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What I Really Know About Bathing Suit Season: Sun Scars

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Zelda Suby Peterson of Surprise, Ariz., shares what she really knows about "bathing suit season."

 Bathing suit season was three short months I treasured while living in northern Iowa. The arrival of sunny days was like a personal invitation to pack a lunch and take my two small, blonde daughters to the nearby beach for a day of fun in the water. I carefully coated their fair skin with conditioning cream and insisted the fairer of my two dollies wear a large red straw hat to shade her. Then as they ran into the water squealing with delight, I flipped our large blanket out onto the hot sand and removed my skimpy cover-up.

Before I lay down to absorb the solar heat, out of my beach bag came my bottle of baby oil laced with iodine (to add more color to my light skin). I smoothed a generous layer of oil over every inch of my exposed body parts as if basting myself for frying. It worked well.

After a few trips to the beach I began to turn a luscious gold that I displayed with pride, in spite of repeated warnings from our family physician about the risks of skin cancer. Catching me sunbathing in our backyard one day as he drove by our rural home, our physician stopped his car, got out and shouted, “Zelda, what did I tell you about staying out of the sun?” He spoiled my sun worship for that day, but come the next, I was back at the beach. It’s difficult to imagine how I could have been so vain or foolish.

Today I bear numerous scars on various parts of my body. The scars mark where I had cancers surgically removed to keep them from growing and spreading. They remind me of my self-inflicted abuse of yesteryear. Fortunately the cancers were basal cell, thought to be the least dangerous of skin cancers.

For the past three years, my husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed living in Arizona’s “Valley of the Sun,” where nearly every day is bathing suit season. I’m still attracted to the sun, but I like to think I’m wiser with age. Now before I sit down to absorb natural vitamin D, I generously lather my skin with a “number 30” sunscreen, religiously put on a visor or hat, and strictly limit my length of exposure to the rays.

I shudder at the thought of my lovely daughters and granddaughters even occasionally tanning. But then I ask myself, “Who am I to preach?” I can only hope and pray that the scars I bear will enlighten them to do all they possibly can to preserve the glow of their own fresh, healthy skin during the bathing suit seasons of their lives.

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