How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Buy a Bathing Suit

Carla Sarett has worked in TV, film and ran her own market research business. Her short fiction has been published in numerous literary and humor magazines, including Crack the Spine, Loch Raven Review, and Rose Red Review. Learn more about Carla at Carlasarett.blogspot.com.

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According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, my prime fashion spending years came to a grinding halt at 40. I never got the news flash. Call me shallow, but shopping cheers me up, and compared to drugs or drink, it’s sort of healthy, isn’t it? So, name any season, and I am thinking, what can I buy next? Tencel joggers? Well, count me in! A slinky maxi-skirt? I think so! A utility vest, that works, and come to think of it, I could sure use a pair of wide-legged linen pants.

But then there’s summer. Yes, the golden season of beaches, barbeques, and…bathing suits. Those months where we get to show more and I do mean more. I guess if you live in Florida, you hardly notice it. But in Pennsylvania, by the time June rolls around, we’re pale, pasty, and let’s face it, a year older. (Something about a bathing suit will remind you of that fact, and quickly. Too quickly. Like fast enough to make you run from
the room screaming.)

I hear some wise self-help guru in the background intoning, “You must learn to love yourself.”

Believe me, I do love myself! Seriously, I do. I just don’t love the way I look in a bathing suit. And no, this isn’t about men at all. My husband, bless his soul, thinks any old rag I happen to wear looks “fine.” Unless I dress up as a circus clown, I’ll be “fine” to him.

To be clear, my figure, all things considered, is no worse than most. On an average day, I don’t give it a second thought. I look, as my spouse so eloquently puts it, “fine.” But those who design bathing suits (a cruel, vicious bunch) must have Cameron Diaz in mind as their average gal. Trust me, no matter how much I honor myself, I’ll never look like Cameron. Even photo-shopped, not even close.

OK, so it’s not exactly global warming, but it is… stressful.

How to cope?

I happen to be a market researcher, and I’ve gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom in the process of conducting hundreds of consumer interviews. I’ve learned that most of us—yes, men, too—view our bodies as works in progress. There’s always a “problem spot” to be solved through exercise, diet or magical thinking. For some women, it’s flabby arms; for others, it’s too-large hips, the not flat enough stomach, or the too- at rear. (And let’s not get started on breasts. Seriously, never.) But that’s no reason to give up.

Here’s my secret formula for taking the stress out of summer’s least pleasant chore:

  1. Shop alone! Sometimes, friends are not your friend, and this is one of those occasions. You’ll buy anything to avoid your pal’s sympathetic smile, while she says, “well, it’s not as bad as the last one.” Solution? Avoid anyone you know, even remotely, including relatives, especially (need I even say it?) mothers. This is one time to act like a guy and go solo. Whew, one gruesome moment out of your life deleted.
  2. Shop early! Frankly, I’d rather clean my entire house than shop for a bathing suit—hey, I’d clean yours to put it off. In my dream world, I’d pick up a swimsuit in a jiffy at the airport or, better yet, the hotel gift shop (for the record, this is a very, very bad idea). But finding a halfway decent swimsuit requires trial and error, mostly error—so plan accordingly. No last minute shopping!
  3. Forget size. Forget your dress or pants or even your bra size. This has no relation to the wacky world of bathing suits. And while it’s no big deal wearing a too-tight sweater, a suit needs to fit (assuming you actually intend to get in the water). Just try on, say, a dozen sizes, and you’ll be fine.
  4. Get thee to a shopping website. Sure, you pay shipping, and you’ll need to order multiple sizes, but you’re spared the nightmare of the dressing room (is it my imagination or are those lights a ghastly yellow?). Plus, you get nifty consumer reviews like, “it sucks my stomach in” or “make sure you order a size up” or my personal favorite, “I can’t say how much I hate this.”
  5. Forget how you used to look in a bikini. The cardinal rule. We all looked better at 18. Period, end of story. Younger is better in a bikini (ditto cropped tops, in case you’re wondering). Don’t peek at those old photos. And while you’re at it, remind your gorgeous daughter to enjoy the way she looks now.

Finally, when you find a suit you like, please do order more than one. (Feel free to adopt my personal shopping mantra: if it’s nice, buy it twice; if it’s really nice, buy it thrice.) That way, you can skip shopping for a bathing suit next summer, and return to more urgent matters, like those new capris. And oh, by the way, have fun at the beach.