Tanlines: Legs edition
After a solid summer of surfing for hours every day, I am a marked woman.
My body is marked with lines burned onto my skin by the sun. I wear these marks with a mix of pleasure and concern – as all Australians know, there's nothing healthy about a tan. I know that being so much in the sun is a huge risk to my long term health, as well as any aspirations to long term vanity I might have held. Cancers, wrinkles, freckles, sun-spots, lost elasticity are all a payment for surfing. With luck I'll pay the price with everything but the first.
And so my body betrays my indulgent summer. A summer spent paddling, sitting, laughing, turning, trimming, nose-diving, bobbing about on the surface, even catching some waves. A summer spent with old friends and new in the sea. A summer spent, morning and evening, almost exclusively at one break. A summer, indeed, of love.
And all of this is marked out in tones on my body. My legs, more than any other part of my body, are browned by the sun. Well, except for one thick band that circles the skin below my right knee. This spot remains white. Not as white as my bum, but white nonetheless. It is the most amusing part of my body. It stands out when I wear dresses or shorts. I saw a photo of me speaking at a work event recently. I was dressed up and made up and in smart sandals, but standing out more than all of that was this tan line circling my leg just above my calf. I looked ridiculous!
(Thanks Ryan Kenny!)
To those who don’t surf, it must be a slightly confusing tanline. But for other surfers it's an indication of the amount of time I spend in the sea. It can inspire laughter, but it also inspires jealousy.
But it's a bit more complex than that too. Because it marks me out as a person who wears a legrope, which in the surfing world I'm a part of, is not so much the done thing. Well, it's not cool anyway. Legropes are laughed at, admonished as a waste, as an object that holds you back, as a tether, as unnecessary. And I don't disagree with all of that. I wear one for a host of reasons that are not really relevant to anyone else. I know they are not cool, but then, neither am I.
And so the white band about my leg highlights all sorts of things about me and about my relationship to surfing that, if you surf, you will be able to read pretty quickly. The placement, the depth of the mark, the fact that it even exists on my leg, all mark me out in a range of ways: surfer, longboarder, dork.