Call time on us.
I’m sitting on a couch in an apartment on the Gold Coast, staring through a window and through the rain, my eyes falling on the beach ahead. It’s the Easter long weekend, and I’m on holiday with my family.
For someone who grew up by the beach, whose family is fixated on the beach, whose identity is very much tied up in her relationship with sand and water, the irony of being kept from the water by a wall of a different kind of water isn’t lost on me.
There is no sun, no dry stretch of sand to lie on, no real holiday to be had. It’s a bleak, grey weekend and it strikes me as funny that for the first time in my history of holidays, the fact I can’t spend time in the sun is causing me no stress, no worry, no unease.
Just over four months ago, I made a pact with myself to overhaul my relationship with tanning. For so many years, I coped with moments of overwhelm by heading to the beach. It was a form of mindfulness, a quick-fire way to centre myself. The beach, in all its sandy, sunny glory, had a funny way of bringing calm to a frazzled state of mind.
And so began my naive relationship with the sand, the sun and the salt; and so was born an assumption that sitting in the sun was a way of exercising self-care.
It was a half-baked hypothetical but it made sense to me. If I had a tan, I was self-signalling: I’ve been in the sun, I’ve been in the water and I am well. I look well, I feel well and so, I must be well.
It’s just that as I pretended scalding my skin was an exercise in looking after my mind, I deliberately ignored the fact that it was probably breaking my body.
I ignored the fact that long stretches of time in the sun didn’t make me well. It made me complicit in my own death sentence.
In December last year, Mich and I stumbled on an article on Byrdie. It was an interview with a young, 25-year-old Sydneysider by the name of Natalie Fornasier. Natalie laughs easily and a lot. She’s warm and kind and funny; she’s generous with her time. Natalie also has stage four melanoma.
Natalie never spent much time in the sun as a kid. She never abused the sunshine or her skin, was never reckless in her protection of herself. And because the world often makes no sense and bad things fall on the shoulders of those who don’t deserve them, Natalie has been battling cancer, on and off, since the age of about 20.
This week on our In Conversation episode of Shameless, we have Natalie on the show. We ask her about being 25 and living with cancer, about finding love at your lowest, about freezing your eggs and being forced to think about your fertility when you haven’t yet finished your university degree.
If there’s only one episode of Shameless I want you to listen to this year, it’s this one. Australia has a warped culture of tanning. Hell, Instagram has a warped culture of tanning. We tell women they look better, look healthier, with some colour on their forearms and some freckles on their face.
Mich and I, alongside Natalie and spearheaded by Lisa Patulny, the founder of Call Time on Melanoma, want to call time on melanoma. We want to cut through a bullshit beauty ideal that’s killing us all, a bullshit online culture where tanning photos saturate the landscape and tanning products are pervasive and convincing in their marketing.
Don’t foolishly flirt with the devil, like I spent so many years doing.
Listen to Nat, and join her in calling time on melanoma.
It’s on us all to stop the clock.