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March 14, 2000

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Spasms in Spandex

by Debbie Lindsey

No rose colored sunglasses for me, instead I view the approaching summer through the wear worn darkness of spent Spandex. Again another swimming companion, once so supportive, is defeated by the relentless chlorine. Just as the discards of winter become spring's mulch, I should accept my own annual cycle of farewells and renewals . . . and shop.

Reluctance to move on creates some dandy denial. The stubborn disbelief that fabric this expensive should stretch a half foot gives way to momentary delusions of weight loss. Second there is fear: Is that a break in the seam? Third there is righteous anger as that seam breaks open climbing out of the pool in full view of a dozen twenty-somethings. Grieving is always followed by procrastination. I really loved that swimsuit. This is like losing my second skin. Grieving buys time until, finally tired of duct-taping my suit and exiting the pool only when all sunbathers are napping beneath their John Grisham sunvisors, I plan the dreaded excursion to the department store. In an effort to help other women through this retail rite of passage I offer some time honored tips. Be kind to yourself and plan ahead. Schedule your swimsuit hunt avoiding days given to bloating or hormonal surges. It is best to travel this journey alone but if you must shop in pairs then chose your partner carefully. She should be older, larger, vision- impaired and indebted to you--this will assure you of lots of compliments. Never take a gay man along. He'll have you in something so trendy that holding in your tummy and coordinating your swimsuit with your poolside accessories will supersede swimming.

Picking suits to try on is half the battle; never ever even think about bikinis. No one looks good in them (convince yourself of this). Those Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues lie: Those are not real people, rather they are computer-generated images of Barbie Dolls. Grab as many suits as possible so you don't have to leave the dressing room until finished; that tear stained face and disheveled look should not be shared with bored husbands lurking about the store waiting for their clotheshorse wives. Once inside the cramped and over-lit cubicle I first drape a sheer pink scarf over the mirror to soften the effect. I put on my reading glasses which effectively blur my reflection, yet come in handy for reading the labels (always fun to learn the nationality of the repressed and exploited labor). It is always hard to resist trying on just one of those truly skimpy, sexy things. So I do this first and get it out of my system. I deny the fact that flesh I'd never seen before has suddenly appeared oozing out the edges of Spandex. Instead I concentrate on how impractical this overpriced sexually exploitative smidgen of fabric is for lap swimming. Even the sensible, more conservative swimwear is no more than a square foot of French-cut sheerness. Even so, I still do as my mama insisted and wear my underpants during this clothes buying procedure. To accommodate the brevity of today's' designs, I take along that ridiculous lace thong thing an old boyfriend gave me one year in hopes of tricking me into "THE MOOD." I promptly explained that digging scratchy synthetics from personal crevices was not the ticket for romance. But the panties fit well under revealing beachwear.

Do not confuse my reticence to reveal with modesty. Ever since that time a man several years my senior became transfixed with my stretch marks and commented, "I didn't realize we were the same age," I have opted for more fabric--might as well get my money's worth. With or without bunching underpants progress is made. After trying on all the sizes larger than you've ever worn, the true sizes begin to seem acceptable, even kinder. In other words, if you honestly believe (yearn) yourself to be a size 8, then try on size 14 first--that size 10 (be honest, you haven't seen a size 8 in years) will feel like a blessing then. The final cut begins. All the runner-ups are tried on again and again. While squeezing my way in and out of various bits of latex, spandex, and nylon I thrash about the dressing room mimicking backstrokes and breaststrokes. Once in my enthusiasm I kicked open the door and a panicky saleslady raced in prepared to make use of her Red Cross training. At this stage I lament for my lost youth and anguish over the visitation of my mother's aging body superimposing my reflection. My grief turns to a healthy anger as I look at the price tag on my final selection. Changing my mind I grab the cheapest and frumpiest of the pile. Tossing the thong undies in the wastebasket and donning my high-waist cotton drawers, I go home to take refuge in my refrigerator and languish in my larder, confident that I will swim stylishly toward svelteness tomorrow.

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