May 4, 2010

Chicago Manual of Style—5/4/2010

I tried to sneak out of the changing room so that no one would see me. I was trying on bathing suits in a quiet beach-side store in Ft. Lauderdale, and at the salesgirl's request, had left half of my fitting-room haul on a rack outside. Having already thrown out all of the other contenders, I needed the suits that were hanging just out of reach. I attempted to slink stealthily out of my fitting room and back inside before my friends noticed. It didn’t work.

After turning in our honors theses, two of my friends and I dragged our exhausted, sick selves to Florida to get some shore-side sunshine and much-needed sleep. I was looking forward to napping on the sand and waking up sun-kissed and rested. I wasn't eager to bare my pasty, slightly doughy torso on a strip of sand famous for rock-solid, golden bodies. I thought my biggest obstacle would be flying there (I hate planes) until I realized that I had forgotten to pack a swimsuit and would have to buy a new one. At least you get a free drink and a little snack on an airplane; trying on bathing suits feels like nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.

Every spring, fashion magazines claim to have found “the best swimsuit for your body,” but I am convinced that the best swimsuit for me is an oversized t-shirt or tunic. Left to my own devices while my friends browsed some other local boutiques, I had selected some modest, monochromatic suits: a brown-and-black tankini, a blue one-piece, and a pair of boyshorts paired with a black tank top. When I proudly held up the hangers to show off my finds, the salesgirl looked unimpressed. “Those are for old women,” she informed me. “Also, they’re ugly.”

I had to argue with her claim that the suits were for old women. There are many reasons why women, young and old, would want to buy a one-piece suit. Whether for athletic, religious, body-image related, or numerous other reasons, many young women feel more comfortable in a one-piece suit, and many brands such as BodyGlove make attractive options. I couldn’t disagree with the salesgirl over her other claims, though. With garish color combinations and awkward cuts, these particular suits were definitely ugly.

Even at my healthiest, when I was toned and held to a diet more nutritious than Swedish Fish and late-night Domino’s delivery, I never felt comfortable prancing around in skimpy suits. Two-piece swimsuits always just made me feel physically agitated. I hated the feeling of ties digging into my hips or back. I’ve always been an avid swimmer, and never one to lie around on the sand. I didn’t like worrying that I was going to flash the entire beach when I dove into a big wave. Now, after gaining weight and struggling to lose it healthily, one-piece suits have become a safety blanket.

Standing in the dressing room—almost naked in front of a mirror that showed me all of my cellulite and my now-protruding tummy—was a lot worse than airplane take-off and landing. I kept tugging at the suits, trying to find something that helped me have confidence in a body that is still somewhat unfamiliar.

When my friends marched to the fitting room to check on my progress, they were disgusted by my selections. It wasn’t just that the suits were ugly or too mature; they just weren’t “me.” On a whim, buried beneath my “safe” choices, I had also grabbed a suit from the sale rack, an adorable—but barely-there—polka dot bikini with red buttons at the hips and shoulders. I had to admit, it didn't look bad. The buttons reminded me of a bracelet I made and wear every day, and the suit was flattering in a way I hadn’t expected a two-piece to be.

Although I felt a little out of my element walking around with so much skin exposed, I felt good in the bathing suit. It was fun, comfortable, and true to my style. I might have flashed a few people while splashing around and jumping through waves, but I didn’t notice. Once I got in the water, I forgot I was wearing it. It just felt like a second skin. To me, that’s the sign of a bathing suit worth keeping.