It was appropriate that as we approached the beach the radio was playing,“She Wore An Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
Not that what I was wearing was itsy-bitsy or teenie-weenie or even yellow polka dot.
But it was a bikini.
And I was afraid to come out of the locker.
I had promised my husband that this year I would buy a bikini. (I didn’t promise to wear a bikini – just to buy one.) He didn’t accompany me on that shopping expedition. Which was a good thing, because we stopped into a swimsuit shop on vacation this week before we hit the beach, and he liked a string bikini bottom with a fringed top. Luckily I already had a suit, and was able to demonstrate my frugality – which impresses my husband a lot more than demonstrating my modesty.
Back to the “Itsy-Bitsy” song. I was nine when that song was a hit in 1960. I remembering arguing with my sisters as to whether it was a yellow bathing suit with polka dots or a bathing suit in a different color and the polka dots were yellow. I did not like the ambiguity of the description. I still want precise descriptions today.
And I wondered why this girl would even buy a bathing suit that she was embarrassed to wear.
And now I know.
The level of discomfort in the store dressing room pales besides the intense self-consciousness in the bright sunlit, crowded beach.
Of course, everyone else was wearing a bathing suit. That helped a bit.
There were middle-aged ladies wearing what I used to wear – what my husband called my figure-skating outfit – you know – a full loose top with a little skirt. I was perfectly happy in my skating costume. But now I had a skinnier body and a bikini. I wasn’t sure I was happier.
There was a person in a string bikini with a fringed top. She was (maybe) seventeen.
“See,” my husband said. “You could wear that!”
“I am not only old enough to be her mother. I am old enough to be her grandmother.” I replied. “And that makes you old enough to be her grandfather. So avert your eyes, please.”
I sat under the umbrella, trying to be inconspicuous. I have always found it to be a comfort to find women who look worse than me. But I found myself plagued by the notion that I might be the one giving comfort this time.
“Look at the ridiculous old lady in the blue bikini!” I imagined the snickers of full-skirted women with the sun visors and the white thighs.
I’ll show them, I thought defiantly.
I’ll show them plenty, I thought worriedly.
I got up and walked to the water. A thousand eyes followed me. Or so it seemed. I especially worried about my feet. Eighty-nine percent of my body was exposed, but I was particularly bothered by my water shoes. Certainly big black ankle-top water shoes were not a good look with my azure bikini.
The water was cold. But the further I got in, the less of me was on display. So little by little I pushed myself in.
It felt pretty good. I have decent shoulders. I would go in up to my shoulders.
An old man approached me. He seemed to indicate that he had something to show me. I hoped it was not his dick.
It was a thermometer. “Can you read this?” he asked. “The numbers are too small for me without my reading glasses.” The water was seventy-eight degrees. Not bad for Rhode Island.
I began to enjoy myself in the waves.
Back on the shore, I saw a young woman approach the water. She was not fat. She was obese. She suffered from the kind of obesity where people stare. Where people wonder how the bones in her feet don’t break. How she gets into a car. How she dresses herself.
She was wearing a bathing suit. I wondered where you buy that big a bathing suit.
She walked into the water and plowed through the shoreline undertow. And a few minutes later, she was joined by some acquaintances. And they laughed and splashed and played in the surf.
I suddenly felt very light-hearted. And not because I had found someone who looked so much worse than me.
But because I was sure she was painfully self-conscious of her body.
And she was having fun ANYWAY.
“Good for you!” I thought,
I strode out of the water, and strutted back to the blanket in my blue bikini and big clumsy shoes.
“You look great!” said my husband.
“I feel great!” I said.