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Breaking the Deadly Addiction: Tanning

Growing up, I didn't care much about my looks. I was an athlete, I rarely wore a dress until the age of 17, and I had no clue how to apply makeup, paint my nails, or fix my hair to hide the cowlick I'd sported since 3rd grade. I went through my adolescent years wearing adidas shorts, some version of a soccer t-shirt, and sambas. I never really thought about getting highlights, acrylic nails, or fake tans. At some point in the course of schooling, I started to realize that I didn't fit in. I was "intimidating" to boys and girls alike. No one seemed to know how to approach a girl who acted like a boy... and I started to feel the need to change and "conform." Unfortunately at this time I felt like I didn't have much going for me. I was pale, I had acne, and soccer had made my bottom half so muscular it was hard to find nice clothes that fit.

At some point, after finishing a course of Accutane and enjoying clear skin for the first time since puberty, the idea popped in my head that in order to look better, I had to get a tan. I tried every self-tanning product I could get my hands on, but after multiple epic fails, I decided to visit the tanning bed. In the beginning I was terrified of the coffin-like, overheated machine. I remember the first time I went into the bed, I wore clothes and only exposed my face and arms. I asked if they made tanning lotion with sunscreen and got laughs from the ladies at the front desk. At this point, I really didn't know anything about the dangers of tanning- I believe one dermatologist I visited even recommended a little tanning to clear up the remainder of my acne. Once I started, I was hooked. I looked healthy, I glowed, and I fit in with the other girls who also visited tanning beds daily.

At my senior picnic, last day of high school

Having a tan made me feel powerful. If I had an event coming up, I could visit the tanning bed every day for the perfect coloring. It made me look thinner, cleared up my skin completely, and did wonders for my self-esteem. Throughout college, tanning beds started to become a hot topic. Sure, most people I knew went to them at some point, I used to go running to and from the local tanning bed with some friends (combining a workout and tanning was key for a tight college schedule!). However, the news media and women's magazines started to feature articles like "How Tanning almost killed me," "Dying to be Tan," etc. To be honest, this scared the crap out of me and I would always turn the page without reading them. I thought I looked good, and at the time that was all that mattered.

Tanning, for me, became an addiction. It made me feel on top of the world, and when I didn't go, I craved it. I tried to quit a few times in college and went flying back when my self-esteem bottomed out.
When I got to medical school I thought things would change. I told myself that a future doctor can't go to a tanning bed--it's hypocritical and wrong. I quit. This philosophy lasted 6 months into med school, when my moods got the best of me and I purchased a yearly membership to the local tanning bed. I also got outrageously blonde highlights to match my beachy looks. Instantly I was back on top.

For the most part, no one questioned my "faux glow," but it started to eat away me- financially and psychologically. Every time I went to the tanning bed I felt guilty- I would sneak into the place, run to the nearest bed, and run out--no eye contact with any of the other patrons for fear that someone would recognize me. The tan looked good, but I knew I was paying a price with my health.
The day that one of my classmates referred to me as one of the few "blonde" girls in the class, I snapped.
That day I immediately went to the salon and began to transform back into the natural person I used to be, starting with a gradual return to my roots..

And finally, the decision to quit tanning for good. It came a few days after I got engaged to my wonderful guy

I went to the tanning salon, went for one last session, and immediately cancelled my membership. No turning back, I told myself. And since that day in November 2009, I haven't been back.
To be honest, quitting was really, really, hard. My skin quality changed, I started getting under-eye circles, and I felt unattractive. I'm sure that I was the only person who noticed, but when you've been staring in a mirror every day for years, you notice these things. There were periods of time where all I could think about was "I really wish I was tan right now." Clothes that used to look so nice with my skin tone now make me look washed out. I had to discard and change all of my makeup. But you know what? I can't look back. I will never visit a tanning bed again.

Ladies, if you still go to the tanning salon and feel the way that I did for the longest time, please listen to me. STOP. Tanning is deadly, the risks of skin cancer are astronomical, and to tell you the truth- I know I'm not by any means in the clear. I check my moles often, I stay out of the sun (and wear SPF 35 if I do go out), and I know that vigilance and sun safety is so important from here on out. If you're having doubts, check out Cosmo's 480 Reasons Not to Tan, or open any women's magazine these days for articles on sun safety and the dangers of tanning.

Step away from the tanning bed--and start working on the root of the problem. I have faced my esteem issues with regular exercise, healthy living, and the support of my family, friends, and husband.

As always, if you have questions or want to chat, feel free to shoot me an email! flexitalliean@gmail.com

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