Zesty Gals in the Swimsuit Department

Cathy Adams’ first novel, This Is What It Smells Like, was published by New Libri Press, Washington. Her short stories have been published in Utne, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Tincture Journal, A River and Sound Review, Upstreet, Southern Pacific Review, and 36 other publications from around the world. She earned her M.F.A. at Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. She lives and writes in Liaoning, China, with her husband, photographer, JJ Jackson.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of Lycra, I will fear no French cuts. I am shopping with my friend Jeanene for a swimsuit because it’s the end of the season when everything is marked down, the only time I will allow myself such a luxury. She holds up a jazzy emerald-green number with sturdy looking elastic around the legs. I try it on in the dressing room under horrid fluorescent lights that illuminate every hair I missed shaving around my knees.

I step out to show Jeanene. “What do you think?”

“Where are your boobs?” she asks.

“Right where God put them,” I snap back. I look in the mirror and am horrified to see they have disappeared, completely. If not for my well-rounded behind, I would look like a 12-year-old Swedish boy.

Jeanene tosses in a black suit with silver buckles on each shoulder. Against my school-glue-colored skin, the black makes me look as if I’ve been bitten by vampires. “It shows up the spider veins around my knees,” I shout through the door. “I’d have to put spackling on my legs.”

Next is a red suit with a diamond pattern cut in the abdomen. It has ample padding in the bra, and the leg cuts come down just far enough to cover two-thirds of my stretch marks. If I stand on my toes, hold my head up, suck in my stomach, twist my upper body in a 180-degree pivot, arch my back, and stay that way, I am the picture of a supermodel.

By the time I regain consciousness, Jeanene has found a dark-pink suit with a built-in bra shelf that is so stalwart I could hide my car keys and tanning lotion in there. Snapping the shoulder straps over my arms, I am crestfallen. I could store an extra beach towel in those cups.  I fluff them out into two perfect cones. Maybe no one will notice. I step out to show Jeanene, and she pokes her fingers at my mostly air-filled cups leaving indentations in the fabric and in my pride.

“Honey, you can’t park Volkswagens in parking spaces built for SUVs.”

“I could put in socks,” I say.

“And the first time you jump into the water it’ll look like somebody emptied their gym bag in the pool.”

Why am I being so ridiculous about buying a swimsuit? I should just be like my mothers and grandmother before me and wear one of those skirted polyester things that looks like the short dresses with sea horses chasing one another around the front. Every woman has a photo of her aunt or mother splashing happily in the water with her children. That photo likely has a small child or a blow-up pool toy strategically placed in front of her thighs, but these women always look jubilant to be in the water without an obsessive thought as to how they compare with the unrealistic fantasy creatures in swimsuit ads. I am positive that those so-called women are created in test laboratories and are made of a space-age material molecularly similar to margarine. If you took one of these “models” out of her controlled environment and dipped her in a swimming pool, she would melt like the wicked witch from “The Wizard of Oz.

I am a 51-year-old real woman with a shopping list of flaws. In my mind they are rated and cross-referenced in order of importance, size and potential for cure through exercise. I am ashamed at my need for a swimsuit that makes me look like I haven’t looked in 15 years. I have allowed myself to be sucked into the game once again, and I am old enough and smart enough to know better.

I try on one last suit with my eyes closed repeating this mantra to myself: I am beautiful in this suit. I am beautiful in this suit. No. I stop a moment and change my mind. I am not falling for this anymore. I am beautiful in any suit I choose. I open one eye in the mirror and am amazed at what I see. Everything sits in close proximity to where it was when I was born with it. The dimpled fat and spider veins are still there, a proud testament to the miles my real woman body has traveled.

“Now this is a swimsuit for swimming,” I say. I let myself think for a moment what it will be like to shop for a swimsuit again when I am 60, and I wear that glorious skirted suit with sea horses proudly.