like, "Does the sun only shine in one side of the sky down there?" My nose and the right side of my face were glowing angrily. The worst spot was the right side of my forehead, right at my hairline, which made me really glad that Trash had shot down my idea of shaving my head if Sars had raised $35,000.

So now my face is peeling, just in time for me to make the scene in Vegas tomorrow. So money. My legs and arms haven't peeled yet; they're still half-crimson, and not radiating pain simply as a result of existing. Although if I were to, say, bark my right shin on a bed frame about now, I'd probably hop to an emergency room and demand that the damn thing be taken off.

This is just in the front, of course. While I'm in Vegas, I'll be sure to block off some time to lie on my stomach on the hotel roof, just to even things out. And also have room service bring me a crate of Lipton.

Today's best search phrase: "what can a white liquid be from a cat that has been fixed and leaving sweat spots? +cat -"white liquid" OR sweating." As Trash put it so eloquently in the subject line of the e-mail she sent this to me in, "Gross. and missing the point of Booleans."

posted by M. Giant 8:06 PM 13 comments


Its sounds like you and I have the same skin tone. I'm incredibly pale as well. Like to the point people are apparently concerned when they first meet that I might have consumption. Here's the kicker: I'm half Hispanic. So I'm suffering alone at most family bar-b-que's

By Blogger princessprattle, at April 6, 2006 at 9:44 PM  

My family is Irish-Danish. That's some pale skin, right there, and I'm [i]still[/i] the palest one. My mother says that when I was born, you could trace my veins from my heart to every one of my extremities. My sister (a natural platinum blonde, who takes after the Danish side) calls my skin tone "neon clear".

By Blogger Scarlett, at April 7, 2006 at 6:27 AM  

Hearing these makes me want to tell all MY sunburn stories. But I won't. I've got some good ones as well. I'll drop by one of these days to share...

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 7, 2006 at 6:29 AM  

Ouch... painful sunburn stories. A quick cautionary follow-up... I have Scandinavian ancestry, and am consequently blond and pale. My skin also doesn't tan, and since I've never liked the sun, this doesn't bother me much... but late last year (I'm 38), I developed nodular melanoma on one arm (this is the really nasty skin cancer that kills you if you don't find it fast enough). I now have an 8-inch scar that makes me look like I was in a bar fight, and am also missing a couple of lymph nodes under one arm -- but I was very lucky, and caught the cancer before it metastasized. The doctors tell me that people of my background are more likely to develop this than other folks, and also that they believe 3 bad sunburns before the age of 18 contributes... I can only remember one bad sunburn (top of my feet) as a kid, so I'm assuming that maybe I'm just REALLY sensitive to sun. Anyway, I'm 38 and lucky to have caught my problem in time -- the damn tumor was unpigmented, too, and didn't look anything like most of us civilians expect skin cancer to look. Just wanted to encourage you to be really, REALLY careful about keeping your kids covered/screened (as I'm sure you already are), since they may share your skin type... sunburns today can cause major problems later in their lives. And regardless of how much time you spend in the sun, given your skin type, it's a good idea to see a dermatologist at least once every two years for a general check. Thanks for the hysterical 24 recaps!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 7, 2006 at 8:32 AM  

I'm glad you mentioned sunscreen in at least the last episode. I was concerned that you'd never heard of it.

By Blogger Adia, at April 7, 2006 at 8:34 AM  

oh I am so with you... I am a mutt who mostly looks French except for my LOVELY Irish skin. I burn. Period. When I was little and I'd do something silly like go to a friend's house and try to swim in their pool WHILE THE SUN WAS STILL UP and I would come home glowing and my mother would baste me in Vinegar water which supposedly took the "heat" out of the burn but I think was really just a method of punishing me for getting burned in the first place.

In a not at ALL surprising move I went GOTH early in high school (where my lack of pigment was the envy of all my friends) and then moved to the bay area as an adult. Happiness is living in a place where everyone is pale and wearing a jacket all the time!

By Blogger Laurel, at April 7, 2006 at 10:48 AM  

My family background is Danish/Norweigan so, yeah, pale. I have burned to the point of blistering twice in my life and that sucks! The last bad burn I had was in January. I saw my doctor for something unrelated and she said pale people need to apply SPF 40 or more 30 minutes before going outside and every 20-30 minutes thereafter. Yeah, that leaves time for fun!

By Blogger Finding My New Normal, at April 7, 2006 at 10:57 AM  

You should try Sooth-A-Caine from Banana Boat, it works great. It has aloe, which you're using anyway, and Lidocaine, which will help dull the pain.

By Blogger Sarah, at April 7, 2006 at 1:09 PM  

Liek someone said earlier, with a history of bad burns you should really have an MD check out your skin. It's so easy to end up with a spot or two of skin cancer, which (if caught early) is easily fixed. So you should probably get to the MD STAT!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 7, 2006 at 2:29 PM  

Irish-German decent here. I bioluminesce as well. On my trip to Key West I lathered up well in SPF 1000. EXCEPT for the tops of my feet. I didn't realize I was in trouble until the shower water hit them and the screeching began. The rest of my trips to the beach that trip were in my bathing suit plus socks. SEXXXXXY.

By Blogger RoxyGrrrl, at April 7, 2006 at 4:35 PM  

I (as you can see from the sig pic) don't have the white/red/peel/white thing going on myself, but my sister was WHITE as this page for the first ten years or so of her life. She actually suffered sunstroke as a baby and was highly sensitive to heat for many years. The sun is NOT good for people in any large doses, regardless of their skin tones. Yes, I can run around all day and not get burned... but the UV rays? Still harmful.

(In the 'mom' voice) So... As you know - SPF 30-50 yourself, Trash and M. Small from head to foot when you go out, make sure to re-apply liberally, and avoid peak sun hours. Skin cancer, peeling, premature wrinkles etc. SUCK even more then sunburns.

And we've got to have more M. Giant, Trash and M. Small stories! Rest up, hydrate and take an asprin or three.

By Blogger Maya, at April 8, 2006 at 9:43 PM  

I grew up on a street with an actual albino child. The only way people could tell us apart was that I had red hair and she had white hair. The Scottish and the Welsh should not mate. I had skin cancer at age 7. --Sayer

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 9, 2006 at 6:25 PM  

I'm incredibly pale, and my mother, the Sunscreen Nazi, keeps us all in SPF 50 at all times. She's really pale and has had skin cancer twice, so every minute of sun exposure to her is an opportunity to tell another cautionary tale. Even my best friend calls me albino and in high school not being tan is like riding the short bus. I've had some horrendous sunburns when I've spent like 5 hours out on a boat in the middle of a lake without reapplying. I've found that Neutrogena makes this great stuff called After-Sun. Or you could just invest in a large gallon-size bottle of aloe.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 16, 2006 at 12:04 PM  

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