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Fifty shades of pale

Camille DeFer ThompsonBelieve me, it wasn’t easy being a California blonde in the ’60s who couldn’t get her tan on no matter the countless hours I baked on a beach towel, greased from scalp to pedicure with iodine-laced baby oil. Once I hit puberty, I coveted my cinnamon-colored pantyhose, shielding me from indescribable humiliation and ridicule hurled from the Coppertoned mean girls roaming the halls of Skyline High.

Let’s be clear. My paleness is not akin to that of Gwyneth Porcelain Paltrow, or Julianne Ivory Moore. Picture the hideous translucent blue/pink pastiness resembling the glass of skim milk your granny forced you to finish before excusing you from the table after Thanksgiving dinner.

Years ago I resigned myself to the fact that somewhere between high school and the 21st century, stockings became passé for all but Barbara Walters and the assisted living set. How, then to cut the glare emanating from my albino-esque legs?

As luck would have it, one morning I switched on a daytime talk show and caught fellow pallid-skinned Lara Logan singing the praises of Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs. Not a self-tanner, it’s more a leg make-up. A few squirts of the magic potion breathes life into frosty corpse-like gams. From then on, I stored a can in the master bath at all times.

The afternoon of my 40-year class reunion, I showered, brushed on eye shadow and feathered my lashes with mascara. I caked foundation over my un-botoxed forehead, hollow cheeks and humorless laugh lines.

I retrieved the container of faux tan from under the sink. After giving it a good shake, I propped my foot on the side of the tub, aimed at my freshly waxed leg and pressed the spray nozzle. Nothing.


I shook it again and pressed. Nada. Time was running out. I could not enter the banquet room baring it all. Even geeky Beth Coy would be bronze. She’d littered her Facebook timeline with photos of a recent cruise of the Greek Isles. Beads of sweat cracked my stuccoed-on makeup. I need my L’eggs.

I tipped the can upside down and squeezed the button one more time. Zip.

Time to call in reinforcements.

“Jerry, get in here.”

Hubby appeared, buckling his belt. “What’s up?”

I shoved the can in his face. “Nothing’s coming out.”

He pulled his head away and took a step backward. “Wait, what?”

“Honey,” I said, struggling to control my rant. I took a breath. “I need a fresh can.”

“We’re leaving in like 10 minutes. What’s that even for?”

No time for conversation. I grabbed his phone off the dresser and snapped a picture. “Show this to the CVS clerk and tell her you need a new one.”

He squinted at the image.

Flipping my hands at him, I said. “What are you waiting for? Go, go, go.”

“Gimme that,” he said, reaching for the uncooperative can.

He rifled through the vanity drawer, found a safety pin, bent it back and jammed it into the hole in the nozzle.

“Try it now,” he said, handing the container back.

I pointed it at my veiny blue limb and pressed the button.

At last a stream of latte-colored foam spewed from the container.

“Hallelujah,” I said, smoothing the lush liquid over my bare skin. Praying my luck wouldn’t run out, I aimed at the other leg and pressed the button again. Victory.

I admired the warm glow of my reflection in the mirror. The bottom half of my body no longer looked like it belonged to the bride of Frankenstein. It’s alive.

I planted a kiss on hubby’s cheek. “My hero.”

Eat your heart out, Gwynnie.

— Camille DeFer Thompson

After 30 years in local government, Camille DeFer Thompson gave it all up for the glitz and glamour of freelance journalism. Her work has been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog and, as well as in a number of collected works, including, Not Your Mother’s Book…On Working for a Living, Clash of the Couples and Feisty after 45. Camille lives in Northern California. Follow her humor blog at

Reflections of Erma