The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Are the tips in The Sunscreen Song really useful?

Got any sunscreen?

Guest answer from Lisa-Marie Ferla.

Life I feel as have been spending most of this month backpedalling furiously, playing catch-up. More so than usual, I mean. The fact that I thought Stuart’s original deadline of “the first week of December” for my contribution to this project was a long way off, and easily reachable, probably tells you all I need to know.

This time last year I was working in retail, an aftershock of the Great Financial Downturn of 2008. I was working for a company who probably see themselves as more than a consumer electronics outlet, and to be fair some of its innovations have come to define this first decade of the 21st century in much the same way as the death of its pioneer made particular headlines on the tech blogs I now scan in my current role here in 2011. What I’ll tell you about retail is that there ain’t no way the festive season is sneaking up on you in that environment, particularly when you’re selling the ‘must-have’ gadgets some of the richer brats of Glasgow are expecting bulking out their stockings. This December, however, I’m back working in journalism (I’ve always thought of myself as a journalist first and foremost, but it’s only this year I haven’t had to stretch the boundaries of the definition to include the word in my CV). My focus is the law, particularly as it pertains to business, and as the Government releases report after consultation trying to clear its desks and justify its existence before the country closes down for the holidays I don’t think I’ve ever found myself generating so many words.

Still, December is a great month for those of us concerned for what we’ve been missing. Some blog, somewhere, will for example have curated a list of the Best Memes of 2011 - although surely, if you missed them first time around, they can hardly have been meme-y at all.

Seriously. WTF is a “nyan cat”? Did you..?

The Sunscreen Song, which you’ll probably best remember from its Baz Luhrman-remixed spoken word single interpretation, was fourteen years old this summer. Think about that. Fourteen years (twelve, I suppose, if you’re going by the single release but the newspaper column the words come from appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 1 June 1997. That’s a little less than half a lifetime, yet I’m pretty sure you can still remember huge chunks of the words in a way you certainly won’t be able to recall huge chunks of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” when you hit your mid-forties. The word “meme” was yet to slither its insidious way into the Oxford English Dictionary when The Sunscreen Song entered popular culture, but that its words still have some sort of ageless resonance - in fact, they’re perfectly pitched to be pretty much endlessly reblogged on Tumblr - is a testament to the power and simplicity of its advice.

Incidentally, I’ve been layering on sunscreen and hiding in the shade with a book since before Boots the Chemist Buy One Get One Free Ambre Solaire made it a necessity. Pale and interesting, even if it is under a head of hair more suited to Mediterranean ancestry, beats skin cancer hands down any day. Plus, the sweat? Not so attractive.

In its original op-ed incarnation the ‘song’ carried the strapline Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted On The Young and what strikes me now as I reread its words, trembling on the precipice of my 30s, is that that line is perhaps its most prophetic. I have no idea how old its author was when she penned them but I am beginning to suspect they were never aimed at a carefree seventeen-year-old. Age is, of course, nothing but a number but as those numbers begin to stack up they’re still pretty scary. That’s why I might be eating chocolate spread for breakfast, using rich tea biscuits as a spoon, but I’ve still drawn up a list of thirty things I’m putting pressure on myself to accomplish before there’s a change in both column (a) and column (b) come June. Because I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but the difference between 29 and and the breakdown I had when I graduated with my second degree at 22 is that at least I’m living it, to some extent, rather than hiding under the covers and considering the whole thing a tremendous amount of pressure to pile on a girl.

You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded... You are not as fat as you imagine.

You know, 2011 was the year that I gathered my Righteous Feminist Rage to my ample chest and realised I didn’t care any more. If fifty sit-ups in the morning and regular two-mile walks with my headphones on isn’t going to flatten out my stomach then perhaps it isn’t meant to be flat. As long as I can still shoehorn my boobs into a dress that makes me look like Christina Hendricks and accessorise my eyeshadow with my shoes before I head into the office, I’m golden. Nobody has yet to call me on my continuous mission to dress like a six-year-old. You should have seen the length on the skirts I wore on my eighteen-month hiatus from #corporatelaw. Actually, you probably couldn’t. If you get my meaning.

Respect yourself. That’s the message in its purest form. Don’t waste your time on jealousy, worrying about the future or chewing over the insults you receive. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with [your heart]. It’s easier said than done, but I’m going to print that one out in 24pt font and stick it on my fridge. I wish I’d made a note of it when I was seventeen. But I probably wouldn’t have learned the importance of it otherwise.

What do I honestly believe? Yes advice, like youth, may be wasted on the young but if you don’t make your own mistakes in the first place then you’ll have no platform for recognising how right that advice was. So read as much as you can, then go out and make your own mistakes. Allow yourself five minutes to wallow in the stupidity of your decisions: the empty gin bottle, the text message you can hardly remember, the corns that will only disappear after two weeks in trainers. Then phone a friend, phone a pizza and remember that everything usually looks better in the morning.

And besides, if I didn’t mess too much with my hair I’d already look 85.

In the meantime I’m working on my list, eating chocolate spread for breakfast and looking forward to spending my next sunny holiday sitting in the shade, plotting how to turn The Sunscreen Song’s most important advice - to live in New York City once - into a reality. And when my sister asks me what I’m doing, as she turns over to get some colour on her front, I will tell her that I heard it in a song once.

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