The Rockwood Files: I was dumb in the 80s

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Maybe it’s hormonal. Just another cruelty in a long list of hormonal pranks the female body plays on innocent middle-aged women like me.

But part of me wonders if I’m being forced to pay for the sins of my youth.

When I was a 13-year-old girl in the 80s, I did dumb things, as most of us did. Keep in mind there was no Google. No dermatologists on Instagram warning us not to be idiots. We just did things we saw other people doing, and we figured it was fine.

So, my friends and I – who wanted nothing more than to look like a Coppertone cover girl – laid out by the community pool or in the backyard on fold-out lounge chairs. And because I lived across the street from friends who owned a trampoline, I often sunbathed on that black bouncy backdrop. I basically put myself on a broiler.

Did I slather up with SPF? Nope. Didn’t even know what it was. Most of us used baby oil. It sounds crazy, I know. We were practically rubbing ourselves down with canned Crisco and then expecting not to fry. But that’s the thing. We knew we’d burn. We were told by older, supposedly wiser girls that burning came with the territory – that you had to get through that initial burn to establish a good “base tan.”

Back then, we believed tanning was a matter of effort. If you put in the hours, you’d get what you wanted.

But for fair-skinned people like me, the promise of getting and keeping that elusive base tan was total bull. What I didn’t know then is that my skin doesn’t tan. It freckles, then it burns, and then it peels. Then I’m right back to the starting line – a freckled, frosty white.

I have since made peace with my paleness. When I stopped trying to tan, I had more time for things that won’t potentially kill me – like reading and napping. Shade just makes sense for me (and everyone else, according to doctors).

I cringe at the consequences of what all those years of chasing a tan might have done. I get regular checks from the dermatologist to make sure none of the spots on my body look “suspicious.” You never know when a freckle might go rogue. And I wonder if all that baking in the 80s might be the reason I am now dry as dust.

It started about a year ago. My skin went from freshly rinsed grape to dried pineapple in a shockingly short period of time. It feels like a giant stuck a straw down into the top of my head and sucked out every drop of moisture and then discarded me like a shriveled juice box.

There’s not enough heavy moisturizer in the world to combat the carnage happening over here. If I’d known about this in the 80s, I would’ve started dipping my entire body into Vaseline every hour on the hour.

As rotten luck would have it, the current trend in makeup is to have a dewy, youthful glow. But what if your dew is done? What if you’re fried and dried? Every time I spray a moisturizing mist on my face, my pores suck it up like they’ve been crawling through the Sahara Desert.

I’m looking forward to summer just to see if I’m still capable of sweating. I’ll sit under a giant pool umbrella, apply a thick layer of SPF 1000, drink gallons of water, and hope for the best. Who knows? Maybe by fall, I’ll be downright dewy.

A girl can dream.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.