THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR
There is a bathing suit store I have visited in Sarasota every single year since I was in my twenties. My grandmother would take me there to buy a suit and I would traipse off to Siesta Key for sun and tan during my visits with my grandparents. My grandmother would plead with me to buy a bathing suit that would cover my “tuchas,” (Yiddish slang word for derriere) and I would roll my eyes with disdain and impatience. At twenty four, there was no way I was going to prance around on the white sands of Siesta Key with some old lady skirt. Rumps are for displaying, especially the twenty four year old kind. My grandmother would of course concede and I would get the bathing suit I wanted, usually skimpy as most twenty something girls were wearing at the time. As I reflect back, especially these days when thongs are the new normal, my bathing suit choices were relatively conservative. To my grandmother, though, who was all about outward appearances when it came to modesty, my choices were horrifying and we had lots of body talk or more like body commentary creating a self consciousness that I still struggle with to this day.
Bathing suits and self talk go hand in hand for me and I am guessing most women. I can see why, since suits are more or less like prancing around in a pair of underpants and a bra for the world to see. All shapes and sizes in a multitude of dressing rooms trying on bathing suits after a winter of hibernation and head to toe cover does not usually make for a good recipe in the changing room. But for some reason, we go back year after year because for the most part either our suits are too ragged from over use the year or two before or we are gluttons for punishment. For me actually, I am hopeful that this year will be the year that I look in the bathing suit mirror and see a reflection back that says, Wow, alayne you look amazing. All that working out and clean eating has actually paid off. You go girl.
Before I head there, though, let me describe the bathing suit dressing room just in case the reader hasn’t indulged recently or perhaps the changing rooms in other places that women try on bathing suits is not the same. I shall set the stage. I walk in to my go to store like I have done every single year since 1989 when they opened. I would have been twenty four; I am now almost fifty four so this is thirty years of bathing suit changes. The store hasn’t changed much except they have Pergo floors instead of carpeting and have added a men’s section. There are a few mannequins in the window sporting the latest in trends, usually on about a size four model and always bikinis. I always love those suits the most and head towards the wall that has them. Size 8 if I am really lucky, though usually more like a ten, but more on this shortly. The large wall immediately on my right above all of the sundresses is the wall I have usually made my way to, but a few years ago, I learned that this wall was now juniors. This would explain why not even a size 12 would cover the ass my grandmother was always nagging me about. Instead of saying juniors, they should say teens, this way there would be no pretense that I should even be close to that wall. But for some reason every year, I still think that these suits are not going to let me down. On the other wall, across from the juniors toward the back of the store are the clearly non juniors. Now why some bathing suit company has not realized that there doesn’t have to be Juniors OR Missus with nothing in between is beyond me. I am not a one piece girl, never have been because one thing I do know for sure is that I have a good stomach, always have. No one pieces and no tankinis either. But in this section that I fondly call the old lady section, my choices were slim. Like J. Jill, the assumption is that every older woman is trying to camouflage their mid section. This is not my problem. I don’t want a two piece that is like wall to wall carpeting, I also don’t want a two piece that had layers of fabric that is supposed to do some fake illusion thing to your hips.
A year before my mastectomy, I discovered the company Jag. Jag made a bottom that was like a hip skirt, kind of Athleta type and because I must always have back up, I promptly purchased four of them. The store still carries them and I am guessing that this must be a go to brand for the in between type of woman like myself. My grandmother was right apparently, skirts were the way to go and I was finally free at the beach to not fret and poke and pull constantly at my bottoms that no matter what the size always landed promptly between my cheeks. Skirts changed all of this for me. And now that I have a set of some very upright fake mastectomied boobs, a sporty Lulu top finally gave me peace with my body at the beach.
Until I went to Sao Miguel this past summer and made my way to the beach where there was not one woman with a skirt. I am talking the largest to the smallest, no one was sporting my sporty skirt and I actually stood out oddly making me feel self conscious. I am clearly fucked up when it comes to body image and this is for another piece at a later time, but I decided then and there that enough with the skirts. I have a healthy body and I am alive and happy. I am wearing a pair of bathing suit bottoms and ditching the skirt. I have an ass, I have always had an ass, I have strong hardy thighs and I have always had strong hardy thighs, I am woman hear me roar. I walked into the familiar and strangely comforting store yesterday this time with my partner rather than my grandmother. He needed a pair of swim suit shorts too and had offered to buy me a bathing suit. I was relieved to find a grown up sales woman (often there are college kids working there and they do not yet understand my plight) and told her my dilemma. I relayed the above information to her and let her know that since my reconstruction surgery, I have struggled to find a top as well. I finally conceded that if I were going to make my way back to a standard bikini I would have to aim for a full coverage pair of bottoms.
Yes it has happened. I have crossed the line into the suits for mature women. She was so kind and understanding and quickly found me a few suits that she placed in the dressing room. The dressing room is very large hosting at least eight separate changing rooms. Each with their own mirror and if you are feeling brave, you can walk into the main very spacious part of the changing area amongst the tribe and use the three way. There is even a convenient hand held that you can torture yourself with to see your full back side. And to top off this torture chamber, lets add the brightest fluorescent lights accentuating every spot of cellulite you never knew you had. For all of this, I am willing to pay $150 for two pieces of spandex I could bunch up and place in my pocket while my partner doesn’t even have to try on his $28 pair of swim shorts that could easily make three full sets of bathing suits for me. This time though, because I had an experienced sales woman, the two suits she brought me fit like a glove. I pranced out into the main area, then decided to walk into the actual store to find my man and ask him what he thought. Affirmative. Though I am fully aware that the ask is a loaded question to begin with, I did feel that he would honestly let me know if what I was wearing looked good. Enough. Good enough. This is the part of the story that I really like. Despite the never ending cycle of jibber jabber body self talk craziness that has gone on in my head for as long as I can remember, yesterday’s bathing suit try on was actually pretty satisfying. I liked the way I looked. I finally found a top that actually fit these weird porn star silicone attachments that have found their way to my upper self and I realized that I am ok with the woman’s section. A medium is fine. For that matter, a large is even fine. Size 8 is bullshit in a bathing suit, numbers should be illegal when it comes to bathing suits now that I think of it, I AM a woman. The woman’s section is just fine. I have earned the status and proud of it.