Friday, April 20, 2018

Finding summer sanity in a one-piece bathing suit

I sat on the steps of the shallow end, legs twisted to one side. I scanned all the skinny, tan females, adjusting their tiny triangle bikinis and bottoms held on by string.

My posture was great. My smirk was in place. I felt smug, superior, as if I had unlocked the secret to finally being content near other human beings in a swimming pool.

A one-piece swimsuit.

I know, it doesn't seem very novel. But in my mind, one-piece swimsuits were always either very juvenile or very old. The last time I wore a one-piece swimsuit, I was 12. It was neon pink and green with some exotic power-mesh panels around the belly button. I had a perm and huge glasses. You get the idea.

The following year, my first as a teenager, I knew things had to change. It was time for a two-piece, even if it was a sporty, modest one with boy shorts. I was not going to be the last in my peer group to die cold and alone swaddled in a tragic Spandex onesie.

Reality? The women (and men, actually) in my family are more apples than hourglasses. We're not ogres by any stretch, but none of us drew the Golden Ticket when it came to six-pack abdominals and long, lean torsos. I didn't care. When you're a tween girl and someone tells you to dress for your body type, you're like, "Huh? Stop speaking German. Buy me a bikini."

For the next 16 years, I bought a parade of bikinis. Skirt bottoms, tiny bottoms, short bottoms. Underwire tops, triangle tops, bandeau tops. The experience of shopping for them was as fun as having a stranger count the dimples on your thigh under a fluorescent light. I didn't look horrendous in them, I don't think. But when I got to the beach or the pool, I found myself slinking below the water's forgiving surface, or laying as flat as possible to avoid any stomach lapping.

This summer, I hit a bikini wall. I was at my friend's apartment pool. We were trying to play Trivial Pursuit by the water's edge, and I ended up reclining sideways in a totally unnatural pose, like Burt Reynolds on the bearskin rug. Was I having an enjoyable summer experience with pals, or attempting to seduce Loni Anderson? It all felt very odd and pointless.

The image of a one-piece bathing suit shotgunned into my brain. It was vintage-cut, pinup style, cheeky. It was flattering and still sexy. It was not frumpy. Did it exist?

Yes. All over the place, turns out. In Dillard's, in Macy's, in Old Navy, online. At Target. I found a strapless black swimsuit with a ruched stomach and a straight vintage skirt for $30. I looked slim and retro-cute in the mirror. I didn't have to squint and stand 4 feet back to appreciate my shape. In fact, it took the focus off my stomach and played up my better features, like my shoulders and legs.

The next weekend, I donned the suit, slid a rhinestone headband into my hair and put on red lipstick. Impractical? Yes. But I was now Marilyn Monroe, so it was cool. At the same pool where I was previously Burt Reynolds, I sipped a beverage and breathed at the same time. It was a revelation. I felt relaxed and glamorous. There was something empowering about not giving it all away.

Will I still wear a two-piece? Probably on the days when I don't eat a lot of salt, or when my one-piece is in the laundry, or when I'm feeling more confident. I'll definitely wear a bikini the very second my ab workouts finally kick in.

But for the other days, it's nice to know I have a friend tucked in the drawer who will shroud my midsection in black and let life happen.

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