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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today At My Old High School ...

My niece's car was being worked on ... something about the oilpan. She needed a ride home from a cheerleading clinic, so here I was sitting in front of my hometown alma mater feeling very old.
My niece has been a varsity cheerleader for three years. She enjoys it, even though most of the family teases her relentlessly about the ditsy, shallow, and vapid cheerleader stereotype. I have never met any of her "co-spiriters," so imagine my shock when she exited the school with four other girls who looked about 26 and were clearly on their way to work the stripper poles. And not at the good clubs, but the ones near the airport. Any airport. Every airport.

After she was inside the car and belted in, I asked my niece about the "advisors" she was talking to at the school's door, or the older sisters who walked out of the building in her company. Or were they young mothers that just looked really good for their age? "No, those girls are sophomores," she replied, "... and the one on the left is a freshman." The one on the left had the breasts of a well-developed college senior. What kind of growth hormones is the USDA of FDA or whatever agency letting slip into our food supply? These were not the girls of my high school years. And what the hell was the deal with the tans??!!!

We sat there with the car idling for a few more moments and maybe 15 more girls exited the school by themselves or in small groups. And each young lady was a proposterous shade of brown. Now, not everything has changed in my high school. I know from observation that the student body of the entire school system is extremely Caucasian. There are exactly three black students and a handful of individuals of mixed race. But the girls I was ogling in a completely scientific manner looked to be Black, Native American, and whatever races produce a dark skin coloration that appears dirty, unhealthy, and slightly orange at the same time.

"Tryouts are in three weeks, and prom is a week later," my niece, whose own legs were about three shades darker than her arms, continued to explain. "The race is on!!"

Unlike my high school years where extra money was funneled into gas and beer, my niece and her cohorts use their handed-over-from-parents cash for more important necessities ... tanning.

Believe it or not, ancient civilizations used to worship the idea of being pale. Pale pallors meant that you weren't toiling in the fields with the masses. Light complexions were a sign of high status, and both men and women often applied cosmetic concoctions to lighten their look.

But in America, it was the decade of the '40s that had popular magazines touting the benefits of sunbathing. Movies and media of the '50s and '60s strengthened the linkage between being tan and living healthy, fun-filled lifestyles. In 1978, the first tanning beds hit America by storm, offering the tan look without the need for time and real sun. And over the last decade, self-tanning lotions and spray-on tan application systems have gained in popularity.

However, the "look" of a healthy tan doesn't necessarily match up with the facts about tanning. Like our sun, tanning beds emit ultraviolet radiation that causes a substance in the skin called melanin to darken, producing a wide range of tan skin tones. Most tanning beds produce a mixture of UVA and UVB rays, causing both primary (and quick) skin darkening and delayed tanning. Suggested lotions and limited exposures are designed to prevent the natural damaging effects of UV radiation.

But all is not perfect with tanning and tanning beds. The darkening of melanin, by definition, is the body's defense mechanism to damage. Exposure to UV radiation has been directly linked to the development of skin cancer, cataracts, compromised immune systems, and the premature aging and wrinkling of skin. In fact, according to Internet sources, the U.S. Public Health Service classifies ultraviolet radiation, like that produced by sun lamps and tanning beds, as a human carcinogen. And the World Health Organization strongly objects to the use of tanning beds for cosmetic reasons, especially in young people.

I think pure science isn't the end-all to this issue, either. Factors like genetic predisposition, quality of tanning equipment, and common sense thinking have to come into play.

And then there's human nature ... that great desire to cheat any given system ... that has to put in its two cents. According to my niece, several of her friends tan at two different "salons" in a given day ... that's a no-no. Others sweet-talk the attendants into letting them go longer in the beds than suggested. And my niece has three immediate relatives who have battled cancer, so I'd like to shake her 'til she sees stars ... and the light ... about risking her health for temporarily darker skin.

So as I drive away from my old high school, I look in my rearview mirror and see young modern women wearing shades of skin that nature DID NOT provide. And I imagine them in another 10 years with dermis like shoe leather. Not a pretty picture!

POINT OF RANT: There is no definite answer to this one ... your transitory appearance vs. your health ... you decide.

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