Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Shopping

It’s almost that time again.

What can a woman who has tried on—let’s guess: 300?—bathing suits in her lifetime possibly have to say about the process that’s new? That’s what I asked myself after coming home empty-handed from what most of us know to be a self-esteem-sucking, physically exhausting session wrestling bits of cloth in front of a department store dressing-room mirror in unflattering light.

Some aspects of swimsuit shopping haven’t changed a bit, but others have. The women’s swimwear department of my local Dillard’s is stuffed with colorful tops, bottoms, and cover-ups--everything from bikinis to board shorts for the discerning surfer girl and slimming, skirted one-piece numbers for the more modest or matronly shopper. I figured that if I couldn’t find a bathing suit in there, it didn’t exist.

I already had one suit. It was comfortable, and it covered me in all the right places; time and gravity had made that a necessity. But I was planning a vacation that involved daily swimming. To avoid the agony of stepping into a cold, clammy wad of spandex some morning, I needed a spare. My goal was to suit up as attractively as possible for my age and body type.

I’m a senior citizen, often described as “tall and thin.” As my brother says, being thin seems to equal an automatic pass for some folks. “You’re not getting any sympathy from me,” the clerk said after handing me yet another suit. Maybe not, but insecurities can plague us all when it comes to baring skin, especially as the years go by.

I wasn’t out to catch a wave, so the poster of the young girl in a pink bikini on the inside of the dressing room door didn’t help as I prepared to find the leg openings and wiggle into the latest creations and then peep at myself in the fun-house--I mean department-store—mirror. When I did open my eyes I saw in the reflection a soft body, one that could stand to tighten up around the middle. I saw a form as white as Casper the friendly ghost and slightly scarier. Let’s face it: we’re rarely so exposed as when we go to the pool or beach.

Two hours later my credit card was still in safe mode; nothing I had tried on was just right. It seemed a stretch to blame the hundreds of bathing suits in Dillard’s. After I got home I stripped down to my underwear and looked at myself in my own full-length mirror.

My thinking that day had been: The more of me that’s hidden, the better. And then, standing there, I remembered the time I decided to stop wearing shorts because I noticed spots and wrinkles on my legs. I was all set to buy Capri pants for the rest of my days when a wise friend took issue with that decision: Why should we give up shorts? That’s not the answer to living life. We all have to reach the point at which we accept ourselves.

I looked in the mirror again, and that time I didn’t see Casper. I saw a body that was healthy and whole. It was mine, imperfect but in fine working order. The only legitimate emotion for such a moment is gratitude.

I knew I would return to the store. People in their sixties are like everyone else. We like to swim. We like to sit in the sun or take a ride in a boat or occasionally climb into a hot tub. That’s why bathing suits were invented. 


  1. Jane, this blog was so on target and unbiased as you relate what nearly all women (especially middle aged +) feel when shopping for a bathing suit. We are in "comparison mode" (judging ourselves against our younger self and every model perfect body on tv and in magazines) as we look at ourselves exposed in the mirror. I agree with your summation though, I am a senior citizen and I am also a healthy, happy and whole person who enjoys time at the beach. Plus, if someone doesn't like the way I look in that suit I spent hours to find, they can certainly turn their head in another direction. Wonderful blog, as always.

    1. Thanks, Betty. Just think if we were movie stars: We'd have to look perfect all the time. I like to look my best, but at the same time I'm glad to be who I am.

  2. I don't care how old, or young, we are, it never gets easier to shop for a swimsuit. I've probably tried on thirty in my life, Jane, and not because I'm not a swimmer. I love to swim, but hate how I look in a suit. I've reached the point where I'm blaming it on those blasted advertisements that have conspired to make all of us think we can never measure up to what a woman is supposed to look like: slender, shapely and curvy in all the right places. When in truth, none of us look like that. Or few do. Most of those who have are in the fashion magazines--and they've been Photoshopped. Great column!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Daleen. I'm right there with you. It can be very distressing to buy a bathing suit, but people are going to have to look at me in one because I'm not ready to sit on the sidelines. If someone wants to photoshop me, well, fine. :)