Physiques In Time

Floating in the pool one day I attempted to recall nearly every swimsuit I have ever worn, and to remember how I felt about myself, my body, my life, at the time.  Some of these recollections originate from ancient black and white snapshots taken by my mom. As the decades glide swiftly past and the currents of my life overflow with memories, I am startled at how little I appreciated the body I was born with.

1960’s   Blooming Bud

Oh, how I wish I could be as content in my body as I was at the age of 2.  When I look at this picture taken at Carlyle Lake, I see a lucky little girl, surrounded with boys who made an impression on shaping me… my older brother and cousins.  This little girl stands solid on her pudgy legs, pleased in her baby fat, her tummy full of snacks and milk.  The baggy two-piece swimsuit, mismatched bottom and white halter top is adorable, and is rather in style today, except for the bagginess.

How cute I was in my little strawberry print one- piece at the sweet age of 4.  The excitement of climbing into the little wading pool bubbles up in my mind and to this day I can feel the rubbery surface beneath my little toes, feel the pebbles under the rubber.   The sweet little face in that photo shows a cheerful squinty toddler without a care in the world beyond my mothers’ attempts to keep the grass clippings out of the pool.  I had no thoughts about how I looked in the bathing suit, only that I was happy to be with my brother and sister and cousins on a hot summer day.

About the age of 9 I had become aware that it was vital to be tan.  Thus, my sister and I took the time out from playing with our beloved Barbies to smother ourselves with baby oil and fry our virgin skin.  For this exercise in failure I sported a pink floral with an attached flouncy skirt. We would lay side by side on a bedsheet with blades of dry summer grass poking our pale bodies under us and the glaring UV rays ruining our unsullied skin. I recall the impatience I felt as my energetic self would lift the fabric to assess for any tan marks, and the disappointment when after 10 minutes prone on the ground no results were to be found.   Our mother, undoubtedly hoping we would fall asleep and give her a break from our giggling noisiness, insisted we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes.  That way we would be able to read teen magazines directing us on how to become beautiful in the future.

1970s   Ripening

This is the decade I went from being a carefree child to becoming a free spirit.  I also developed a love/hate relationship with myself.  Most days I was unhappy with my appearance.  I felt I was so skinny and flat chested that no boy would ever like me.  I thought everybody was staring at my overbite.  I was highly self-conscious and wanted to disappear.  I spent a lot of time reading romance books and craving a boyfriend.  The summer before high school I had a near death experience when my appendix burst on the operating table and spent weeks recovering in the hospital.  The surgeon did a hatchet job.  My underlying thought process was about how ugly the massive damn scar looked.  This is when the hatred of my stomach began.  When I was finally able to start gym in school, changing into our PE uniform was brutal.  Of all the many faults my body had to be hidden from the girls in the locker room, now I had to add my disgusting stomach.   It was not until three years later that I wore a two-piece, at the prodding of my best friends.  It was all the fashion at the end of the 1970’s and peer pressure gave me a false confidence.   I was thin, yet I was so concerned about my hideous appendectomy scar and the pooch from the surgery.  I let it consume my entire life really, always focusing on my abdomen and how insufficiently flat my stomach was.  But I did love the attention bestowed on me while in that brown string bikini.   I soon realized that at 17 there is no man in the world that would scoff at a woman just because of an appendectomy scar if he thought he had a chance with her!

The power of sexuality became my modus operandi.  Literally with the wink of an eye, a beguiling smile or a dance move, young men would come to attendance.  The awkward little girl who thought she would never have a boyfriend now juggled four at a time.  I was a party girl, ready to drink and dance and have fun.  I felt like I had the upper hand as I made decisions on who to see on which night.

1980s   Blossoming

I fell in love and married early, at 21.  My husband adored everything about me, faults and all, maybe especially my faults.  My favorite suit at this time was a purple poly one piece with a large silver diamond print on the bosom, which I thought hid the fact that I had none.   I was thin and yet I still thought I had to hide the poochy stomach.   I never thought my body was all that attractive, but my husband and I were in love, and that gave us both such confidence in one another.

Pregnancy years. How great it was to not have to worry about an expanding mid-section while I gained 20 pounds!  Maternity swimsuits are the ultimate for saying pamper me and give me all the ice cream.  Post pregnancy all the attention was on my beautiful babies and I was so proud to show them off. Having two babies under two years apart, I was too exhausted to really think much about my own appearances.  I sure enjoyed picking out their clothes though.

1990s   Vining

My persona is definitely in momma-mode. My days are full of volunteering…computer labs, Brownie troop leader, and tap-dancing musicals at a local playhouse.  I take great care in my appearance and am feeling self-assured.   At this time, I realized that I was a late bloomer. However, the only two-piece suit I would have the courage to wear are the high waisted boy cut shorts and halter top, which thank goodness was the style.  I chose a bright blue floral print to help to hide any evidence of mommy tummy.  I am still so hyper focused on my stomach, which after having two babies I realize I will never have a six-pack abs, but I am okay with it.  I am confident in the love of my husband and family. I wore mostly sporty tankinis when I took my littles to the public pool, however I do recall a deep purple one piece with a plunging neckline and back that I looked and felt fabulous in, because, yay, I now have breasts after having had babies.

2000   Full Grown

Unquestionably the most tumultuous time of my life while departing a marriage with teenage daughters. Finding myself single, I begin the excitement and apprehension of dating.   Falling madly for a charismatic man, I quickly find out he was damaged in childhood, he was a misogynistic asshole, and I his latest victim. But that is a story for another time, and you can read it in my book ‘Silent Longing’.   In the course of this on and off again seven-year relationship my daughters become women. They are gorgeous. One moves to Chicago for college and the other becomes pregnant. I witness my eldest baby become a mother.  It is an emotionally charged time for us all.  Hormones are raging (theirs) while mine are declining.  I become a grandma at 45.  And yet during all this stress and upheaval I am still able to look good in a bathing suit.  By this time, I have figured out most men do not believe in or need perfection.  I have also figured out that large prints work to hide imperfections, tankinis are my friend and coverups can be sexy.  I also splurge on tanning bed packages since cellulite and crepey skin are improved when bronzed.

2010   Seasoned

Welcome to the age of enlightenment.  After the sudden loss of my dear mother to leukemia I am driven by a desire to live my life to the fullest. Death makes you aware of how critical it is to live your best life. I have a fierce love for my grandbabies, meet my wonderful current husband, travel often together, exercise regularly, and feel absolutely 75% fine about my body.  Thoughts of gravity and anti-aging products take up the other 25%.  My biceps are becoming floppy and my butt is beginning a journey to who-knows-where-it-will-end-up, but I am alive and well; except for the melanoma in-situ found and removed on my arm leaving me with three new scars.   I end all sun tanning or tanning beds. My color comes strictly from Lancôme or Neutrogena now.  My go-to style suit are monokinis. Where have they been all my life?!  The first one was a bright red mono that covered my butt while lifting it, hid the tummy and had a low cut neckline but kept the girls intake. Monos can either be skimpy or they can cover more.  I have six in my possession and will never throw them out!  They make me feel so good about my body, hide my worse flaw and keep me young at heart.  However, some days when in a grandmotherly state of mind, I put on a one-piece or a suit with a flowy, blousy top with underwire push-up to show my maturity.

2020   Mellow

In my life, I have spent an inordinate amount of time agonizing over which swimsuit to purchase, how to hide flaws, reading reviews on Amazon, etc. I looked at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition once and went into a mild depression. It lasted a day.  I estimate that I have tried on at least 15 suits to each one purchased.  My sister and I have had many laughs in the numerous fitting rooms of years gone by while supporting each other through this process.  Commiserating together, we snicker about poor lighting in the room making our paleness more pallid.  We chuckle over muffin tops, we titter about our tatas, we cackle concerning arm flab, and we snort over our belly flops.   Its either laugh or cry and we prefer laughter. We remember a phrase our mom once told us while all three of us were trying on clothes at Dillard’s one afternoon.  My sister and I were complaining about some trivial aspect of our bodies, and mom said, “You will never look as good as you do now.”   She was reminding us not to be too hard on ourselves, and that the worse is yet to come.  HA!  To this day, I repeat those same words to myself when I am feeling melancholy about how I look as I age.  I am told that I look great for 60.  Most days I feel great about my appearance if I don’t look to closely.

We have a pool now, so I have been wearing bikinis again, and have been tanning.  However, I use caution with sunscreen, as well as caution with who sees me in a bikini!  I still love my monokinis and have also recently found favor with the crop top/banded arm suits or peasant tops that camouflage dimply upper arms.  I also still like boy shorts however my butt has taken a trip too far south and sometimes travels outside its boundaries.   I have a suit for every essence of my mood and for every event.  I have athletic suits for water aerobics class, canoeing and playing with grands, skimpy suits for lounging poolside or vacationing with hubs, roomy suits for large meals, black suits for conservative gatherings, skirted suits (which hubs recently told me to toss saying they look too matronly), and I even have one with long-sleeves for cooler nighttime dips.  I imagine that one day I will wear the long-sleeve in the daylight when my arms completely disintegrate.  At last count I own 27 swimsuits.  I know I need to toss some but have a hard time doing so. I rationalize having so many by telling myself that they do not take up much room.  Why is it so difficult? Is it because I feel like I am throwing away my younger self?   Yes, I think that is part of it, and I have always had a deep need to remember my past. Well, tomorrow I will say hasta la vista to several suits.  Then, I will continue my quest for the perfect suit for my imperfect physique.

Donna Heatherly

July 15, 2020