Pale & sunburnt: an ode to my people

Some facts

When you are pale and in the sun and you don’t put on a thick, protective layer of armor, you will get a sunburn.

When you are pale, you know this to be true.

Most pale people have been pale all their lives.

Can’t burn? Bitch, I might!

So when, on occasion, a pale person gets a sunburn, it’s kind of annoying when people point these things out to him/her. Helpful people will remark, “Hey man, you’re really red! You got sunburnt real good.”



When did this happen? Who could do such a thing to me?

Thanks so much for the tip! Here I was, walking around like nothing was the matter–what would I have done without you? I never would have noticed had it not been for your shrewd observation and also that constant deep burning sensation and also my own eyes that are startled every time I catch a glimpse of the so-red-it’s-practically-purple rash on my own body.

Look, maybe you’re trying to be helpful or compassionate, but really? It gets annoying. Because ALL DAY helpful people passing you in the hall, in your meetings, on the street, in your home, at the bar, in the library, and even in the drive through if you happen to have a good burn on your driver’s side from, you know, being cavalier enough to drive when the sun is out will point this out to you. I’m saying it gets old.

“Looks like you got some sun, there.” Nope. I actually escaped a boiling attempt by an ENORMOUS and ironic lobster.

“Ouch, that looks painful!” No worries, friend, it actually feels like getting gently nuzzled by a hundred virgin unicorns. Quite pleasant indeed.

Well that’s just offensive to all KINDS of people.

When you announce to everyone how sunburnt a pale person is, you’re in fact pointing out her/his human deficiencies and idiocy (or at the very least, unbelievable bad memory). I, like Superman, am an alien being who is strangely affected by this Earth-Sun you other humans seem to have little problem with. Is it bad genes? Does it make me a weaker specimen? Probably yes and yes. Lions would totally look at the group of us and pick out the one who can’t even be outside without showing severe signs of deterioration. And then they would eat me.

And I would be damn delicious.

But that’s beside the point.

Look, my forebears chose to mate in such a way that I am a gently-shaken cocktail of German, Austrian, and English blood–none of whom are well-known for their ability to tan evenly. There’s really nothing I can do about that at this point (barring a time-travel scenario where I throw a tasty, bronzed Brazilian delight at one of my great-great-grandmothers), so you noting that I have the kind of skin that turns the color of strawberries who are very, very sunburnt is not super productive.

Ginger ale

I’ll Gingervate that smirk right off your face.

Also, as noted at the beginning of this post, I am pale, have always been pale, and should really know better by now. So when the sun sneaks up on me or I feel brazen on a seemingly-overcast afternoon, it’s my own damn fault when I get sunburnt. And when you point that out, you’re reminding me of how dumb I am.

“Hey, you’ve got a cactus stuck in your eyeball. Again!” Dammit! I should really learn not to try to water this fucker with my salty tears. Gets me every time.

Remember your last, horrible, vicious, unbearable hangover that you had to function through? Remember how awful you felt? Remember the regret, the shame, the self-loathing that you let yourself get this fucked up?

How would you like to be reminded of that every hour or so when someone notes, “Wow. Did you know that you were so fucking hungover right now that you’re in danger of throwing up everything both of us ate in the past 24 hours?”

Even better, imagine someone who was there, during that whole horrible night, who was making the exact same bad decisions you were but who somehow seems unfazed today telling you, “Dude. You look like shit. What happened?”

Yes, I am sunburnt. Yes, I did notice. Yes, I know how to both treat this and prevent it in the future. We can all see that I’m a mutant. Let’s move on.


  • Aubrey says:

    I hate when people comment on sunburns. Hello, statement of the obvious. It’s kind of like telling a pregnant woman in her 38th week that she looks ready to pop.

    However, a cautionary tale:

    My father is the stubbornest of gingers, refusing to wear sunscreen because “I never did when I was younger and it’s too late to undo the damage now.” Thinking that wearing a baseball cap was enough, he now has chunks missing from his ears where skin cancer had to be removed later in life.

    Moral of the story? Mothers of gingers, whether ginger or not, must lather their babes in sunscreen to create good habits! Because my grandmother wasn’t a ginger, and my grandfather was a well-leathered tanned farmer, I don’t think they did a good job on Pops.

  • Andrea, cousin says:

    Remember when my hair was very, very long? It’s amazing how many people felt it was their duty to tell me I had long hair. (When my hair’s pink, only small children comment upon it, and then their mothers hush them and move them away.)

    If you follow the belief that we’re descended from Hapsburgs (instead of the rather-more-common-just-plain-Haps lineage), then the flight to South America might have endowed us with some sun resistance…

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