I got a bad sunburn when I was in Hawaii, the worst one I can remember ever having. I am all past the shedding skin phase of recovery but my shoulders are still mottled and itchy somehow, a sign of long lasting damage I assume. Getting burnt that badly was a stupid thing to do. So why did it happen? Why did that mistake occur?
The first reason is simple carelessness. I put on sunscreen three times and wore a sunshirt a bunch, but I was out in the middle of the day for six hours in a tropical climate when I was coming from Toronto winter. I should have been way more cautious than I was. I know that sunscreen washes off, and I was too cavalier about that. I didn't think I was being aggressive or silly about my exposure though, I just didn't realize how bad it would be.
None of that is interesting.
The interesting part is why I wasn't wearing my sunshirt the whole time. I paid for the damn thing and hauled it to Hawaii, surely I should have worn it the whole time, right? It would solve this problem!
I suppose it is because I have a weird relationship with clothes, swim clothes in particular. I hate them.
It seems to me that when a person is going to dip themselves in water the silliest thing in the world is to cover themselves in a garment that will just need to be dried and cleaned afterwards. Swimsuits just get in the damn way and exist because we as a society have stupid issues with genitals and breasts. (There are times when people wear swimsuits for warmth, sun protection, or structural support, fine, but generally they are worn because of foolish taboos.)
Swimsuits are, to me, a physical manifestation of the idiocy of our collective horror at the human body's more sexual bits. That breasts are included on that list while male nipples are not is its own foolishness which I won't belabour here. It doesn't bother me that other people might feel like covering up when they want to swim - they are welcome to swim in a red top hat and three piece suit if they like but as long as wearing clothing to swim is mandated by law swimsuits anger me by their necessity. Clearly I have issues with swimwear. I hate that other people are forced to wear it, I hate that I am forced to wear it.
I like looking at people's bodies, people of all sorts. I got tattoos because I want to trick my body out with cool pictures for the world to see, and I have been working out like crazy because I want to get big muscles and look hot. I want to have a body that people like looking at in return, whether or not that attention is sexual. I like being naked, and I especially like swimming naked because I love the feeling of water gliding over my body; it is like a lover's caress. Interfering with the freedom and joy of that by binding myself up in swim clothing just feels deeply wrong.
All of this makes my sunshirt a sad thing. So I wore it, because I did not want to burn, but I did not wear it enough.
It is odd, really, because wearing the shirt almost made me feel guilty. Like I was betraying my principles somehow. I was caught between the desire to not be damaged by the sun and the desire to live the life I want, joyous and free of the tyranny of clothing. How can my brain feel guilty and wrong at wearing a stupid sunshirt but simultaneously self destructive and reckless for not doing so? Surely there must be some way that will satisfy me entirely.
Just writing all this makes me feel strange. I think it makes me seem vain and foolish in equal measure. I have written many things before about the hardest moments in my life, things that I felt shame about, and yet this thing is being hard to put down. I like the way I look now. I still don't feel entirely right about my body, largely because when I look at myself I see my acne highlighted, marks on my body that I am sure no one else can ignore, but I do feel far better about myself overall than I ever have before. I like the changes that pain and sweat and money and ink have wrought. I want to be able to show that off, and yet I feel wrong for saying so, like admitting that I kind of like the way I look is a terrible thing to do. It is as though the only ethical thing I can do is say that I don't like myself.
All five adults there in Hawaii on my trip had body image issues. Too fat, too thin, not enough muscle, bad complexion, breasts too large or too small, etc; this is how we see ourselves. The world would look at the five of us and think "wow, that is a pretty attractive group of adults" and yet that doesn't stop us from being down on ourselves when we look in a mirror.
Of course everyone else managed to be clever enough to avoid serious sunburn, despite any uncertainty they may have about how they look. Perhaps they have more sense than me.