A rant: Not so sun smart

Friday, January 3, 2014 Permalink

Hello, my name is Deborah and I was once a sun-worshipper.

Of course it was back in the 1980s when skin cancer was barely on anyone’s radar. Like many others around the world, I slathered myself in coconut oil and baked in the sun. Naturally there were painful consequences and I suffered a number of bad sunburns – and I suspect my freckled and blemished skin is a result of those frivolous times!

dads headAs time’s gone on however, we’ve all heard the “Slip Slop Slap” mantra and know of people whose lives have been impacted by melanoma.

Indeed my own father (though an early adopter of sun-proof clothing and not averse to coating his body in zinc cream) suffered badly in his final years. He had a particularly aggressive sort of skin cancer, which was most likely the cause of his death. (Apologies for gory pic!)

So – the sun and I are no longer friends. Sure I accidentally get burnt from time to time, but I stay away from the sun as much as humanly possible and I have the pale legs to show for it.

I now live by the beach in an apartment complex with a few holiday rentals and we have been besieged by families over the Christmas holidays  – all of whom have enjoyed our pool as well as the beach. But what has shocked the hell out of me is that – even though these families seem like smart and sensible types – many of them take their kids swimming during the hottest part of the day. (And without protective clothing!)

I don’t have kids but most of my friends who do have always been pretty careful about them avoiding the sun and surf around the middle of the day. And even then they often dress them in rashies or sun-resistant swimwear. Which I guess is why I’m so surprised to see families in my pool at midday.

This has particularly struck home in the last couple of days in the case of one family in particular. The dad jumps in the pool with the two toddlers (both are in floaties, so they’re very young) but the mum bakes by the side of the pool. She even removes the straps of her bikini – so keen is she to avoid telltale marks.

Now I realise I sound like a judgemental bitch and perhaps the mother in question is at no risk of skin cancer… but yesterday her little girl got out of the pool and joined her mother on the sunlounges. I watched as she copied her mother’s pose exactly – putting a hat on her face and spreading her arms and legs out to best catch the sun’s rays. It looked odd and frighteningly inappropriate to see a 2-3 year old ‘sunbaking’. She didn’t last long before getting bored and climbing back into the pool, so her mother didn’t notice – but I wonder what would have happened if she had seen her own behaviour so bluntly reflected back at her.

It reminded me of the power of this clip which I saw recently and which is part of an anti-smoking campaign in Thailand.

Are you sunsmart?
Are there things you do you hope your kids don’t do?

  • Jo Tracey
    January 3, 2014

    My daughter (now 15) is much more sun smart than I was at her age. It was rashes when she was little, but always a hat & sunscreen. Always. She used to (& still does) nag me! Back when I was her age, as you say, skin cancer wasn’t on anyones radar. I got a wakeup call the year I turned 18 & my mothers cousin- then 42- died of melanoma. An uncle (a similar age at the time) had an escape from a metastasised melanoma. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve ventured back out in the sun- for relatively short times, away from the middle of the day & with sunscreen. It’s that dance you play between vitamin D and the whole “there’s no such thing as a safe tan.” As Dad said yesterday, his damage was sustained in his youth. I suspect most of ours was too. It irritates me when we now have the education to protect our kids from incurring the same damage- & some choose not to do so.

    • Debbish
      January 3, 2014

      Absolutely and I guess that’s what hit home about this one particular family. The parents – particularly the mother – is very brown but the kids obviously aren’t. And seeing this child mimicking her mother’s behaviour hit home about the importance of role models!

      My dad’s spots were like your father’s – from playing sport and being in the sun as a kid. I’m actually overdue for my skin check but worry a bit about what damage I did as a youngster!

  • Ruth Hillman-Booth
    January 3, 2014

    Rant away! It is irresponsible to allow your kids out in the middle of the day without layered sun protection. I’m not perfect, but I try to have hats stashed in various places, sunscreen on and if we’re going in/around the water Pickle is in a rash vest.

    I’m far less stringent with my own protection and recently got my back quite badly burnt, resulting in heat stress which made me really sick.

    Can someone please invent an easy way to self apply sunscreen to backs?!

    • Debbish
      January 4, 2014

      I think I felt frustrated as these kids were in the pool every day for several hours in the middle of the day.

      And re the back-application… someone needs to invent something (like a back scratcher or scrubber) which gently applies sunscreen to hard-to-reach places! 😉

  • Char
    January 4, 2014

    When we grew up, the smell of the beach was the smell of salt and coconut oil. People baked to get brown but now we know the consequences of a fried youth so we don’t do it any more. When you see people still adopting risky behaviours, it’s shocking. When we know that the link between sun exposure and cancer is irrefutable. But it’s unimaginable that loving parents would allow their kids to do the same.

    • Debbish
      January 4, 2014

      True Char – we all wanted to be as brown as possible back then… and all of our role models were tanned. Nowadays there are heaps of peeps who are famous for their appearance who AREN’T tanned and those who talk a lot about protecting their skin from the sun!

  • Liz
    January 4, 2014

    Hi Deb, this one is close to my heart – my Dad had a malignant melanoma removed a few weeks ago. It had grown a satellite cancer but hadn’t spread to his lymph nodes. I am pretty fussy about sunscreen and wear sun sleeves out riding.


    • Debbish
      January 4, 2014

      Yes… I think it’s harder once it’s impacted on those around you. Good news about your dad. x

  • Satu
    January 4, 2014

    I guess I am pretty sun smart but I’ve never really been a sun baker either. Mostly because it’s boring! I have to admit I don’t always use sunscreen during the summer because a) I live Finland b) I don’t usually spend long time in the sun. But skin cancer is on the rise in Finland too and our summers are getting warmer.

    My sister is very careful to put sunscreen on her children if they spend time on the beach.

    • Debbish
      January 5, 2014

      I guess the UV factor is different from country to country Satu and here in Oz it’s usually a problem. It’s great that your sister is careful with her kids though! (Setting a good example for them!)

  • Kek
    January 7, 2014

    “Of course it was back in the 1980s when skin cancer was barely on anyone’s radar” – I don’t know – were things so different in Queensland? I recall being ultra-aware of skin cancer risk through my teens and twenties, and I was born in 1960.

    I never liked sunbaking, ugh. The idea of laying in the sun getting hot and sweaty was very unappealing – I preferred a shady spot with a cold drink in hand. And we were big on zinc creams and sunblock in my family. Solariums always bemused me – how could people be so stupid?

    Consequently my skin is blindingly white and relatively wrinkle-free. 🙂 I still visit my doctor regularly to have the odd suspect sunspot frozen off though. So far, nothing to worry about, thank goodness.

    • Debbish
      January 7, 2014

      Oh no… I was kinda in that Elle McPherson era where it was all about baking in the sun. I don’t enjoy it and get very bored but it used to feel like a necessary evil!

      Wish I’d been more like you!

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