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Shady Lady

Shady Lady
July 2009
With skin on the fairest side of pale, this beach dweller becomes a hermit crab in the summer.

People always react the same way when I tell them I haven’t been to the beach during daylight hours since the early ’90s: “But you live in one of the most beautiful coastal cities in the U.S.!” They have no idea.

Here’s the deal: I love the beach, but my hazardously pale skin means I have to wear SPF 60 just to step outside. During the day, especially in the summertime, I hide indoors, or if forced out—to, say, walk my Pomeranian, Lulu—I put on my solar battle gear. You might have seen us doing laps around Hampton Park; I’m the one in the baseball cap, long pants, and long-sleeved shirt, sweating white rivulets of sunblock and crisscrossing the roads and pathways in search of the next spot of shade.

I’ve had friends visiting from the Midwest become aggravated when—instead of accompanying them to The Washout or Sullivan’s Island—I hand them a map and my car keys and send them off with well wishes. Same goes for kayaking, river-rafting, hiking, and bicycling. “But you live in Charleston,” they protest. “How can you live here and NOT want to feel the sun on your face?” I tell them the same thing every time: It’s not my fault. I come from English-Irish stock, and my ancestors lived in cloudy, rainy climates, so I have a skin tone so pale it’s almost translucent. I don’t develop a “healthy glow” from the sun, I get blotchy and freckled and crispy if left outdoors too long, like a fragile fern.

As a result, I’ve spent most of my life seeking shade. Once I even purchased a parasol I thought was charming—until I used it at the farmers market one clear, sunny Saturday and had four vendors look up at the sky and ask me in a “Hello, crazy lady” tone if I was expecting rain. And, although you won’t find me basking on the beach at the Isle of Palms or frolicking in the surf at Folly this summer, I’m easy to spot in a crowd; I’m the pale redhead with big sunglasses on the shady side of the outdoor table, sunscreen sticking out of my shoulder bag, and a blissful grin on my face every time a nice breeze kicks up.