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Harriet Walker: Fake tan makes me quite like myself


There are some things in life you instinctively know will make you feel good: strawberries, the colour yellow, frankfurters, pictures of hedgehogs... And you can add to that list having a tan.

"Well, yes, tell us something we don't know," you'll no doubt be thinking. Because you're part of the golden majority for whom sunshine means going a lovely shade of chestnut. But for me, having a tan – and the accompanying good-humoured benefits of having a tan – is a revelation. Because I spend most of the year the same colour – apart from when I get burnt in the sun (which is often) and I have to endure two days of florid scarlet smears where I didn't rub the suncream in properly. And then I go back to the colour that I normally am.

Which is grey.

"You're pale and interesting," friends tell me. "What wonderful translucent skin you have," the more polysyllabic among them sometimes add. But pale and translucent skin doesn't make you feel good the way a lovely sunkissed hide does. It doesn't magically make you look a bit thinner, a bit richer, or less tired. It doesn't make your clothes easier to wear.

In fact, it does the opposite of all these. So if I look tired – which I do, because everyone with pale skin looks tired unless they have slept solidly for 36 hours – it's because my pale and interesting skin has thoroughly worn me out.

And getting a tan is much harder when you have pale skin. (I know. My life is so hard.) You have to pay money to stand naked in front of a stranger who hoses you down with brown dye. You didn't think my tan was real, did you? You didn't think I'd just jetted back from the Riviera? You did? Marvellous. Job's a good'un.

No, my tans involve no sun whatsoever. We don't mix, the sun and I, apart from when it burns me – which, as I said, is quite often. I love fake tan. I really, really love it, in the way other women love their dishwashers or their high heels for liberating them from the drudgery of everyday living. I love fake tan like a relative or esteemed mentor. I respect it and I am in awe of it. Because it actually makes me quite like myself.

You know when you stand in front of a mirror and think, "Yes, finally the vision of myself in my head now matches what I am seeing in this shiny reflective surface"? Thought not. Nobody ever thinks that. But fake tan can help you towards that. Which is why I love it.

It does worry me slightly, though, because the other sorts of people who love fake tan are often those who apply it every day and accessorise it with a lurex bandage dress and false eyelashes so large they look like a pair of false moustaches stuck to your eyelids. It is not often I can say I'm of the same opinion or demographic as WAGs, but my love for fake tan puts me firmly in their territory.

So I try not to use it too much. It takes rather a lot of effort, you see, and that's before you factor in the drying time. And I'm hopeless at applying it myself. So, short of investing in my own personal live-in airbusher (my life's ambition), there isn't much scope for fake tanning on a regular basis. Also, I've noticed that wearing fake tan for a long time gives your actual skin the impression of jaundice when you eventually rub it off.

Even so, for the past few weeks, I've had reason, occasion and the lust that comes of desperately needing a little pick-me-up to tan, and I've been hosed brown several times. I had a wedding to attend, which meant wearing a dress that wasn't black. And when I wear things that are not black, I feel odd and garish – sort of like a WAG – and a fake tan helps to put me at ease. I went for this tan with the bride-to-be, because fake tan has become as important as something borrowed and something blue. She loved it, too, although she did describe her hands as looking "like an Oompa-Loompa with vitiligo" as the tan slowly faded a week later and went a bit patchy.

This phase of the tan is never the best. It's like a reverse chrysalis, as you shed your wonderfully glamorous, healthy and not- tired-looking patina, and emerge having regressed to the greying whiteness of a podgy grub.

Having a fake tan is a bit like having a holiday from yourself, or tasting some sort of parallel life. But sooner or later (around six days, I've found, even with rigorous moisturising), you have to go back to your ghostly, larval existence, in which limbs look a bit stumpier and veins are easier to follow round your body like motorways on a road map.

But don't worry, it's around this time of year that I normally start burning, and that always makes me look slightly more awake.