I have never been mistaken for an albino.
I am not one of those clowns that places a lot of stock in my lineage. I happen to be 50% Italian and 50% Irish, but I don't have an Irish flag on my wall and I don't pretend to relate to Paulie Walnuts. I like The Godfather movies as much as the next guy and I like drinking as much as, well, everyone. But I am American, first and foremost.
I appreciate having access to some of the traditions, recipes and traits that are inherent in the two ethnicities I share, but aside from using my hands when I speak and having a weakness for the sauce, I don't think it impacts my life too much. It does piss me off when someone thinks I'm French -- not because of some idiotic, ignorant belief that France sucks and America rules! -- but merely because I'm not French, and neither is my last name, so don't tell me I am. Simple as that.
But it never fails that around this time of year, try as I might to deny my heritage, the physical imprint of my ancestry always thwarts me. I have dark hair like my father, but I have my mother's fair Irish skin. And that, my friends, is a goddamn nightmare.
I can get decently burned merely sitting on a deck for an hour, idly drinking a few beers, but it would take a month-long outdoor, beer-drinking marathon, complete with regular sun lotion application and regular body rotation, for me to cultivate even the dimmest shade of a tan. Take a look at the headshot accompanying this column. That's the most tan I've ever been. Seriously.
Keep in mind that I am not interested in a deep tan; I neither want to look like Djimon Honsou now, nor like Djimon Honsou's leather jacket when I'm 50. I just want a little pigmentation. Some shade. Some respite from the snickers that come from almost always being the whitest whiteboy in the room.
Thus, every summer I am faced with the difficult challenge of acquiring a tan. If, as Jay-Z says, difficult takes a day and impossible takes a week, then sunburn for me takes 5 minutes and accumulating a tan takes months. Acquiring a tan takes a lot of effort, a lot of patience, and even some tools, like suntan lotion.
Suntan lotion is the devil. It is just not an enjoyable substance to apply to your body, especially when a large portion of that body is matted with hair. Unfortunately, when your skin is so pale that it's close to translucent, you need protection.
But it has to be done. With skin like mine, there is a fine line between applying enough suntan lotion to avoid the kind of mutations seen at Chernobyl and not applying so much that you repel the sun entirely and end up looking like Jennie Garth. Yeah, she lived in California. Sure. And Andrea was under 40.
I have crossed that line in both directions. Once while on a cruise, I got cocky and skipped the lotion, only to end up in agony, wasting a day in my cabin, laying in bed watching Cellular or Papparazzi or whatever crap they were airing, and practically running up a fever. I've also erred too far on the side of caution, slathering myself in SPF 30 to avoid cringing in the shower, and been left looking not unlike Frosty the Snowman for the majority of the summer.
Many people tell me to suck it up, that my burn will eventually turn to tan. Not for me. My burn turns to pain, and then evaporates into thin air, leaving me no less vanilla than I was in February. Not only has this cycle left me feeling sorry for the aformentioned albinos -- I feel your pain, my pasty cousins -- but it has made me ashamed of all the glee I took in taunting that British exchange student with cries of "Lobsterback!" back in junior high. "Who's the lobsterback now!," I can hear him crowing. That limey bastard.
I can thank my Irish mother for this affliction. And the fact that I am gesticulating wildly as I type this (I have four hands) is proof of the Italian in me. If I could, I'd gladly trade in both my hyper hands and my sainted mother for a lower maintenance, less pale skin tone. Unfortunately, that's not in the cards.
But hey, at least I'm not French.
Seriously. I'm not.
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE
more about mike julianelle
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7.11.07 @ 2:38a
Someday you'll be in the same room as me, and then you won't be the palest guy in the room. Next to me you'll look tan and healthy. I do burn nicely. Bright red, and then it fades to white.
7.11.07 @ 4:44a
If you ever get sick of being white and pasty, fake it- L'Oreal self-tanner mixed with some good old Lubriderm. Works like a charm, and scrubs off easily. (But don't forget the SPF 45).
7.11.07 @ 9:00a
I don't truck with no artificial tan. And I certainly don't go to a tanning salon. But thanks!
7.11.07 @ 5:34p
Mike, I sympathize with you, since I'm in the same boat (except I'm part Native American instead of Italian). That Irish heritage is a bugger when it comes to blending in with the sun worshippers during the summer. The only part of me that ever gets tanned is my arms (farmer's tan), and they're also freckled. The remainder of my body remains stubbornly pale and burns if left to its unprotected devices.
I keep telling myself when I'm 70 and still have the skin of a 50-year old I'll be grateful---especially when I see the mahogany tans on other women in the gym.
Try the new spray-on sunscreens, they make the application process more bearable. Just remember to rub them in after applying.
7.11.07 @ 6:35p
Mike, I went to a tanning salon a few years ago. One of those that advertises a 2 minute tanning booth. I burned. Lobster red. I'd advise fair skinned folks to avoid the tanning salons.
On another note, my father's side is Russian and also fair skinned. My Aunt Anne spent every summer at the beach or in the back yard tanning. She died of skin cancer in 1990 only 6 months after being diagnosed. I've become semi content with my paleness. Sure, I'd like to have that George Hamilton tan, but have resigned myself to accepting the fact I can't.
7.11.07 @ 6:57p
Let's hear it for the farmer's tan! I've been sporting one of those every year since--oh I don't know, forever I guess.
My mother in law used to line a cardboard refrigerator box with tin foil and lay in it out in the cow pasture. You could try that.
7.11.07 @ 7:00p
Was she trying to get a tan, or summoning the aliens?
7.11.07 @ 8:20p
Robert, I'd advise anyone to avoid tanning salons. They crispy-fry your skin with all sorts of nuclear aftereffects. I like using a self-tanner mixed with lotion so that the color looks real, not orangey or streaky. (Sheesh, I'd even summon aliens with tin foil like Ken's mother-in-law over a tanning bed)
But hey, if there is someone you really can't stand, get 'em a tanning salon gift certificate.
7.11.07 @ 10:10p
I am the opposite of Mike, and can tan under fluorescent lights. Sunscreen matters not - I could slather myself in the 50 SPF stuff and still be 3 shades darker by the end of the day. Plus something in some of the sunscreens gives me a rash, which is not attractive. When I take off my watch and people see the strip of fair skin under the band, I get the lectures about tanning being unsafe.
7.12.07 @ 11:29a
I'm like you, Juli. I think it only exacerbates poor Mike's issue. We lather ourselves with lotion and lay by the pool all day. I walk away Golden Goddess and he walks away, well, Angry Young Man.
julie restivo murphy
7.14.07 @ 5:10p
I've never had a problem getting tan. Even when I burn, it eventually turns to tan. But then again, I'm French, and you're not. My condolences. But don't despair - maybe someday you'll have enough freckles and moles that will meld together to create the illusion of a tan.
7.16.07 @ 9:40a
Your condolences are appreciated, Julie. And yes, maybe someday my moles will either give me the illusion of a tan or cancer. In that case, I think I'll stick with the lotion, as unpleasant as it may be.