With spring break right around the corner and, dare we say it, summer on its way, the day of reckoning is inching dangerously closer.
We all know the horror, the shame. Our heads are bowed, shoulders sagging, arms hanging limply at our sides as we enter the store. Walls of brightly patterned spandex and neoprene tease us with possibility. Push -up, bandeau, triangle, bikini, tankini, one-piece, board shirt, options, options, options…The 10th circle of hell.
In sensory overload, immediately regretting my decision to walk in, there she is, smiling at me, a little nugget of a girl who probably looks amazing in everything on those walls. Innocently, she asks, “Hi, can I help you?” Already paralyzed by anxiety and regret, I snarkily respond, “Only if you have a liposuction machine in the back room. If not, can you find me something in here that won’t make me hate myself more than I already do?”
The poor girl, so bubbly and energetic seconds before is rendered mute. Recovering, she answers, “Um, sure, I can help. What are you looking for?” I size her up and decide she can handle the sarcasm. I mean, c’mon, in this job, she must get women like me every day. “I’m looking to be ten pounds thinner, twenty years younger and blonde. Other than that, I guess I need something with underwire, a full coverage bottom and possesses magical powers that can transform me into something that makes me look, you know, not like this.” She hands me something called a “Miraclesuit.” I guess she nailed it.
So now, I’m actually in hell; knee deep in the rejects that litter the floor of my dressing room. Perky little nugget is clearly getting aggravated with having to re-hang every item in the store that I’ve already tried on and immediately rejected when the “Miraclesuit” didn’t turn out to be the slam-dunk she anticipated. Sweat is streaming off me, I have scratch marks all over my body from the damn tags, and the thong thingy they give you to try on the suits is permanently wedged, well, you know where.
Then, in the midst of my impressive self-loathing, I overhear a woman say to her friend in the next dressing room, “I look awful; why didn’t I get a spray tan before trying anything on? I should never have eaten lunch first! These mirrors are weird; I think this lighting makes my cellulite glow.”
I nod to myself agreeing on all counts. But then I do something that surprises me. I yell back from my dressing room, “Hey, I’m sure you look fine. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I’m met with silence. Do they think God has spoken? I’m mortified. Then I hear some whispering and finally, “I know. You’re right.” I stand there in my paper thong and, I wonder, will I and can I take my own advice?
In the end, perky little nugget gets a sale as I get two suits that I’m proud to say do not have “miracle” written anywhere on the labels. I also buy two coordinating cover ups that will handle my need to minimize the exposure of the back and arm fat, while still making me look stylish and effortlessly beachy.
I’m not going to say I walked out of there a whole new me, but I will say that a little bit of acceptance feels good and the knowledge that we are not alone in our body image issues is empowering. Now, walking the beach, self- conscious and readjusting straps and hoping that somehow the back of me looks better next to water, I wonder if the woman confidently strolling ahead of me looking so great may have been my compadre in the dressing room back in NJ on that hellish day. I think I’ll catch up to her and tell her how much I love her suit.
Leslie Conway blogs at www.theflowncoop.com