Well, it’s here – the moment I’ve been dreading all summer. My annual quest for a bathing suit has officially begun.
I know it’s July. I know you all bought your suits already. And you’re wondering where I’ve been.
I’ll tell you where I’ve been. I’ve been hunkering down in a humungous box of chocolate chip cookies, the kind you get at humungous discount warehouses, in the “I Have a Humungous Need To Drown Myself In Pity” aisle. Nibbling my way through fear, sadness, humiliation and regret, all while wearing the same black skirted suit I’ve worn for ten years, thank you very much. Which, come to think of it, has been more loyal to me than any friend I can think of.
Before you become too impressed with me, thinking I can still fit into the same suit I first donned a decade ago, let me set the record straight. It is not because I have maintained the same weight all this time. It’s because my suit has stretched along with me. You see, it has no choice but to do so if it wants to remain on active duty. It knows that if it doesn’t defy physics and refrain from bursting like a popped balloon and striking fellow pool members with its shrapnel, I (and, therefore, it) would be banned from the pool for life. My community pool has a strict rule against that kind of horseplay. So, like the good and loyal friend it is, my suit relents. So much, in fact, that what was once black is now a dark gray and growing lighter in hue each year, to the point where it will soon be transparent.
Maybe then I’ll get a new suit.
I am filled with self-pity this July because this year was going to be different - a promise I make to myself every year, now that I think of it. Each January I proudly march through the bathing suit sections of my favorite department stores, imagining myself wearing this tankini or that bikini, looking like I stepped right out of the pages of Sports Illustrated, Swimsuit Edition. As a matter of fact, I envision getting the call – this year, for the first time, they’ve decided to feature a 40something woman on the cover. And, because I look too good not to be proudly displayed on newsstands the world over, they want to feature me - sporting the hottest hot pink bikini with my badass belly ring and belly button sun tattoo.
Fully believing this fantasy is achievable, I hop on the “Diet And Exercise Express” every January 1. Okay, make that January 4 because it usually takes me that long to eat up all the holiday cookies and treats. Well, maybe January 15. But between January 15 and March whatever, I’m all full of gung ho as I run, sweat, lift and Zumba my way into becoming a permanent fixture at the gym. Before long, everyone gets to know me by name and nobody dares to take my self-proclaimed locker. I even start coaching other slugs in how to make it all the way around the track without having to stop for a cappuccino and a bagel in the gym café. And I do it with an abundance of excitement and glee – after all, the visual of me on the SISE is the best revenge I could hope to exact on ex-boyfriends who believed they were trading up when they ditched me. We’ll conveniently forget that they ditched me for actual swimsuit models - after all, what’s past is past.
But then, in March, it all goes terribly wrong. My gym-going fanaticism succumbs to pure ___, often coinciding with the strategic appearance of double dark chocolate coconut eggs aside Wawa registers. They really couldn’t have perfected their marketing strategy any better than if the clerk himself shoved one of those dark, creamy treats in my mouth every morning as I paid for my coffee. Damn Easter Bunny. So, alas, it is in March when I usually realize that despite all my best efforts the scale hasn’t budged. Has. Not. Budged. And so I protest by denouncing the gym and all its buff trainers, balancing balls and Bosu challenges as nothing but a batch of BS as I order up a case of Double Dark Chocolate Coconut Eggs.
Sadly, this year was no different. And, like all years before it, dark chocolate denial takes over where determination left off.
Since the beginning of this summer, I’ve been quite content to waddle around the pool in my tried-and-true black-turned-murky-gray skirted friend as I’ve done every year since my daughter’s birth – despite knowing full well that I bear a striking and somewhat horrifying resemblance to Ursula from The Little Mermaid. But then one day as we were shopping for a suit for my nine year old, she commented that I always wear the same suit year after year, that I never change. And she likes me like that.
“But wait!” my thinner inner mommy-slash-Sports Illustrated goddess screamed. “I want to change!”
With horror, I realize there will come a day when my daughter will see me through preteen eyes, as I heave myself up out of the surf after a boogie board ride, and she will realize that there is but a thinning film of Lycra between me and marine mammal rescue. She’ll be forced to pretend she doesn’t know me, and that will break my heart - more than would the shutting down of the Toll House division of Nestle.
I don’t want that. And besides - I’m not done yet! I’m forty five and have not lived half of my dreams! I want to be featured on the cover of a magazine, emerging from the surf looking fabulous as I’m unknowingly photographed ala Bo Derick in the movie “10”. I want to sport a belly button piercing that’s smaller than a tire rim! I want a sun tattoo that’s not drawn to scale! I want to turn heads, not stomachs, when I take off my cover up! I want to be the envy of all my fat, pasty friends! (I have none to speak of, but will certainly get some in order to live out this fantasy)
So this year, armed with determination, fearlessness and a boatload of diaretics, I’m setting out to find me a new suit. Despite the fact that, along with my panty lines, the new fall line is already showing.
But before I went, I consulted my trusted periodical, You’re Kidding Me, Right? If you haven’t heard of it, this is Cosmopolitan’s older sister magazine published specifically for the forty-ish crowd. Only in this publication, fashion advice has succumbed to sternly issued warnings designed to help its readers avoid being captured, detained and escorted to assisted- living.
Here is what the editors had to say about trying on a suit for the Fab Forty crowd:
1. Anything goes if you’re under twenty five and eat only cardboard. Bikinis the size of cocktail napkins are in, covering intimate body parts isn’t. Nor is wearing a napkin-sized bikini if you’re over forty, no matter how 20something you think you look (Darn).
2. “Real Women” beachwear has been designed for Real Women. The vast majority of American women for whom wearing a bikini would be considered a felony. Riiiight. What they don’t tell you is that the Real Women they used to design this line are a series of Triple 0 anorexic 50 year olds who subsist on a diet of cigarettes and booze. My idea of a Real Woman suit is one that could be stretched comfortably across I-95 and can stop seated belly spread as deftly as it can stop a speeding getaway car, as both travel at roughly the same velocity. One that comes with a detachable skirt that, when removed, can double as a beach cabana.
3. It is wise to avoid horizontal stripes, light colors or suits that have the word “Phat” printed anywhere on them. (Thanks, I wasn’t sure about that last one.)
4. Darker colors that cover trouble spots are strongly urged. “Excuse me, Miss – does this come in anything darker than black?”
5. Suits are now made with fabric that promises to tone your tummy. What they don’t tell you is that it will only shift it to your neck, upper thighs or, if you’re lucky, both.
After reading their hints, I decide that the most appropriate thing for me may be a full length wet suit.
Unfortunately for me, most department stores don’t carry wetsuits, so I feared I would be reduced to trying on multi-colored cocktail napkins instead. That is perhaps one reason I put this off till July.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the Department of Doom was that only two sizes remained on the racks - size 2 and size 24. That was helpful, since I am neither. No doubt, a charging herd of Real Women had just come through and taken all the normal sizes, I thought smugly, comforted in the fact that there is strength in numbers. As it turns out, I was in the toddler department - they had moved the ladies’ section to the third floor.
I took the stairs instead of the escalator, hoping that would shed at least 10 pounds. Once in the department I went immediately for the black suits, hoping the color itself would take another 20 pounds off my appearance. I noticed that many suits had “Slim Effect” tags on them, so I loaded up on those in virtually every style that came in black. I also decided to throw caution to the wind and try on one in brown. I tried to avoid the fat granny suits, since it was precisely that the kind of mold I was trying to break out of. I was feeling pretty good about this until I heard a 20something three racks over loudly protest that “the only thing this dumb store carries are fat granny suits”. I paid no mind, since I am about a cookie and a half away from being a fat-granny-suit model myself. I took comfort in the knowledge that someday she, too, will be forty. The age and hopefully the size.
Once in the dressing room, I took off my clothes and noticed that the mirrors showed everything. I mean everything. I could swear I now had two more belly rolls than when I left the house. As I removed a small family of woodland animals from under one of them, I wondered why department stores couldn’t install those slimming mirrors found in fun houses. Hey, I’m always up for some disillusionment when it comes to how I look. Talk about positive marketing, they wouldn’t be able to keep suits from flying off the racks.
The first suit I tried on was a turquoise “Slim Effect” one piece. I struggled for about 15 minutes to get it up over my hips and around my chest. Once on, I discovered two things: 1. I would have to give cautious consideration between wearing this suit and breathing, and 2. it gathered so tightly around my middle, it cut me in half and made me look like a deranged balloon animal. It also had the pleasant side effect of causing my stomach to divide and bulge out where my neck and thighs were. This absolutely would not do.
The next suit was a two piece. Before you shut down your computer and run screaming from the room, take solace in the fact that that the two pieces were roughly the size of a market umbrella. And that’s exactly what I looked like when I put it on.
The third suit caught my breath (in a good way) when I put it on. It held everything in place, it toned, tamed and bitch-slapped the hell out of all my fat modules, gave me an actual waist and the feeling I could take on any bikini-clad 20something in a swimsuit contest, and win. I was about to start crying with joy, the song “At Last” beginning to play in my head - that is, until I turned to the side. Apparently there is a rule in physics that for every action, there is a reaction. And the chosen reaction of my fat cells when compressed and forced together was to escape out of the back of my suit, like a buffalo in a tutu.
Number four squished my chest matter into an unattractive uni-boob and would no doubt alert lifeguards with a reasonable suspicion that I was attempting to smuggle a keg onto the beach. Number five was the color of baby poop. Number six made me look like a Zeppelin.
Oh, the humanity!
Number seven was….well, now…a younger version of my old black skirted friend, but with a modern twist. It was a tankini with a small (not flouncy) wrap-around skirt that actually minimized (not accentuated) my derriere. It covered not just one but both of my boobies (completely) and added definition against my flattened stomach (I won't go so far as to say flat, mind you, but during midnight swims who would be able to tell). I turned - no back overhang. I bent over – no circulation disruption. I moved cautiously around the dressing room – no bursting, ricocheting Lycra. I opened the door – no one running, screaming from the building (except for that smug twenty something who couldn’t find the right shade of cocktail napkin)
“At last,” I sighed, relieved. “My suit has come along.”
On my way home, with my new friend buckled safely into the seat next to me (hey, once you find a suit that fits, you have to do everything in your power to make sure you don’t lose it!) I confidently plugged the number of the Sports Illustrated editor into my cell phone contact list.
After all, I wouldn’t want to miss his call.
Remember going to the beach with just a Tab, a towel and some baby oil? When you turned heads, not stomachs, when you removed your cover-up? Back then you wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near the Fudgy Wudgy guy. Now you’re forced to chase after him, drawing unwanted attention to your flopping body parts, legitimate and otherwise, just to make your child happy.
If your carefree beach days have succumbed to a series of “America’s Funniest Home Video” moments, this survival guide is for you.
In preparation for your jaunt to the shore, it’s important to choose beachwear that’s flattering, practical and least likely to result in criminal charges. This isn’t usually too hard for men. For them, fashion rules are so loosely defined since any suit that covers their upper thighs is appropriate as long as it also covers their caboose. There is one fashion rule that’s not negotiable, however– the one pertaining to the almighty Speedo. Male beachgoers should note that the New Jersey Office of Counter Terrorism has recently banned flagrant display of Speedos from public beaches, since nothing causes more widespread terror like a tight little package of Spandex. Well, unless you're Michael Phelps.
For women, trying on bathing suits is as enjoyable as being struck by a meteor, and usually there’s a greater chance of that happening than there is finding a suit that flatters. Shopping early increases the likelihood of success, as the harpoon-resistant suits usually go first. By starting early, you’ll have months to lose weight or come up with excuses why you couldn’t.
Next you’ll want to find the right beach bag to accommodate everything you’ll need – one the size of a Ford Expedition should do. In addition to beach gear and any assorted living room furniture you can’t do without, you should include reading material to ensure that a family crisis arises every time you start to read. What can’t be jammed into your minivan can be strapped to the roof, including any teenagers traveling with you.
The best way to pack for baby is not to. Since she can’t tell the difference between Rice Cereal and sand, it’ll be more enjoyable for everyone if you avoid taking your infant to the beach until she reaches certain milestones, like graduating from college.
If you are going for a day trip, be prepared to spend most of your day searching for a parking space. On Saturdays and Sundays in particular many families are forced to assign all licensed drivers to shifts, driving the car around town while the rest of the family enjoys the sand and surf. Since it would be cheaper to stay in a hotel for the requisite four nights than to spend money on that kind of gas, you should consider the hotel option instead - despite the fact that mid-summer rates are generally equivalent to a year's tuition at Penn.
Once you arrive, the Seuss parade will commence. Dad will most likely have the enviable task of lugging the wagon-gone-Grinch-sleigh while Mom In The Hat will balance all remaining accoutrements. Thing One and Thing Two, banished from their wagon to accommodate “all this dumb stuff”, will get to walk “fourteen thousand miles” through hot sand when they’re “sooooo tired” all they want to do is “just fall over and die”. Once they see water, however, this fatigue will immediately give way to boundless energy that will end precisely when the last boardwalk ride closes and they’re forced to walk fourteen thousand miles back to the car.
No birth control is as effective for beach-going singles than the visual of you waddling through the crowd with Thing One hanging off your upper thigh, Thing Two bouncing a ball off of your backside and your husband trailing behind with his Grinch-mobile in tow, yelling for you to “pick a spot, already!” This visual, alone, has been cited as the prevailing reason why many people are putting off marriage and child-rearing until they’re well into their sixties.
You want to select a spot with proximity to the water so you can keep your eye on your children, but not so close your husband can the ogle bikini-clad twenty-somethings who swarm to the lifeguard stand like green flies to your ankles on a breezeless August day. For this reason, binoculars should never be packed, and any pair that inadvertently is should be tossed onto the AC Expressway or the Atlantic, whichever is closer.
Once you find your spot, be prepared that a Speedo-clad prune named Uncle Mortie and his chain-smoking family from Reading will park themselves directly in front of you. Avoid having others invade your beach space by continuously feeding the seagulls or, as an alternative, removing your cover-up. Doing both will ensure that no one sits within the same block.
Eating on the beach is not advised, as seagulls can detect the opening of a potato chip bag from as far away as Northeast Philly. If you do decide to eat, tie down any loose children and huddle under the umbrella. This works best if the umbrella is open. Proper assembly is important to your self-preservation, as nothing causes you to look more ridiculous than chasing an umbrella down the beach. Dig a deep hole using a sturdy instrument like the nearest off-shore oil driller. If your umbrella blows away, pretend it isn’t yours.
A recent study found a direct correlation between settling down into your beach chair to read and suddenly having to chase things like loose toddlers, wayward umbrellas and Fudgy Wudgy guys. Practice these simple exercises at home so you get out of your chair within the same hour such a crisis arises.
Raise both legs high in the air and take a deep breath. As you exhale, lunge forward and, lowering your legs, shift quickly to your right. This momentum should cause the chair to tip to the side, depositing you face down on the sand. Place both palms under your shoulders, hike your knees up under your hips and lift your torso. Any husband who finds it amusing to slap your backside shall be drawn and quartered by all nearby mothers who themselves aren’t currently attempting to get out of a beach chair. Grab onto something solid like a cute lifeguard to hoist yourself up to your knees. Pause, and busy yourself by remembering how to breathe until your heart rate returns to normal or the crisis is over. Slowly rise to a standing position, avoiding unnecessary sound effects. Wrap your cabana around you and begin pursuit of whatever it was that got you out of your chair in the first place, if you can remember what it was.
Following this practical guide will enhance your beach-going pleasure and allow you to spend more quality time with your family doing things like getting everything back in your car and sitting on the AC Expressway traffic for hours.