In the Ao Nang 7-11, I buy the cheapest sunscreen: SPF 50 PA+++
Magic Whitening Princess Sunscreen by Cathy Doll. On the box,
a sad tan cartoon girl languishes under an umbrella. In front of her,
her pale counterpart winks, smiling, brazen & sunless. MAGIC,
the label reads. JOY, it promises. WHITER SKIN, it proclaims,
backs that up with ingredients: “titanium dioxide”, “L-Glutathione”;
Fright is the color of my half-experiment, half-joke. I lather it on,
the ersatz glow—blend it into my skin. My arm hairs turn white.
Chalky, pale umbra, slivers of silver. Now my legs are bright fissures
in a skinned desert. White Lady is the name of a skin emulsion,
a serum to correct dry yellow faces. On the subject of a white lady,
Louise Brooks, Hilton Als once wrote: “We are all the product
of someone else’s dream.” That dream, to cast a radiant light,
alchemize a new skin, find a formula that alters the kind of sight
we are. My dream, to court the sun, extend its fingers. To suck
its gold egg & gag. My chalky skin doesn’t hide me from myself,
sallow girl in the sand, her spilled drink & shrunken parasol.
The melanin in her face a testament to what? Broad daylight
makes us crave invisibility. Legend has it, a woman once surfaced
on these sands, half-drowned. A sun god spotted her & cast a spell
so she turned brighter. But she turned so white-hot she scorched
the earth—her own bones, ruined. You can’t seek protection from
this primeval sun. She lives inside a cave, skin milky as moonstone.
Wanting light, she collects fragments of glass to catch the sun’s
reflection, but it never answers. Now a million women want to be
as ashen as she. A million girls spelunk in lightless caves.
O, lovely girls, with your sarongs & sashes, your lashes so black
behind sunglasses, your parasols sheltering you like floating gazebos,
your sun hats woven with your gods & ancestors—O lovely girls,
do not be afraid. The light is not your enemy. Come stand in the sun.