Ah, summer, that joyous season when sun-licked limbs poke out of swimsuits, shorts, and sundresses. Lovely, yes? Well, it all depends on whose limbs we’re talking about. Sure, I like summer, but I’m not so thrilled about its fashions. Sleeveless is bad enough, but the mere hint of high-cut hems and plunging necklines sends me scurrying to the deep end.
Like so many adults, the water-loving sprite that once inhabited my body is gone. Why does this happen? Probably because we sprites are now shaped like Brussels sprouts. And we know it. Or at least most of us do. Who among us has not relished those tabloid photo spreads of aging, bikini-clad stars caught unawares? (Private note to Angelica Houston—a two-piece? Really?) Sans air brushing and favorable lighting, they look pretty, well, normal. And let’s face it, normal is not what’s in Vogue this season.
This explains my love affair with the caftan. Sure, I swelter at the beach and look like a stick in the mud on boats, but those minor social embarrassments are a small price to pay. I should know; I’ve paid the ultimate price—public near-nudity. First, a truth about what a small town this is: it’s a simple fact in Charleston that the more potential you have for embarrassment, the more likely you will be shamed (i.e., you will surely run into your boss when entering
a bail bondsman’s office or encounter a local fashionista the very day you left the house in mismatched shoes).
I learned this the hard way during my first Lowcountry summer. In the beginning, I knew nobody. Anonymity covered me in a lovely “don’t bother shaving today” veil. Sunscreen was about the only thing that came between most of me and the rest of the world. Then came “The Day the Swimsuit Died.” It was a quiet weekend morning, and I was worshipping at a water park with my kids. Careening down a twisting slide, I landed at the bottom in a splayed-leg knot. In a feat of engineering failure that I still cannot comprehend, my bathing suit bottom went westward as my top straps went south. Simply: I revealed to all what a nekked, un-airbrushed, suburban mom really looks like. It wasn’t pretty. And there was a witness.
Tucking, tugging, and choking on pool water, I looked up and spied him: my biggest, and most intimidating, client. He stood at the edge of the pool transfixed, aghast. Within a split second, I became a true Charlestonian, pondering the most mannerly way to handle this social snafu. Now that this man—with whom I would be meeting the following day to discuss a major project—had seen so very much of me, was I to: a) pretend I didn’t see him, b) brazenly wave and pretend nothing had happened, c) resign the account. I chose “a” and slithered to a lounge chair, where I stayed until the park closed.
Oh sure, I know what you’re thinking. Nobody cares. Nobody’s paying attention. Every woman’s more self-conscious about her body than need be. Wrong. Everybody is paying attention. Cellulite-spotting is a blood sport, and we all know it. You’re also thinking, Oh, I’ll bet you don’t look so bad. Wrong again! The fact is many of us sport burka-worthy bodies. It’s only through the clever use of fabric, undergarments, and our spouse’s dimming eyesight that we navigate the cougar years with a modicum of confidence. Summer risks revealing that we’re more flab than fab.
In the end, I have found just one solution to the bathing suit conundrum: consign swimsuits to my past and my far future (when everybody ignores the wrinkles and applauds my advanced age). Hey, it beats joining a gym.