The Tower Journal

Shari Busa Ortiz

"Suitable" Decisions

          Kate, Patty, Barb, and I rode solemnly in my car early on a Saturday morning, traveling to a terrible destination. No one spoke a single word, but our expressions spoke volumes. We were not happy campers. Today was the once-a-year, dreaded day, a day we would happily give up if age, gravity, and trends didn’t force us to repeat the process annually. We were on our way to the mall to go BATHING SUIT shopping! I didn’t dare say the words aloud for fear of causing hysterics.
          I believed that most women, either after childbirth or once they hit their thirties, began to suffer from anxiety and fear (yes, fear) of shopping for a swimsuit. There were also those of us who had hated it from the time we were in our teens. The four of us had long since passed all of those timelines, but the dread remained a constant.
          I thought that wearing a bathing suit was probably on some top-ten list of “Why It’s So Difficult to be a Woman.” It was also another one of those “female things” that men totally didn’t get. Why should they? Bathing trunks were just a water-friendly version of their underwear and shorts. If only it was that simple for us girls!
          “You’d better give it a little more gas, Jill. Even the old people are giving us the finger!”
          “Sorry, Patty. I was daydreaming.” I left out the source of my musings. It was still too early to voice the words, and we were only on our first cup of coffee. We’d have our second at the mall in the hope that we’d be fortified to face the day ahead.
          An hour later, we dragged our feet through the department store en route to our objective. When we arrived, the four of us stopped and stared at the huge assortment of swimwear. There were two reasons behind our hesitation. First, and as always, we were overwhelmed. Second, we needed to make a quick assessment of the “in” styles before we began the hunt. The whole process would take hours and, because it was a lot of work, we’d take a quick caffeine break to revive our weary bodies and minds. We wouldn’t dare eat yet for fear of extra stomach-bloat! The goal was to purchase at least one suit by day’s end. Since the girl who didn’t succeed would go home deeply depressed and feeling like a failure, shopping together helped us to achieve our goal.
          “Looks like animal prints are still going strong,” Barb said miserably. “Why don’t these designers realize that large-bottomed women DO NOT look appealing in them? We look exactly like the animals that we’re wearing! Actually, some animal behinds are smaller than mine!”
          Under normal circumstances, Barb’s comment would have elicited at least a giggle from us, but this was no laughing matter! We each had our specific likes and dislikes, and we knew which styles would look horrible on us. Unfortunately for Barb, animal prints had been stylish for a while now and didn’t appear to be ending any time soon.
          “Thank God for dark-colored one-pieces,” she continued as she approached the section containing them.
          “I guess it’s time to split up,” said Patty. “We’ll meet at the dressing rooms when we have our first batch narrowed down to six suits.” That was all that was allowed in the room at one time.
          Kate went in Barb’s direction. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had seen her in a two-piece unless I counted a bra and underwear. And Kate wore her underwear so high that they gave the impression of old-fashioned, one-piece undergarments.
          Patty and I headed toward the section containing the separates, but there our similarity ceased. Whereas Patty’s slim, no-cellulite body could attractively carry off a bikini, I needed to stick with the extra-coverage bottoms. I believed they were called “full coverage.” Whatever the case, I needed my entire butt and abdominal region encased, preferably with a heavy-duty, Spanx-type fabric. After deciding on bottoms, we would meet up at the tops, but again our needs would differ. Whereas Patty’s breasts still appeared to stick more out than down, mine were pregnancy-related, deflated balloons. She could get away with the cute little triangle, while I needed the push-up-and-in top that could stand up on its own. Then again, if I lost it in the water, it would stay buoyed long enough for me to retrieve it! What can I say? I like to look at the bright side of life.
          I picked out a swimsuit in various sizes and two patterns to start off the trying-on sessions. One (sorry, Barb) was a red-and-black cheetah print, and the other was a colorful paisley. Considering the earliness of the day, I was proud of myself for already discovering two patterns that I liked, and they both had high bottoms in solid matching colors! What were the chances? I had no problem with multicolored tops, but I drew the line when it came to below the waist. Like Barb, there was no way that I was wrapping it in patterns designed for those young girls who had perfect little tushes. Fifty-year-old moms simply do not give off the same sexy effect, no matter how fit we are. Well, at least in my opinion.
          Patty showed up after me, carrying what appeared to be bathing suits from the children’s department. I squinted, and I still couldn’t make out what they looked like because they were teeny-tiny bathing suits probably in equally small sizes. Hmph! I decided that it would be perfectly acceptable for me to hate my friend for the day!
          Barb was next with her typical yearly purchases: modest, solid-colored, body-shaping/ body-slimming suits. There was a navy, a brown, and a black. All were similar to the ones that she already owned with the exception of being in a larger size.
          Kate was the last to arrive, and she was holding a multitude of maillot suits in a variety of colors. She must have grabbed every color they came in, plus three sizes of each.
          “What’s with the colors?” I asked. “You never buy bright suits! Is that a pink I see? And I thought we agreed on six at a time?”
          “Well,” she replied, a tad huffy, “I’ve decided to change my image. Just because I’m wide-shouldered doesn’t mean that I can only wear dark colors. I can wear whatever I want, Jill! And, I took a few sizes because I don’t know my size anymore. I think they make these things smaller every year! What’s the purpose of that? To make me feel fatter than I already feel?”
          Barb, Patty, and I stared first at Kate’s retreating back, and then at each other. I shrugged. Ever since she was pregnant with Lou, Jr., I couldn’t recall Kate ever wearing anything other than dark one-pieces. I had no idea what had gotten into her now. Perhaps it was the stress of the day, or maybe it was an unrecorded side effect of menopause.
          “So, do we have to compliment her when she walks out in that ghastly bright green number I saw on her arm?” asked Barb. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but we’re not supposed to lie to each other about these important decisions. She even picked yellow! Is she nuts?”
          “Hey, girls! Are you coming or what?” yelled Kate.
          We got situated in our respective dressing rooms and commenced the dreaded deed. The four of us tried on our bathing suits, and then emerged with the first one that fit. We came out in unison to stand in front of the large add-ten-pounds-to-you mirror in the fluorescent-lit room. I never could understand why stores don’t put a small make-you-look-ten-pounds thinner mirror in a low-lit area. If they couldn’t do that, then at least provide each woman with a couple of glasses of wine to soften their self-criticism.
          I sighed loudly and finally opened my eyes to gaze at my half-naked body. Only my gaze was immediately drawn to my friend. Yowser! What the heck was Kate wearing? I looked in the mirror at Barb and Patty’s equally stunned faces and couldn’t hold it in. I started giggling. Within seconds, my two friends joined me!
          “What are you laughing at? Are you making fun of me?” said an indignant Kate.
          “I’m sorry, Kate.” More giggles. “But you look like a giant Sunkist orange,” said Barb between guffaws.
          “Oh my God! I really do! Stick a straw in me and you’ll have orange juice!”
          That was it! The four of us sat on the floor in our bathing suits and laughed to break our hearts! The other customers were peeking out of their stalls, and I saw a few of them also laughing.
          “Try the yellow one next! It has to be worse than this,” exclaimed Patty.
          And it was!
          “Now you’re something between a taxi cab and a bumble bee,” snorted Patty. “Why would they put that black border on it? I feel like it’s some sick man’s practical joke! A woman would NEVER design a suit with that color combination!”
          The green brought shouts of “brussels sprout!” “Supersized Tic Tac!” And the best one from Barb, “If you wiggle, you’ll look like Jell-O!”
          With the pink came “Bazooka!” “Cotton candy!” “Miss Piggy!”
          The red, lavender, and turquoise suits were no better. Finally, Kate put on a pretty navy one-shoulder number with white bordering the strap and neckline. It was simple, yet stylish, and we all nodded our heads and exclaimed, “That’s the one!” “It’s perfect!” “You look so slim!”
          Kate decided to get a similar suit in black with red accents, then declared herself happily finished. One girl down, three more to go.
          The six that Patty selected naturally all looked great on her, which made Barb, Kate, and me jealous. But being the good friends that we were, we still offered our opinions on which were the most flattering. I knew I wouldn’t be sitting next to her on the beach, though! She chose two skimpy bikinis, one in red and the other in a zebra print, and was done. No added enhancement features either!
          Barb was the easiest. She only had to try on one of her suits, as the others she had picked were exactly the same, just in different colors. It was a halter style with high-cut legs, and made her top look bigger, her bottom look smaller, and her legs look longer. After some indecision, she settled on navy and brown.
          I was the last to go and felt pressured because of it. We never finished this quickly. If I didn’t pick out a couple, we’d be stuck here for at least another hour. I tried on the cheetah first and stared at myself in the offensive mirror. Although my body wasn’t great, it wasn’t horrendous either. It was pretty much the same one I’d had all my life, only older-looking. My thighs, in my opinion, were my worst feature. If only I could suck some fat from them and inject it into my boobs, I’d look so much better! I had a slight tummy, but at fifty, I was fortunate that it didn’t severely protrude. From what I’d heard, that feature was just around the corner though. My legs were too veiny, but I didn’t have the money or the guts to undergo the procedures that would rid them of their unsightly marks. I had gone for a consult after I gave birth. The doctor scared the daylights out of me when she described the process, then scared me more when she named the cost.
          “Jill? What’s wrong? It looks cute! Don’t you like it?” said Kate.
          “It’s fine. I was just thinking about my body and what I wish I could do to change it.”
          Kate got up and hugged me. “I thought we agreed when we turned fifty that there would be no more body recriminations. Remember?”
          “That’s right,” added Barb. “We are who we are! We have to accept our attributes and our flaws and be happy that we’re the wonderful, young-looking women that we are! This is supposed to be the beginning of our proud-to-be-a-woman years!”
          “And I saw your faces when I was modeling my bikinis,” said Patty, “and you’re crazy to be envious of me. You all have so much! Great families! Beautiful homes! What I’m really jealous of is that the three of you have been blessed to be able to give birth and nurture your children. That’s never going to happen for me. So, give me a break and let me at least have a better body than you. OK?”
          We answered in the affirmative and then group-hugged. And Barb was right. I usually tried not to be so hard on myself, but swimsuit shopping can still do that to a girl. I marched, head held high, stomach sucked in, of course, back into the dressing room, and finished trying on the swimwear. In the end, I chose the ones that I had originally admired: the cheetah and the paisley.
          After our purchases were made and we finally exited the department store, Kate said the words that all of us were thinking: “I’m starving! How about cheeseburgers and fries, girls?”
          We didn’t need to hear those words twice! Immediately, we set off for the nearest restaurant, laughing and trying to outrun each other! Bathing-suit shopping was hard work! It was time for our reward!

Copyright © 2014 Shari Busa Ortiz

Shari Busa OrtizShari Busa Ortiz worked as a probation officer before becoming a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. She is currently working on a novel which draws from comical personal experiences as a middle-aged woman balancing a family while re-entering the career world. Her goal is to entertain and encourage women to see the humorous side of getting older.

The Tower Journal
Spring/Summer 2014