May 2008 Column Winner

Life Lessons

By Patti Marshall, Countywide & Sun

With warm weather comes a horrible thought. I need a new bathing suit.

Swim suit shopping is on my list of top ten most self-humiliating acts only second to public hot flashes and just above my normally quiet child telling the person in front of us on the grocery checkout that his mommy wears really big underwear. A friend once told me that these are tortures that we endure for the sisterhood of the feminine mystique.

Bikinis are all fine and good for young women who: one - wear a size four or less (let them eat cake!), two - still believe in the perfection of Prince Charming (are they kidding?), and three - have never borne children (they'll be screeching like boys when they feel that pain).

In reality, if you're a woman who covers the gray on a regular basis and knows that perimenopause has 35 certifiable symptoms, whether still shapely or not, you should avoid the two-piece suit. Trust me; it's a matter of pride. Yours not mine ... I have no pride left after my last mammography.

When swim suit shopping, I usually head straight for the rack with the one-piece tutu-esque skirts reminiscent of the dancing hippos from Disney's Fantasia.

The problem is that women's (not juniors, mind you) bathing suits lack color - black, onyx, jet, and ebony - as if women moving through their most post-formative years are color blind.

I may mourn the loss of my youth, but not enough to dress in drab morbidity. Give me fuchsia, chartreuse, and magenta any day. I want the sizzling colors of flash and fun. A flounce here, a jounce there, the mirror doesn't lie. If I have to look like a dancing hippo, I want to be that dancing hippo.

Lack of color is made up in the choice of suit styles.

Two-piece, one-piece, halter, mesh front, mesh back, tummy control, thigh control, breast enhanced, minimize, empire waist, cinched waist, straight cut, side inserts, hi-cut, medium-cut, long-cut, boy cut, skirt, and ... oh yes, the thong. The choices are endless. Thank God they aren't bottomless.

I reiterate my previous statement, only louder. THE MIRROR DOESN'T LIE! Okay, sometimes it does, but that's because clothing stores buy carnival mirrors that make you look tall and slender. My suggestion is to bring your own full-length mirror when shopping for a bathing suit.

The ultimate lie from swimsuit designers is the Tankini.

Sure, it looks like a one piece on the hanger, but it offers a false sense of support and coverage. When tried on, the Tankini bra clings like a rock climber to mountain cliffs about to avalanche, and it never quite covers that strip of belly that shows between the top and the bottom. I am constantly pulling on the bottom and top to be sure what needs to be covered is and what isn't won't get me arrested.

And never, ever believe a saleswoman. Saleswomen lie. They have to lie to earn their commission.

"I just don't see me in polka dots, especially the size of golf balls," I said, turning my head from side to side hoping the dots would stop bouncing around the mirror like laser beams.

"They look MAH-velous on you! Look how they keep the eye moving so there is no focal point," she replied. Her own eyes had glazed from the hypnotically challenging dots.

"No, I don't think this is right for me." I stepped away from the mirror.

"You look MAH-velous. You look MAH-velous ..." she chanted like a Stepford Wife.

I ran for the dressing room and locked myself in until she stopped banging on the door and I could sneak out the nearest exit.

Now that I've thought about it, my bathing attire from last year is probably still good, albeit a bit faded and stretched. I'm sure it will do for one more swimming season. Besides, in my own mirror (and in my mind), I don't look so much like a dancing hippo in polka dots.