LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Bathing suits. It’s time to talk about them. Because as I was lying on the beach last week I realized that about 0.01 percent of women feel comfortable in them and the rest of us? Well, the rest of us just suffer.
I realized this as I was watching a woman with six-pack abs and 6-foot-long legs rearrange her towel on her deck chair. Apparently, she was having an issue getting it how she wanted it because she kept spreading out the towel in the air, as you would a sheet, and draping it across the chair. Unsatisfied, she’d do it again and then again. Then, whoops, she knocked her sunscreen off the table so she beeeennnt over — little deeper, now you’ve got it — to pick it up. Then her back got itchy so she languorously scraaaaaatched, then, oooh, her legs (understandably, given their length) got stiff so she streeeeetched. Then back to the towel: fling, fling.
Throughout this process, not one cellulite dimple winked, not one piece of skin rolled or folded, not one hair emerged. Everything was perfect and, well, beautiful.
This, I think we can all agree, ladies, is what we all wish our bathing suit experience were like: comfortable, admirable. As we stand in the blaring light in the change room at Macy’s getting ready to try on the suits we’ve chosen, can we admit hope is as tangible as the smell of stinky shoes wafting from the stall next door? Don’t we all, deep down, have an unquenchable longing for these bathing suits to magically transform our bodies? The pleats across the waist will conceal, the bum will fit wonderfully, the pads in the chest will boost so, even if we don’t look like Greek goddesses, we will at least look like an improved version of ourselves. Tighter. Curvier. Smoother.
But then you get that paisley sucker on and you realize the magic lies elsewhere. You pull on the zebra print and wonder, umm, do I have back fat I was unaware of? Then, because you’ve really worked hard and you’ve really lost weight in preparation for your trip, you try the string bikini, the one you pulled off the rack just for fun, and you think: next year. Next year I am finally going to look fabulous in this.
Part of the problem, I feel, is the concept, yes, of the bathing suit, but especially of the bikini. Because, folks, the rest of the time this combo is called a bra and panties, two items of clothing that are otherwise known as “underthings.” Only the fabric distinguishes it from lingerie, but it’s that one fact — that it’s made of spandex instead of cotton — that is what is supposed to make us feel comfortable wearing it unapologetically in public. And not just, like, going to the grocery or walking to the mailbox, but walking on a beach where everyone, let’s face it, is watching the people walking on the beach. Frolicking in the waves when people on the beach, let’s face it, kind of want you to trip and fall.
This sharp shift in social decorum is what has got to be what makes a bathing suit so difficult. Because even if you feel like you look OK standing in front of the mirror in the hotel room, when you get outside, the reality of the fact that you are wearing something the rest of the time you try to conceal presses down and you feel suddenly, painfully exposed.
What’s more, the bathing suit needs almost constant adjustment, doesn’t it? If you aren’t pulling it up, you’re pulling it down and around. Or you’re fidgeting to make sure those straps or buckles and strings stay strapped or buckled or tied in a firm, hard knot. Because one wave, one rogue wave, boy, and you’re toast.
Since I was a preteen, I have spent hours admiring the 0.01 percent of women who can casually, effortlessly exist on the beach. I have also spent a long time wondering how they get there. Because wearing a bathing suit well isn’t how you necessarily look. I’ve seen imperfect bodies look great walking in the sand. What separates the girls from the goddesses is the confidence they exude. They can strut. They can pause. They can beeeeeeend and pick up a shell and feel absolutely comfortable.
“Deal with it,” is the message they secrete. “Look at me and deal.”
So as I sat in my new bathing suit sucking in, staring at my white thighs and still wincing over how awkwardly I had taken off my cover-up a few minutes before, I did. I accepted the fact that I will never be a bathing suit girl. I will always want to attain Spandex perfection but never feel I’ve gotten there. So you know what? I ordered a frosty cocktail, sipped and started composing this in my mind to the other 99.99 percent.