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The hard way to find the best self tanner.


When I was in the sixth grade, I won the school spelling bee. As you might imagine, this brought untold fame and instant popularity.

Allow me to point out (as my mother did) the gracefully crossed ankles and/or legs of the girls on either side of me.

This was also, unfortunately, the year I tried out for the cheerleading squad.

Of course lots of girls try out for cheerleading. But my situation was somewhat unique in that not only did I lack most of the physical qualities typically associated with cheerleaders (see photo), I also wasn’t a dancer or gymnast, nor could I do a decent roundoff.

Although it was the mid-70s — well before making the cheer squad required at least a silver medal from a previous Olympics — it was still assumed that cheerleaders could, as a basic rule, do the splits. I could not. In fact, the only gymnastic trick I had mastered at that point was a forward roll, and as it turned out (to my chagrin), there wasn’t a big call for forward rolls in cheerleading tryouts, even in the 70s.

So without so much as a cartwheel in my arsenal, I tried out for cheerleading. I’m still not entirely sure why, other than the girls who were cheerleaders were cute and popular and got to wear uniforms on game days, none of which came with my spelling bee title.

Wait, did I mention my beautiful, popular younger sister was also a cheerleader?

To this day, I can still vividly recall the tryout cheers, complete with accompanying motions, in their entirety (included as a free bonus, below). As horrible experiences go, it was up there with that dream where you forget to wear pants.

Only this wasn’t a dream.

But the worst part of my cheerleading tryout nightmare actually had more to do with my appearance than with my complete lack of grace and coordination.

The night before tryouts, after modeling my short shorts and despairing over my ghastly white legs, my mom let me borrow some of her Coppertone QT (for ‘quick tan’). QT was pretty much the only game in town in the self-tanner market back in the olden days.

I was delighted to find this classic QT ad on YouTube. It perfectly captures what I was expecting from my first self-tanning foray:

Per the instructions, I applied the QT liberally, waited for it to dry, and went to bed. The next morning I awakened to discover — in horror — bright orange legs streaked with white. But the best part was the perfect, hand-shaped outline on my lower thigh where I apparently hadn’t bothered to rub it in at all.

I tried scrubbing my legs in the shower, which slightly faded the overall orange but somehow made the handprint even more pronounced. At that point, I probably should just have stayed home ‘sick,’ but I did not. Before I even started my tryout routine that afternoon, I could see some of the judges snickering about my orange legs. In hindsight, perhaps it was good there was something to distract them from my performance.

Needless to say, I didn’t make the cheerleading squad. Nor did my mom let me stay home from school the rest of that week, although I begged. I did, however, leave self tanners alone for a LONG time after.

Luckily they’ve come a long way since the 1970s. And as a fair-skinned redhead diagnosed with skin cancer a number of years ago, I’ve tried many of them.

After much trial and error, I’ve finally found one that works well, is readily available and doesn’t cost a fortune:

Banana Boat Summer Color Self-Tanning Lotion in Deep Dark Color

Since by now you are probably as sick of reading about this as I am of writing it, I’ll save the self-tanner specifics for tomorrow


FREE BONUS! As promised, the cheers from the Scenic Hills Elementary Tigers cheerleading tryouts circa 1975. Pure poetry:

Gotcha, uh huh
You’ll never catch a Tiger, nuh uh
You’re never gonna win

Go, Tigers
Go, Tigers … fight!
We’ve got spirit, we’ve got might so
Go Tigers … fight with might!

Good, Better, Best
Good, Better, Best
We’ll put … you to … the test.
Good, Better … Best!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    03/01 10:43 AM

    Jennifer, I am still laughing over this whole post! First of all that you were ever awkward is a total revelation, but the photo is priceless. When I come visit we will compare miserable 70’s styles. Life is humbling no? Fortunately you learned from your mistakes. Somehow I ended up with a hair style this week that looks suspiciously like the Dorothy Hamil I had in elementary school that didn’t work on me then…

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/01 11:22 AM

      Oh, I am awkward to this day — life continues to be humbling. But I’m so glad I kept the photographic evidence (somewhere in the archives there’s a newspaper article with an even more incriminating photo). And since the 70s are in again, your retro ‘do is no doubt perfectly stylish. (Photos, please!)

  2. Summer permalink
    03/01 1:05 PM

    jen~i love this post. i cannot believe that pic is you. i, too, was a player in the spelling bee world but never won. thanks for your self-deprecating and humorous journey back to 1975. i can imagine how traumatic all of that was in the moment. i’m grateful that many years have passed since 8th grade basketball team when i accidentally scored a basket for the opposing team. i thought my life was over, the horror. thank heavens for the healing power of time. and, now we can often laugh at these moments.
    and, that coppertone qt video is a gem. i’m going to start doing that qt quick step around the house after i experiment with this new ‘summer color’ self-tanner. though these self-tanners often all have that smell that freaks me out. gosh, i heart your posts. thanks for delivering, as always.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/01 1:12 PM

      I LOVE your basketball story — the same thing happened to my sister! Thanks for the commentary. I’m discovering the adage is true: “that which doesn’t kill you makes … great fodder for blog posts.” :-) Looking forward to lunch/spell-off soon.

  3. Harriette permalink
    03/01 1:16 PM

    Jennifer~I can sooo relate to your ’70’s story…being a fellow redhead and very fair I also tried the self-tanners, without much luck. Thanks for sharing and passing on helpful information about one that works! By the way, during our high school days together, you grew up to be very beautiful and gracefull…an envied “Lancerett”.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/01 1:24 PM

      Ah, lovely, envied, popular cheerleader Harriette — such a sweet comment! :-) Isn’t it wonderful we don’t have to relive those days and instead can laugh about them? PLEASE come (and get Mike to come) to our “big” reunion next year!

  4. Anita permalink
    03/01 5:40 PM

    Thanks for sharing one of those painful lessons in life that we all seem to have but that we would like to forget. I too tried out for cheerleading but in 7th grade. I know you are shocked… Why is it that we can’t get those cheers out of our minds yet some of the things we long to remember fade…. “Stop, look and listen we are the mighty Eagles, Stop. (clap clap) We are the mighty Eagles, Listen. (clap clap)…….

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/01 8:45 PM

      Not at all shocked — you’d have been a great cheerleader! I love hearing these stories and seeing how they’ve helped shape our lives (for better or worse). I’d pay someone to get those cheers out of my brain for good.


  1. How-To: Not look like a failed science experiment while using cheap self tanner. « Edit by Design

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