It’s Time to Love Yourself in a Swimsuit

“You may not return this item if the hygiene strip has been removed”. 

The hygiene strip, dear reader, was indeed detached from one of the $100 swim suits I had ordered to try on. The strip stuck to the underwear I wore to shimmy into the pricey suits and fluttered to the bathroom floor as I peeled one of the candidates from my body. I tried to smooth the tacky strip back into place, but the dog hair and lint it had accumulated on its brief brush with our tile made reattachment impossible. 

That night, I stared at the ceiling rehearsing the speech I would give to the Customer Service rep first thing in the morning. “I promise I was wearing underwear! I know how bathing suit shopping works! I didn’t mean for it to come off or land in a swirl of hound dog dander and become unusable! I don’t think it was very sticky to begin with, if I’m perfectly honest. I need to get a refund for this suit. My boobs looked like sad beanbags in it, and it gave me one of those weird belly button ghost shadows in the middle. I cannot keep it. Please give me my money back.”

When I rolled out of bed, I called Customer Service. The 800 number opened for business at 7AM Eastern Time, so I spoke to Cheryl on the phone and told her my hygiene strip sob story before I even made coffee, before I had said more than three words to my kid. I could hear her keyboard clacking as she listened. “I made a note on your order that the hygiene strip on the navy blue suit was not very sticky and it came off during try-on and could not be reattached. I’ve made a note to please accept your return and process a refund.” I thanked her profusely and assured her that I had, in fact, found My Dream Suit from among the four contenders. “I’m so glad you found one that worked out for you! Enjoy!”

For the first time in my adult life, I think I actually WILL enjoy wearing a bathing suit. I found my dream suit, and I am still in shock. I haven’t taken it for a real test drive at the beach or the pool yet, but my daughter clapped and squealed “You look FAB-U-LOUS, mommy!” and Les gave me a thumbs up, followed by “Yeah! You look great!” when I stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in brilliant purple. 

It has a removeable halter strap, but I didn’t need it!

“Do I look $98 great? Because that’s how much this suit costs.” He looked a little shocked, but replied that if I felt good in it, and I knew I would wear it, I should keep it. He could see the look of genuine pleasure and confidence on my face. I clipped the tag immediately and yanked the hygiene strip from the crotch. The suit is now nestled like a treasure in my dresser drawer, just waiting for its debut at the lakefront or the pool. 

I’ve never spent an adult amount of money on a bathing suit. Throw me whatever Target clearance rack mismatched tankini pieces you have handy. But this year – THIS YEAR – I vowed to buy a bathing suit that fits my actual body and that cost more than $29.99. I took inventory of my summer wardrobe a few weeks ago and felt the elastic of one of my old swimsuits disintegrate within the seams as I attempted to try it on. I moved on to the tankini I bought two years ago. That suit still has functional elastic and technically, it still fits. It fits in the aggressively snug manner of a bathing suit that should be at least a half-size bigger. 

Did I really need a new bathing suit? A reasonable question. Historically, I haven’t done a lot of swimming or poolside lounging. But there’s a lot of pressure on this summer to make up for the utter garbage of last year’s cabin fever COVID summer. I have been imagining steamy afternoons at our favorite northside beach and the neighborhood pool with my kiddo. I’ve even entertained the idea of a road trip to my in-laws’ vacation condo in Florida, visualizing myself draped across an oversized pool float with a margarita in each hand. 

I decided not to let Snug Suit get in the way of my water fun summer dreams. I did what any rational person would do and I ordered eight bathing suits. Four bathing suits in different sizes and styles from a brand that I love but could never gulp down the price tag, and four from more modestly priced brands. I assured Les that I would only be keeping one of the eight, if any, and that I would return the rest before the credit card bill came due. And that is how I found myself with hundreds of dollars of nylon and spandex in boxes in my bedroom. 

As I clicked “Add to Cart”, I asked myself what it could be like to find a suit that I really love. What if I found a suit that sparked joy, even if it was not the suit that made my body look the smallest, or had the strongest spandex forcefield across the midsection to constrict all that wayward flesh into a more acceptable silhouette? Would it even be possible to love a suit that didn’t deliver a body shrinkage illusion? I was determined to find out. “It’s research. You know, for my writing!” I chirped as I eagerly jabbed “Checkout.”

First, I ordered four tankinis. I believed that dark colored tummy-hiding tankinis with sturdy push-or-pull up bras were my best option. I had tried those “Build Your Perfect Suit” combinations where you buy whatever top and whatever bottoms you like, but the results were just…awful. I’m trying to think of a more writerly way to say it. One brand offered “Tummy Control” tops, so of course I tried one. Go grab a fresh tube of toothpaste, take off the cap, and squeeze the tube from the dead center. That’s what a tummy control tankini top does to your midsection – it just rearranges the plush. And also, you can’t breathe. The other tops were either billowy and unflattering or too tight and unflattering. The shorty-style bottoms were too tight in the waist and the material was somehow scratchy? Positive visualization is important for stressful situations, so I visualized feeding all four of these tankinis into a wood chipper. 

After the tankini debacle, I went wild with hope and desperation and flew to the posher brand’s website and added four chic retro-vibe one piece numbers to my cart. I haven’t worn a one piece since my 20s. One piece suits, I believed, were only for the athletically svelte, not for those of us with bellies or bosoms in need of support.

A few days later, the box with the splurgey suits appeared on my doorstep. I sprinted to the bathroom and chopped open the box with some rusty old manicure scissors I found in the vanity drawer. I grabbed my top-pick suit and tore it from the plastic wrap. This was the suit I was just SURE was going to be the winner. Feminine, some fashionable ruching that didn’t scream “BELLY CAMOUFLAGE”, pretty pattern, and the same general cut I remember wearing when I last wore a one piece suit 15 years ago. 

I slid into that suit and instantly realized the difference between a $30 bathing suit and a $100 bathing suit. The material was buttery soft and not one inch of that suit pinched or smashed or strangled. No sagging or riding in the butt. It was a beautiful suit that, sadly, I had ordered in the wrong size AND had failed to appreciate the plunging drama of the neckline. I could have exchanged it for the proper size, if not for the fact that my boobs needed a lot more than an elegant nod to support, and definitely cannot be trusted around a v-neck that stops at the bottom of my sternum. Back into the wrapper. 

I grabbed the next suit, which had glowing reviews online from other women my size and build. Thank you, swimsuit reviewers of the internet, for being forthright with your size and measurements so we can all benefit from hive-mind consensus over whether an article of clothing is realistic on a size 12/14 middle age body when the brand model is a willowy 20-something. I started to step into this simple but feminine navy blue suit and immediately noticed that the hygiene strip was crunched and suspicious-looking. I was wearing my undies for this try-on sesh anyway, because I don’t trust anything that comes in contact with another person’s business, hygiene strip or no hygiene strip. I smoothed the strip and carried on with the try-on. No bust support, nothing in the midsection or other details to endear it to me. Not a winner. I peeled out of the suit and gasped in horror as the plastic strip fluttered to the floor. In that moment of fashion frenzy the lost strip was Future Jill’s problem, because I had two more suits to try. 

I had ordered the same suit in two sizes, each in a different color. The reviews for this ruched bandeau-style suit were too good to be true. I don’t wear strapless ANYTHING. I need straps – the thicker the better – to keep the girls hoisted into position and to avoid wardrobe malfunctions. But virtually every woman who reviewed this suit said a version of “Stop wondering if this suit will work for you and just buy the damn thing. IT WILL WORK.” It’s listed as a Best Seller on the brand’s site. It comes in pretty colors, and both of my preferred sizes were in stock. I bought a bright purple in my hopeful size and a dark green in my often-more-flattering larger size. 

When I put on that purple suit, I felt a strange sensation ripple through me. There, in the mirror, was my body in a bright bathing suit. A beautiful, flattering color. My bust looked spectacular – well supported, and shockingly, not at all like an indecency waiting to happen. I jumped up and down. Everything stayed in place. The silky soft ruched fabric created a lovely blurring effect throughout the torso without trying too hard for an optical illusion. No compression, no hidden corset panels. Other suits may have been better at visually slimming my waistline, but none of them made me feel so eager for a pool day. I felt beautiful in this suit, in my own body. Bright and happy and confident. I didn’t even take the dark green suit out of the wrapper. I just bolted into the bedroom where my husband and daughter awaited my fashion show and did a twirl.

I know that $98 is a lot to spend on a suit, and it’s not in everyone’s budget. It’s probably not really in my budget, to be honest. I don’t think you need to spend that much money to find the perfect suit for you, but try some shapes and styles that you’ve never tried before. And COLOR! For the love of all that is soft and fluffy, at least TRY a color other than black. You never know. You may find yourself naming your new suit (Iris) and tucking it into bed in your dresser drawer with a sigh of disbelief. For the first time in forever, I can’t wait to wear a bathing suit in public. And there’s not a “tummy control” panel in sight.

2 thoughts on “It’s Time to Love Yourself in a Swimsuit

  1. Pingback: Jill writes - hawaimages.com

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