Buying a swimsuit is trying experience

August 14, 1994|By Sandy Hill | Sandy Hill,Knight-Ridder News Service

"I hear women say this is worse than getting a tooth pulled."

What are we talking about here? Some dread medical procedure? An excruciating exam?

Nope, it's a salesclerk talking about how women feel about buying a swimsuit.

"Women think a swimsuit will change their whole appearance, but it won't," the clerk says. (Don't we know it.)

"Some people are in here for two or three hours looking for a swimsuit to fit them. Most of them say the suits don't hide enough. They're looking to hold that tummy in."

Ah yes, the omnipresent tummy. Intellectually we know that everyone who's of normal weight has one. But we don't want others to see it.

For another woman, it may be a problem with some other body part.

I popped by a swimsuit sale at a local department store. A plump woman in her 50s was wandering and wondering from rack to rack, examining and rejecting suit after suit. "I like boy legs [not high-cut] and one piece, something that slenderizes," she said. "I'm top heavy and it is kind of hard to find something for that."

She was still looking but optimistic as I moved on to another shopper.

Here's a trim Charlotte, N.C. account executive in her 20s. Surely to her a figure problem means trouble balancing your checkbook.

But no. "Nothing fits," she frets as she plucks from the rack a

bikini with a hot pink, green and orange print many of us wouldn't dare try on even, as they say, "in the privacy of your own home."

"Either it is not shaped to your body right or something," the shopper complains. (At least she is blaming the swimsuit and not her body.) "You want something to flatter and I haven't found anything to be flattering. I have gone to every store to find a suit and still haven't been able to."

Another woman, who wears a size 6 swimsuit, says, "I'll never forget how upset I was when I saw how the back of my thighs looked in a three-way mirror. It was all this little stuff you never see yourself."

But wait, maybe it's the experience of trying on a swimsuit in a store.

Hmm, perhaps not. A barely 40 mother who usually buys suits through a catalog says that even trying one on at home isn't pleasant. "It doesn't depress me any more than standing sideways in the mirror and viewing my belly ever depresses me," she says ruefully.

And then there's that pale skin many of us sport, skin that has seen less sunlight than Dracula.

While white skin may be in these days because of the risk of skin cancer, a friend bemoans that what is really in is "pale skin with no bruises, veins, dark blotches or little hairs on it."

Barbie skin, in other words. Skin never seen on a real human being over age 20.

Yep, swimsuits certainly bring us face to face with the realities of our body. They are a concrete example of the fact none of us is perfect.

I heard recently about a seminar on self-growth where participants, both men and women, were asked to wear swimsuits to one session. The first row of the audience was called to parade up on stage while the trainer, armed with a pointer, walked by each one and pointed out their imperfections. A potbelly here, cellulite there. This was, as you might imagine, rather traumatic. Some people were in tears.

It sounds a little brutal to me. Yet at the end of it, a participant said, the message was clear: All of us have imperfections. So we should accept them and worry less about them.

Listening to women talk about how they feel about swimsuits can be liberating. It reminds us that in swimsuits, as in all of life, we're all doing the best we can while trying, usually not very successfully, to hide what doesn't seem suitable for public view.

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