April is a month that seems to inspire poetry. However, Chaucer, who praised April in his prologue to the “Canterbury Tales” would certainly not have agreed with the opening line of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, “The Wasteland,” quoted above. But then again, Chaucer was not a woman who had to face the terror and humiliation of shopping for a new bathing suit.
Neither, I recognize, was T. S. Eliot, who nevertheless, with these five words, revealed a remarkable empathy with older women confronting the reality of the coming beach season. It is highly doubtful that this application of Eliot’s words will be found in any serious literary criticism. This particular interpretation of their meaning is all mine.
For me, April was highlighted by a series of family visits, ending with the delightful company of our three youngest grandchildren, who are not so young anymore, and their parents. Spending a week with children in the warm April weather of South Florida means spending a lot of time in the water. Which means spending a lot of time in a bathing suit.
Up to this point, I had managed very nicely to avoid the heartbreak of too many revealed body parts. The weather had been cooperatively cool and not necessarily conducive to swimming. However, in the spirit of participating in their favorite activity, swimwear was definitely the dress code.
Oh, I do have a favorite bathing suit that I tolerate rather well. I bought it several years ago. It is one of those one-piece “miracle suits,” designed to make you look 10 pounds thinner. Or not. However, it manages to embrace my boobs in a manner which does not make me look like I require milking, and covers enough pelvis to avoid the need for a Brazilian wax treatment. While not particularly sexy, neither is it dowdy. Somewhere between Victoria’s Secret and Talbot’s, leaning heavily towards Talbot’s.
But much to my horror, one day during my week as Esther Williams, (millennials – you can Google her or whatever you do to resurrect dead film stars) my no-fault, default swim suit developed a big, fat hole!
The meaning of this discovery did not escape me. I was going to need a new bathing suit. I think one has to be a female of at least middle age to fully comprehend the trauma inherent in this situation.
I postponed this most tortuous of all shopping experiences while I practiced holding in my stomach on a single breath for as long as possible. When I was satisfied that I could get an adequate result without passing out, I knew it was time. But first, I must tend to my hair and makeup. If I’m going to be made to feel my worst, at least let me look my best.
How does one choose a bathing suit store? We of a certain age are advised to look for a shop that has a good “fitter.” What is a “good fitter” you might well ask? In the vernacular of the bathing suit world, this is a woman who is experienced in minimizing fleshy breasts and muffin tops, and the myriad of other possible bodily flaws. She will navigate you past the rows of tankinis (too much midriff reveal), bikinis (too much everything reveal) and straight down the aisle to the one-piece suits with magical concealing properties, and the ability to lift and tuck. After all, she knows that you’ve had it with sassy and sexy. You just need one that fits!
As I perused the racks where no teenager would be caught dead, I listened to her helpful suggestions about necklines, pleats, solids or prints. I stared at my choices in dismay.
I rejected the flowery print which reminded me of a cloth for a picnic table I once purchased at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and also decided to forgo the animal print, which I feared would make me look like a pregnant cheetah. Thus, as in life, in the world of one-piece bathing suits, you can’t go wrong with basic black
I bravely entered the fitting room, armed with several variations of black swim suits in a size recommended by the fitter, which happens to be a size larger than any other clothing that I own. Great. Just keep heaping on the humiliation.
I stripped to my undies and began the try-on process. Yuck! What was I thinking? Next! Finally, there was the magic suit. It was cut just right, reduced the tummy, and camouflaged a variety of imperfections. But, I noticed, it was a little too big. Summoning the fitter, I triumphantly requested the suit in a smaller size. I waited 10 minutes while she searched, and returned with the bad news that they didn’t have another one. Sorry.
Well, that’s that, I thought. I did my best. I’ll just have to go home and continue to practice inhaling my stomach. Besides, my grandkids have all left. I can postpone the unpleasant outing for another day.
There was, I discovered that same night, a bright side to this experience. While I was switching channels among the various news stations, I had the opportunity, or misfortune, of seeing each of our presidential candidates delivering their latest rant. What I would normally have found excruciatingly annoying, now produced a broad grin. Obsessed as I was with the events of the day, I imagined Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, even John Kasich, standing front and center, and each was dressed in a bathing suit. How’s that for an equalizer? Why, it’s almost poetic.
Another great article! Perhaps we can create a social movement in protest of unrealistic and unflattering bathing suits for women causing undue emotional stress. Bike shorts and a tee shirt instead. Any takers? We can hold protest signs at the next bathing suit industry convention (if they have one) and start a petition on MoveOn.org. Men get to wear comfy suits and don’t even have to shave their legs and armpits. Gloria Steinham are you with us? Maybe Madeline Albright? Haha, just kidding. I’m too old to have enough energy for it.
…a swim suit competition for Presidential candidates, I like it !
I’ve often thought there should be a therapist stationed outside the swimsuit fitting room. Or some punching bags.
Great idea. Kind of like a lemonade stand or like Lucy from Charlie Brown. Maybe a diet doctor?
This would be a nightmare ..wearing out my few old bathing suits that I can wear in public! Of course, realize that, in fact, no one really notices me on the beach. Let’s face it..those thong bathing suit bottoms on the young are much more noticeable. Never did like trying to find a bathing suit..even when I was young and thin. Then there were different issues ..flat..instead of fat! Are bathing suit designers mainly men?