As summer approaches, and particularly in the heat of the season, the questions and comments (and stares and laughs) about my sunburn rise like the mercury. Sometimes in the winter, I get asked if I have been to the snow. Yes, for a few hours back in 1993, when I spent more time in the gift shop than on the snow fields. But the reactions are definitely more prevalent in the hotter months. Summer starts next week. I’m getting ready for the onslaught of questions. They don’t upset me, unless someone is incredibly rude. And I have come to accept the questions will be asked due to looking so different.
It’s like people just develop a condition where they say whatever they’re thinking. Their thought bubbles become speech bubbles. Blunder bubbles. Clumsy, presumptious and often unapologetic.
While these questions may be considered to be out of curiosity and concern, and if children ask the questions, it does help their education around diversity when I provide a simplified answer, most of the time it just gets tiring. I just want to get on with my day. And I wonder, why ask? How’s knowing what’s “happened” to me going make a difference to someone’s day?
There are a few ways that people ask or tell me I’m sunburnt. I answer on autopilot. “No I was born like this”, which usually brings a sigh of relief and a “thank god you’re not sunburnt” as though my day to day dealings with this condition and the stupid questions people ask is far easier than temporary sunburn.
Usually it’s just an “have you been sunburnt?”. Straightforward. Many times after I’ve told them its not sunburn, they go on a bit more about how their relative/friend/colleague’s boyfriend’s rabbit has had sunburn “this bad” and so they thought their question was justifiable. Um no.
I get asked “what happened?”. I fell into a bucket of red paint. That’s what.
Sometimes it’s “Shit/Fuck! You’re sunburnt.” Shit/fuck! Keep your thoughts to yourself.
Sometimes it’s a snigger or a point and laugh. Other times it’s a “look over there” through gritted teeth and a nod in my direction between friends. I can see you.
When faced with drunk or drugged people asking if I am sunburnt, particularly at music festivals or pubs, it can be hard to reason with them, so I end up just walking away. When I last went to the Big Day Out, the security were so angry that I had been irresponsible in the sun that it was difficult to enjoy myself.
In New York I got a bit of a panic stricken “Oh God, oh God”, part concern, part over reaction.
There’s the assumption that I’ve been so stupid to fall asleep in the sun. When I go to the beach, which is rarely, I’m covered up like I was in the picture above. I even wore stockings and thongs there!
I get asked if I’ve been burnt a lot too.
My parents get asked about my appearance as though I can’t speak for myself.
Sometimes people refer to my “condition” while waving their hands around their face, as if to emulate the inflammation. There’s no need for wild gestures.
Parents turn their child’s head away from staring at me, telling them that I have been sunburnt. I would rather they stare and I’ll answer for myself.
And I get asked whether I’ve had microdermabrasion or laser surgery – and sometimes I wonder whether I should just say yes, as an advocate of those two procedures?!
People wonder whether I’m wearing some sort of face paint or costume make up. I guess if anyone would ever want to impersonate me – red face style – all they’d need is a lot of red lipstick, applied liberally.
The statement I hate the most is “someone’s been sunburnt”. I’m spoken about in third person. And if I had a better comeback, I’d look around and say “Who?!”
While I can laugh at these questions and I accept they’re a part of my life I just have to deal with, they do get tiring. And often my friends notice other people’s reactions more than I do. Every day I have to justify my appearance. There ain’t no privacy or personal space.
One day I’d like to walk around commenting on their appearances too. I wonder how it’d feel to make these big blunders? Would it still be on my mind a day after I said them to someone? “Did you eat too much junk food?” “You should have looked in the mirror before you walked outside.” “Your fake tan is a bit too Oompa Loompa.” Or “Don’t you think those clothes are a bit tight for you?” Dare me to.
And I have a genuine question – who else has their appearance commented on/questioned on a regular basis?