Bronze Ambition 

For 600 bucks, a white girl can look Puerto Rican

Ah, beauty. If you’re like me, you’re probably kinda pale, flabby and/or gross in places. You’re hopelessly splotchy, blemish-ridden and, on most days, too lazy even to bother putting a rainbow on it.

Ah, beauty. If you’re like me, you’re probably kinda pale, flabby and/or gross in places. You’re hopelessly splotchy, blemish-ridden and, on most days, too lazy even to bother putting a rainbow on it. What’s worse, it’s summer any minute now, and we’re probably going to wear even less as the temps soar, and God only knows what that will do to morale around the office.

But what if you could paint a shimmery glimmer on those hamhocks and disguise all imperfection in one broad stroke? What if I told you that science has finally proven that tan fat really is muscle, and that chemists have finally improved the bottle bronze? What if I told you that you can still be kinda fat and/or gross, but look like you just came back from Aruba?

It’s true: For around 600 bucks’ worth of exfoliators, spray-tan visits, tan extenders and moisturizers, you can appropriate the aesthetic of exotic island dwellers all summer long. But it’s no miracle cure for the pasty. The fake tan is a flawed system, and to paraphrase Clueless, one false move and you could end up working a Monet all summer: a yacht-owning glamazon from a distance but a glob of imperfections up close. Great for a night out at a bar, but not so hot in daylight next to a dude you want to like you.

I needed the experts, so I visited Elite Tan of Green Hills. For certain clients, owner Tara Fox, who’s also a registered nurse, will come to your house and exfoliate you, hand-spray you and even do contouring. Yes! Not only can you get a fake tan, you can fake exercise with fake abs created by darkening certain muscle zones, a big hit with body builders.

I hit the Mystic Tan spray booth there, which delivers its starchy cold concoction in gusts. The whole process takes about a minute, but the experience was a little harrowing the first time around. Once out of the booth, it’s a race against time. Because the solution can run, creating an unsightly streaking effect, you have about 45 seconds to towel off and blend like a mofo immediately upon exiting the booth. Thankfully, Fox had a perfecting spray to even out my oversights.

For the next six hours, I couldn’t wash my hands, take a shower or moisturize. But I could strut around in mini skirts and shorts and sleeveless tees, confident that every dimple, roll and watery blob was glowing with summery, tropical heat. Uh, until the next day.

The tan takes 12 hours to fully activate, and outside in daylight the following morning, I noticed my hands and feet looked like they’d been flecked with taco sauce. Every line and crease in my hands and heels was screaming with accentuation. My body looked even-toned and rockin’, but I had some serious grandma hands.

A week later, I visited Advanced Skin & Laser in Brentwood. At their Reflections Spa, April Cowart, a licensed aesthetician, expertly sprayed me by hand, and I asked for the darkest tan possible. That was a level 3, shade 3, and the hand spraying was even and dramatically dark. It’s worth noting that a significant amount of bronzer contained in the mix will wash off the next time you shower and will also rub off immediately on everything. Go ahead, try not moving or sweating for a couple of hours. In those first critical hours, fake tanning would seem to be a luxury of the leisure class.

And I had mummy hands again the next day, and the same for the tops of my feet—likely a result of my lifelong aversion to proper exfoliation. Still, everywhere else I was aglow, and I’ve never had more regular-looking dudes I don’t want to date look my way. And I’m not talking about casual glances—at least two randos actually craned their necks to catch some of this bronzed heat. I suspect that’s what this tanning business is all about, and for 600 bucks, you, too, can turn heads all summer long. Just don’t try to go from zero to Latina in 30 minutes.

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