I’m away for the weekend at a Christian women’s conference, so instead of a regular post, I’ve decided to share with you a personal essay I wrote about my experience with a bathing suit (one that I’m sure too many women can relate to!). A version of this essay will appear in Caitlin’s Operation Beautiful book, which is set to come out this fall.
The full essay is a bit long for one post, so I’ll post the first half today and the second half tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it!
The Black Bathing Suit
I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who actually enjoys bathing suit shopping. That harsh fluorescent lighting they put in every single dressing room isn’t flattering when you’re trying on a head-to-toe sweat suit, much less body-revealing swimwear. Many of us avoid looking at our bare bodies at all costs; we face the door as we jump around trying to pull the darn thing up, or tie those floss-thin strings just right, or push our breasts into the tiny triangles provided.
When we turn around for the big reveal, we all seem to be hoping that this bathing suit will be the one – the one that allows us to enjoy pool parties unencumbered by self consciousness, the one that makes us actually want to take off our cover-up at the beach.
Or perhaps our expectations aren’t even that high. Perhaps we’re just hoping that this is the one that isn’t totally unflattering, the one that at least fits somewhat properly. If it is, great! We rush out of the dressing room to the check-out counter practically waving our credit cards in the air, for you can’t put a price on a bathing suit that doesn’t make a woman feel totally awful.
And if it’s not the one? We usually spend a few minutes thinking horrible thoughts about ourselves – that if we’d only given up chocolate and hit the gym more regularly, if we were only less lazy or had more willpower, this wouldn’t be happening right now. We certainly don’t blame the bathing suit for being unflattering; it’s our fault, of course. At this point we usually leave the store feeling quite dreadful, and purchase all future bathing suits through the Web to avoid the dressing room completely.
The tale of my bathing suit began when I walked into the local Target on a February evening. Two points worth mentioning about Target stores: first, they always seem to be selling bathing suits regardless of the time of year, and second, these bathing suits always seem to be placed at the very front of the women’s clothing section. Don’t get me wrong, I love Target. But for once I’d like to walk through without seeing the itsy bitsy two-pieces staring me in the face. But on this particular day, I couldn’t resist browsing the merchandise. I decided to try on a simple black number, just for the heck of it. Into the dressing room I went.
And…it was magical. I don’t know what it was about that bathing suit. It was nothing special – just a plain black one-piece with a halter neck. Maybe it was the material. But whatever it was, it gave me an experience I had never had before (or at least since hitting puberty): seeing my swimwear-clad reflection in the mirror and actually liking what I saw. It both slimmed and enhanced me in all the right places. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I purchased the bathing suit immediately.
Now remember that this was in February, so I wouldn’t actually be wearing the suit for several months. But that didn’t faze me. I hung the bathing suit up on the back of my bedroom door so I would be sure to see it multiple times a day. I fantasized about sunning myself in it, looking and feeling gloriously sexy. I was dizzy with anticipation for my first chance to wear it, for then, I was certain, my life would truly begin.
Eventually that chance came – a week-long beach trip in early summer with the family of a friend of mine from school, Beth. I had no real reason for wanting to impress Beth or her family with my spectacular suit; really, I just wanted them to like me. I assumed they were going to judge me based on my appearance because, I thought, isn’t that how everyone is judged? And I was just excited to be able to wear my suit in front of someone.
My first disappointment came as soon as we arrived at the beach. Upon removing my t-shirt and shorts, I expected someone to say something, even just a casual “I like your bathing suit.” To my dismay, no one even seemed to notice that I looked wonderful, much more wonderful than I had a minute ago (or so I thought). Nobody batted an eye. They were so busy setting up umbrellas and preparing to build sand castles that my little victory had gone unobserved. I told myself that they were just preoccupied, that certainly the compliments would come later. This explanation was much more bearable than the notion that my suit was not as magical as I thought.
But later in the day tragedy struck…in the form of a snag. Beth had suggested we head into the water and try out her family’s new kayaks, and I was ready to go – in my new suit I was willing to do much more than my usual “lie on my back and don’t move, no matter what” beach routine. But as I enthusiastically hoisted myself up, a little piece of my miracle suit caught on a little piece of my undersized beach chair. The thread unraveled and unraveled until I was left with a small but significant hole…right on my butt. Beth started cracking up, probably because it was funny. But at the time, to say I was horrified would be an extreme understatement. I held in my tears. And I spent the rest of the vacation – and the summer – in an alternate, less magical suit, and an alternate, less magical state of mind.
TO BE CONTINUED…