I recently experienced the annual rite of passage known as "shopping for a new swimsuit". Although this event doesn't have the typical rites of passage activities like cake or candles or speeches, it most definitely has a time of transition- the transition from cozy, covered winter body to uncomfortably exposed summer body. There is no way to avoid the transition when huddled half dressed in a dingy fitting room with poor lighting! What it lacks in ceremony, it makes up for in trauma.
*Full disclaimer: I realize there are women out there of all sizes who are super comfortable with their bodies and who don't sweat their swimwear. I applaud you, I truly do! I hope my daughters grow up to be like you and in time I hope I can be like that too. But for now, I am not in the "comfortable in swimwear" category. In fact, I don't ever recall being in that category. For those who look forward to swimsuit shopping, I hope you can understand the other side :-).
For many years I have been shopping for swimwear every year or two and you would think by now that I would know the rules. Although it is never a seamless process, there are some things that make it easier or at least more pleasant. Here are the mistakes I made on my last outing:
1- I was in a hurry. You cannot shop for a new swimsuit under a time crunch! So, allowing myself time to shop in only one store for one hour was the first mistake.
2- I had eaten first. Everyone knows you can't eat before swimsuit shopping! There is no way to disguise that food baby under a swimsuit. Rookie mistake!
3- I was pale. Our winter bodies may not have seen the sun for awhile and while that is good for the skin, it is not the most flattering color for swimsuit shopping. It is hard to feel attractive when there are vast expanses of skin showing that are approximately the color of masking tape. And like it or not, everything looks a little better with some color on it!
4- I was experiencing PMS. Beyond the obvious bloating and physical discomfort, there is also an emotional component that can't be overlooked. While not every swimsuit looked great, it probably didn't warrant the full-on emotional breakdown that occurred. Thank you irrational hormones.
5- I shopped in a store. The last several years I have ordered a bunch of suits online and then tried them on in the comfort of my own home. Somehow this lessened the trauma of all the other issues. This year I didn't think about it in time to order and thought the store would be easier. Not so much.
As I waded through the racks of suits at Macy's, I got that feeling that I often get while shopping these days. I couldn't quite find my niche. While I am not in the market for a skimpy two-piece, I am also not quite ready for the swim dress either. How hard is it to make a figure flattering suit that doesn't make me feel like my mother?!?
After scouring the racks, into the fitting room I went! My arms were full of possibilities. Given the time pressure, I had to work smart and fast. This was not a time for overt risk-taking. I stuck with the sensible but cute tankini and threw in a few one pieces for good measure. A few other women went in at the same time. We all nodded at each other in solidarity. We understood what was at risk with early March swimsuit shopping. As I started trying on suits, one thing became apparent- this was going to be worse than I thought! I started with the one pieces. Historically I have very little luck with one piece suits because of my long torso, but I thought maybe this time would be different. As I wrestled the suit into place, I clearly remembered the problem with one piece suits. While it was very cute, due to my long torso the straps were about two inches too short so the chest cups landed awkwardly below my actual chest giving the appearance of oddly placed or sagging boobs. Nope, definitely not going to work. Next...
I moved on to the two pieces. It was a physical battle in there. I could hear my fellow dressing room friends having similar struggles. There was a chorus of snapping straps, heavy sighs, and exasperated grunts. I could picture that I wasn't the only one trying to pull on various tightly fitting suits with a security device attached in the most inconceivable and unwieldy spot. I wrestled with straps, and bra cups, and ties that were too tight and ties that didn't do anything at all. I tried on suits that I couldn't figure out and nearly got stuck in and suits that barely covered the necessary parts. I made it through the first round and found just enough possibility to go back out and try a different size in a few styles. Getting a bigger size is never the best feeling, but somehow it is made much worse by having to get completely redressed and going out to get it yourself. Now I was sweating as I put my jeans, sweater, and boots (another mistake, dress simply) to grab a few more sizes. As I returned with round 2, I quickly grabbed a few more desperation pieces and hoped for the best.
As time and effort wore me down, I eventually made peace with a black and white tankini that was somewhat flattering ( I hoped, my judgment was long gone), but still comfortable. At that point, I was pretty much resigned to get whatever was passable as my time, patience, and emotional health were growing short. The discard rack outside the fitting room was overflowing with swimsuits. I'm not sure any of my fitting room friends had found success. Trying on swimsuits in early March is not for the faint of heart.
As I made my way out of the store with my purchase, I stopped by the men's department to pick up something for my husband. I passed the relatively few racks of men's swimsuits. Curiously, there weren't any large crowds of men gathered around shopping for the most flattering suit. I didn't see any dejected men coming out of the fitting rooms convinced that there was something wrong with their bodies. In one of the greatest injustices in the world, men can literally ask their wife to pick up a suit for them and there is a 95% chance that it will work.
Husband--"Hey honey, I can't find my swimsuit. Can you pick up a new one for me while you're out? I'm not sure if I'm a medium or large, but I guess it doesn't matter because it has a drawstring anyway. Thanks!"
Wife- "Seriously?!?" she says with a long slow exhale accompanied by cold death stare as she ponders all that she goes through to find a suit.
That's right, as we contort ourselves into contraptions with straps and hooks and cups and spandex and various levels of support and control, the men are still wearing giant loose swimsuits that start at the waist and come approximately to the knee. In sizes S,M, L. With pockets. And an elastic waist. AND A DRAWSTRING!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? While I worry about the prospect of eating and people being able to see my food through my swimsuit, my husband can put on giant swim shorts with an elastic waist and rest comfortably. He can sit on beach chairs without adjusting his suit in three different areas. He can bend over without worrying that something might shift and fall out. He can eat a full meal at the pool and just loosen his drawstring!! There is no justice...
I know not every man wears loose baggy shorts (even though most do) and that there are men who are genuinely concerned about how they look in their swim trunks, but I think this is one area where women consistently get the short end of the stick! There is way more body forgiveness in baggy elasticized shorts than any swimsuit women can find.
My words of wisdom: don't make the mistakes I made ( a little self-tanner goes a long way), don't take it too seriously as it is almost never as bad as you think and it really is just a swimsuit, be thankful that you are going somewhere that requires a swimsuit because that implies warmth and sunshine, and if all else fails have a drink before you go :-).