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Published May 05 2012

Swift: All’s fair in love and tanning

When I saw photos of tanorexic New Jersey mother Patricia Krentcil last week, I could only think one thing:

“There, but for the grace of sunblock, go I.”

Krentcil, who is 44 but doesn’t look a day over 80, received lots of negative buzz last week amid accusations that she took her pale-skinned, red-haired daughter into a tanning booth.

But Krentcil’s freakishly overtanned appearance seems to be the target of the most controversy. Without even trying, Krentcil has become a poster child for the field of dermatology. Doctors need only hang up her picture in examining rooms nationwide, and young girls everywhere will swear that they’ll never leave the house again without first marinating themselves in SPF 200.

It all makes me somewhat relieved that I gave up on trying to be a bronzed beach goddess long ago.

Not that I didn’t give it the old collagen try at first. The Swift girls were all fair-skinned and blue-eyed, yet we wanted to sport deep, golden tans, like Farrah Fawcett or Suzanne Somers in the 1978 made-for-TV movie “Zuma Beach.”

And so we tried every trick in the teenage girl book to bronze our stubbornly Germanavian epidermis. One popular tactic was to slather ourselves in a carcinogen-courting cocktail of baby oil and iodine. We always tanned from noon to 3, when the sun was at its hottest and most punishing. To help it along, my sister Mabel baked atop a reflective tanning blanket.

Forever the overachiever, Mabel was so determined to flaunt a sun-goddess look all winter long that she invested in Sun-In to lighten her hair and Coppertone QT to darken her skin.

For the uninitiated, QT was one of the first of the self-tanners. The “QT” supposedly stood for “quick tan,” although the result was more “quirky tan.” It always made you look like a white Pacer that had been repainted burnt-orange at the most negligent body shop in the world.

As little as we knew about sun damage then, the first precautionary tales about overtanning began to circulate in the late ’70s and ’80s. One claimed that a woman, who lived in exotic Bismarck, had fallen asleep on her reflective blanket for hours and melted onto it. Another urban legend warned of a young woman – also from Bismarck – who brazenly (or perhaps bronzedly) went to every tanning booth in town in efforts to get a deep tan for her prom. In the process, she cooked herself from the inside out.

These urban legends taught me a couple of things. One was that a reflective blanket was not a good idea. The second was that Bismarck was a dangerous place to live if you wanted to get a good tan.

In college, we began to hear of some new-fangled thing called a “sun protection factor.” Sun lotions became less about basting your baked skin to a high sheen and more about keeping it from sunburn in the first place.

Even then, I tanned foolishly. One particular spring break, I decided a skimpy SPF 4 would allow me to get a good “base tan” while I broasted in the Florida sun. I also neglected to put any lotion on the tops of my feet or my ears.

This oversight was particularly idiotic. I couldn’t wear shoes for days and my new Flock of Seagulls haircut only accentuated the fact that my ears resembled charred red peppers.

Fortunately, that was the last time I suffered a bad burn. I’ve spent the past

20-plus years slathering my skin in SPF 70 in efforts to maintain my anemic British schoolgirl complexion.

I have succumbed to the occasional spray tan, but have generally remained a whiter shade of pale.

And after seeing Mrs. Krentcil, I am so glad.

I am Tam. Tan, I am not.

Thank goodness.

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