Review: Author answers burning questions about sunbathing

“Tansmania” is available now in shops all over Vashon and on Amazon.

By Susan McCabe

For The Beachcomber

At age 25, Cindy Hoyt was a Tansmaniac.

You won’t find “Tansmania” in the dictionary, but Hoyt cleared it up: “It’s a state of mind – some say a treatable state of mind – in which practitioners are devoted to absorbing enough sunlight to make them look good in yellow.”

As one might guess, Tansmaniacs are primarily white people, and like many white women (and a few men) who came of age between 1930 and 1980, Hoyt spent her days transforming into a Kraft caramel. But unlike many of those other women, she spent her nights translating her acquired knowledge into book form.

There have been many revolutions around the sun — and many changes in cultural attitudes toward tanning — since Hoyt started that book. Why publish it now, when tanning has waned in popularity following discoveries about the health dangers of sun exposure?

Because, as “Tansmania” points out, there is a “…great American tradition of acting against your own self-interests by smoking, eating sweets, riding in death traps, and drinking anything you can get both hands around.”

So — mostly for the fun of it.

Hoyt’s short tome is all about laughing at our cultural obsession with appearance. But what makes tanning part of that obsession, in the face of basal cell carcinoma and premature aging?

It turns out “to tan or not to tan” is a status thing, and always has been. In her chapter on the History of Tanning, Hoyt goes back 5,000 years to humanity’s first recorded veneration of the sun, when ancient Sumerians designated it a minor god. Egyptians later elevated the sun to Overlord status, naming it Amon-Ra (think “ray”).

But until the 1930s, most people disdained tanning as a mark of the outdoor-laboring lower classes. That is, until Coco Chanel decided everyone should look like they’ve spent the winter in St. Tropez — and tanning mania was born.

From hilarious postures to dangerous tanning beds, Hoyt deftly points out the ridiculous side of “going for the gold.” So as not to mislead, she advises readers in her introduction to NOT read this book. At the same time, she declares that her book “wraps nuggets of information in humor and deep-fries them in off-the-wall sauce.” Therein lies the reason TO read this book: it will make you laugh — both at yourself and at our culture — and send you back to the whole-body pleasure of lying in the sun with enough information to protect you from its pitfalls.

It’s a quick read, and book-sized to fit into your beach bag, providing a delightful afternoon at the beach (or a summer-y reflection in front of a Northwestern fire). Hoyt researched portions of the book to enlighten the reader factually on topics such as tanning equipment, choosing a swimsuit for your body type, caring for skin and hair, and even a sunbather’s “non-diet diet.” The reader can identify their tanning “type,” their “Sun Sun Sun” sign, and practice their newly-acquired tanning skills in a goofy but informative “open book” quiz near the end.

Hoyt’s goal — and she does have one — is to make people laugh so that later they might realize they learned something. Or, as she puts it, “Slaughtering the sacred cow that leads to poor body image.” She’d like to encourage us all to accept ourselves just as we are physically, spiritually, and psychologically.

Hoyt calls herself a humorist, a skill she’s displayed writing comedy skits for Vashon’s Church of Great Rain variety show and in her many years on Voice of Vashon’s Morning Scramble with husband Jeff Hoyt. Not everyone gets her sense of humor, she says, and that’s okay.

“Your sense of humor is like your taste buds,” she says. “You can’t help what you’re born with, and you feel strongly about your preferences.”

“Tansmania” the book, not the state of mind—is available now in shops all over Vashon and on Amazon.

Join author Cindy Hoyt and her Church of Great Rain alumni Jeff Hoyt and Lyn McManus for a reading from “Tansmania” at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15, on the patio of Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe.