Ottawa Magazine - - Contents - By Di Gold­ing

Shady Char­ac­ter by Di Gold­ing

I got stopped by two bike cops last spring while out for a stroll. My crime? Walk­ing with my para­sol up. One cop did all the talk­ing; the other hung back look­ing of­fi­cial and chuck­ling.

Bike Cop: Hey, it’s not rain­ing to­day. You can put your um­brella away. Me: It’s for the sun. It has a UVB pro­tec­tion liner. Bike Cop: They have sun­screen for that. Me: Sun­screen gives only par­tial pro­tec­tion, and I don’t want to get can­cer. Maybe you should get one. Bike Cop: No­body’s gonna take me se­ri­ously with a para­sol! Me: You mean peo­ple take you se­ri­ously on the bike? Then he dou­bled me on his han­dle­bars down to the sta­tion. But alas, it isn’t against the law to be a smar­tass. Which is a good thing, oth­er­wise my en­tire fam­ily would be in the slam­mer.

The cop was right about one thing: be­ing taken se­ri­ously. I have been us­ing my sun­brella for sev­eral sea­sons now, and not a day goes by that I don’t hear “Hey! It’s not rain­ing.” To which I re­ply: “You know what you have in com­mon with skin can­cer? Nei­ther of you is funny.” One guy tried to get un­der the um­brella with me. He got an el­bow to the so­lar plexus.

Sure, it would just be eas­ier to wear broad-spec­trum sun­screen, and I do, but ex­perts agree that the best de­fence against harm­ful ul­tra­vi­o­let rays is avoid­ing pro­longed sun ex­po­sure. I’m not tak­ing any chances, es­pe­cially since I spent the bet­ter part of my 20s try­ing to achieve that per­fect shade of bronze and, in do­ing so, in­curred enough sun time for three of me.

Skin-tone wise, I am freckly pale. If I were any whiter, I would be clear. It wasn’t al­ways this way. When I was lit­tle, I took af­ter my dad, who was half Abo­rig­i­nal Cana­dian. At the cot­tage in the sum­mer, I would en­dure a cou­ple of sun­burns be­fore my skin would be­gin to darken. “Brown as a berry!” my grand­mother would say. “You just have to get the painful part over with, and be­fore you know it, you’re a new per­son!” I have the feel­ing young star­lets are given the same ad­vice by pornog­ra­phers.

My bad burn/even­tual tan rou­tine re­mained mostly un­changed through­out my teens. But in my 20s, I took it to a whole new level. Tan­ning beds meant I could stay brown all year long. I worked at one bar that ac­tu­ally had a tan­ning bed we could use for free (oh, ’90s, how I miss your wig­gity-wack­i­ness). I knew I had gone too far when my grand­mother, now suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia, said to my mum, “I think that In­dian woman stole my shoes.” I gave up tan­ning, and my grand­mother even­tu­ally rec­og­nized me again. We never did find the shoes.

Just as my fam­ily is pre­dis­posed to smart-assery, so are we to skin can­cer. Our Chil­dren of the Corn- like pig­men­ta­tion means our sum­mer strug­gle is real. De­spite decades of pre­cau­tion, last year my mum had a fist-sized melanoma re­moved from her back. Hav­ing en­dured so many child­hood sun­burns means I’m at in­creased risk for de­vel­op­ing melanoma. When I was kid, my grand­fa­ther, an avid sport fish­er­man, got skin can­cer on his head. Back in the 1970s, they didn’t have sun­screen. I’m pretty sure they used a mix­ture of Crisco and as­bestos. Peo­ple smoked on planes then too — it was a sim­pler time. Luck­ily our gen­er­a­tion knows bet­ter, and armed with cur­rent in­for­ma­tion, I can do my best to stay melanoma-free.

But em­brac­ing my pale­ness didn’t hap­pen overnight. I went the self-tan­ning route for many sum­mers. I fol­lowed all the ad­vice: “Ex­fo­li­ate! Ap­ply in a cir­cu­lar mo­tion! Ex­fo­li­ate! Start at your feet and work up! Ex­fo­li­ate, you moron! EX­FO­LI­ATE!” It didn’t mat­ter. I could never get it right. And it didn’t mat­ter how much I spent on the prod­uct. High end or low, the re­sult looked as if I’d fed a tod­dler a Red Bull-and-Skit­tles smoothie and let it fin­ger paint my legs with henna. Not a good look.

Nor is an an­gry red sun­burn. Noth­ing an­noys me more than see­ing some­one as nat­u­rally pale as I am sport­ing a shiny pink burn (of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by tacky bikini-strap lines), es­pe­cially be­cause it’s so easily pre­ventable. I re­sent my health care dol­lars go­ing to treat some­one’s melanoma be­cause they wanted to “look cute for Am­ber’s wed­ding.” I feel the same way about peo­ple who cy­cle but don’t wear hel­mets. A hel­met is less con­fin­ing than a wheel­chair! And cheaper! And less per­ma­nent! But I di­gress.

Now, I hap­pily em­brace the pale look and my para­sol — not as a fash­ion state­ment, but as an “I don’t want to get can­cer” state­ment. I hap­pen to think pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures should al­ways be in style, and if I have to en­dure con­ver­sa­tions with bored bike cops, I’m will­ing to make that sac­ri­fice. Di Gold­ing is an Ot­tawa-based free­lance writer and film critic for Dear Cast & Crew. While not be­ing swarmed by moths that have mis­taken her for a porch light, she works part time as a white bal­ance ref­er­ence for lo­cal pho­tog­ra­phers.

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