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Opinion: There's no excuse for sunbeds any more

Friday 2 Dec 2016 12:09 p.m.

There's been a renewed call to ban sunbeds (Getty / file)

There's been a renewed call to ban sunbeds (Getty / file)

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I bought a sunbed when I was 15. I was 5'11", 57kg and freckle-faced.

At a vulnerable time in life, when looks are everything, I felt like the ugliest duckling. I don't think my mum has seen me without makeup since I was a 12-year-old.

I was tall and rail-thin, and hated it. I often read about women's battles with being overweight, but being naturally very skinny was no fun either. I ate heaps; it didn't help.

On hot summer days I'd often cover up in jeans and long-sleeved tops. Or hot-pants with tan tights (cringe) - it was an "in" look then.

I may not have been able to change my body shape overnight, but my 15-year-old self thought that if I could maybe do something about my skin tone, I'd feel more confident.

The '80s saw women frying themselves for the darkest mahogany skin.  By the '90s magazine pages were full of women with "healthy tans" - not quite so dark but still a gorgeous glow.

Me, I was a whiter shade of blue.

But fake tans weren't an option - 20-odd years ago they were orange, streaky and smelly, and didn't make me look like the models in the magazines. 

Then a girl at school, who always looked stunning with her year-round tan, told me she used her mum's sunbed at home and she was selling it.

I've always been good with putting money aside, and thought £150 of my hard-earned paper round cash was a good investment to save me from being ugly.

It was an old canopy solarium which went over my bed and it was the biggest purchase I'd ever made. I was pretty excited.

I laid a towel on my bed, set the timer, pulled the UV goggles on and baked under the humming blue lights for the next 40 minutes. Twenty minutes one side, 20 minutes the other.

It was hot, sweaty and boring, but my 15-year-old self thought it was totally worth it for an all-over glow.

I did know a little about the dangers of UV back then. There were warnings about skin cancer and limiting sun exposure, so I never overdid it. Just once or twice a week. I knew I'd never get a deep tan; I just didn't want to be blue.

I started to do a little modelling. I distinctly remember one makeup artist commenting on how most girls with freckles had extremely pale skin, but that mine had a nice creamy tone. I smiled and continued to use my sunbed for the next two or three years.

I can't remember why I stopped using it and got rid of it - I think it was just a teenage phase. My confidence grew, fake tans improved and I no longer felt I needed it.

Do I regret it? Well, I think I'd advise my teenage self against it.

My lifelong best friend got an aggressive melanoma when she was 33.  She's lucky they caught it in time.  Another friend's father wasn't so lucky; he died far too young.  

I haven't used a sunbed in 20 years. I haven't sunbathed for six years. I cover up in the sun. Instead, I fake tan most weeks.

We all have body hang-ups - whether it's wanting darker skin, a skinnier waist, bigger boobs, or blonder hair - but we're all beautiful swans in our own individual way. I now appreciate what I do have, not what I don't. 

I'm lucky to have a healthy, working body, and I'm very happy with that.

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