Swimsuits: I feel for many, especially women, this is most dreaded part of the summer wardrobe.
Now, I’ve had my fair share of swimsuits. I remember a two-piece pink gingham swimsuit — that’s right, gingham! I made it in home ec class, and I was right up there with Annette Funicello and the Disney beach party girls.
One summer, I spent a lot of babysitting money on a sleek one-piece Catalina suit with an open back. In between these glamorous swimsuits were the saggy knit swimsuits they gave us for gym class swimming and the non-stretch nylon Speedos for swim team.
When I started my first teaching job, the girls’ gym teacher and I started up a synchronized swim program. I have a great picture of us with the girls all in red and white nylon Speedos — no Lycra yet on the scene.
When we had just started up the program, the girls practiced in their own swimsuits. That year, we had a foreign exchange student from Brazil. Our jaws all dropped when she came out to the pool in a bright yellow thong bikini! I don’t think any of us had ever seen a swimsuit made out of three triangles and string.
As the years have progressed, my swimsuits have more and more fabric to them. In addition to more fabric, there are the underwires, tummy-control panels and longer suit body.
The promises of making a person look 5 pounds thinner doesn’t help a lot with the parts that are not in the swimsuit. That’s the part that I feel is the hardest for myself and women in general to deal with.
One summer, when my husband and I were on a company trip to Monaco, we went to a beach on the Mediterranean. There strolling topless along the beach were women of all shapes and sizes: little girls, teens, moms and grandmas. All were very un-self-consciously enjoying the sun and surf. This was not what we expected to see.
Having come from a country very over the top about body image, we expected to see only “10s” out there strolling the beach topless. This was really a shock!
To this day, I think about this experience and consider how body image is shaped by the culture we grow up in.
When I try on swimsuits, I never see the body I think I should have to wear a swimsuit. Even in my thinnest days, I did not feel that I looked “good” in a swimsuit. Why? I think that’s a question without a very direct cause-and-effect answer.
Some people might feel it’s the fault of one of the most popular dolls on the market: the Barbie doll and her very unrealistic dimensions. Or some might think it’s the advertising of women’s clothing on size zero models.
Looking back aways, I remember watching the movie “Gone with the Wind” and seeing the servants lacing the women into corsets so tightly that they could hardly breathe. And what about that period in women’s fashion when the 18-inch waistline was greatly admired?
When I think of various art museums that I’ve been to, I can’t say that I remember women being portrayed as super-skinny in any particular artwork. I more remember the voluptuous ladies languishing on couches or partially clothed native women along a beach, but no skinny-minis in the galleries that I recall.
Why do we as women become so critical of our bodies? Why can’t we just be able to accept how we are and be happy with it?
I’m searching for an answer that may not be there. How far back in history would we have to go to understand when body image for women became so impacted by outside influences rather than our own sense of self?
There’s a saying about “being comfortable in your own skin.” How do women get to that point?
In some cultures, women completely cover their bodies and look out on the world from cloth face coverings. In other parts of the world, women walk around almost naked. The Amish women still wear their hair up under caps and dress in solid, simple dresses. Inut women are bundled head to toe with animal fur surrounding their faces for warmth.
I wonder if all these women struggle with body image? Is there a culture out there where this does not occur?
Last summer, when my grandchildren came up from Texas, they were fascinated with North Shore Beach and swimming in Lake Michigan. I was right there with them in my swimsuit, watching them jump the waves and snorkel around. Not a thought was given to what I looked like in my suit.
Maybe that’s the key — being able to enjoy the venture and not being worried about appearance.
I’m hanging on to my swimsuit and waiting for the deep freeze to move out. When the beauty of the beach and lake draw me back, with or without grandchildren, I will enjoy myself soaking up the warmth and the beauty that surrounds me.
Move over, Annette!
— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist