By:  Mary Fran Bontempo
Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for women to indulge in the annual ritual of self-loathing known as bathing suit shopping.
Bathing suit shopping ranks right up with a woman’s favorite things to do–along with the annual visit to the gynecologist and a mammogram. We gear up for it mentally, grit our teeth and just do it, minus the glory of a Nike commercial, choking back the nausea and periodically taking breaks to sit in the dressing room with our heads between our knees so we don’t pass out from horror.
Several years ago, I wrote a piece that detailed a true experience I had at a local mall. Given that bathing suit shopping is one of those eternally terrifying events that hasn’t changed since Eve ate the apple, thereby sentencing us all to saddlebags and spandex, it still applies. Read along, below, and when you do venture out to bathing suit shop, don’t forget your flask!
Suiting Up

Finally. After what seemed like another endless winter, we can once again enjoy long, languid afternoons on the warm sand, leisurely strolls by the water, and sunshine lasting well into the evening.

We’ve shed sweaters, jackets, and all manner of tight, heat-conserving clothing in favor of lighter, cooler, skin-baring attire. We look forward to buying entirely new wardrobes. And unfortunately, that includes (gulp) new swim suits.

While contemplating the wonders of summer at a nearby mall, I found myself wandering through the maze of department store aisles, searching unsuccessfully for the area which would surely change my mood from merely apprehensive to downright miserable.

As I passed two saleswomen deep in conversation, I said, “Excuse me, do you know where the bathing suits are?”

They stopped, turning to regard me with sympathetic looks. “Take the escalator to the third floor. They’re in the back near the parking lot entrance.”

“Thanks,” I said, making my way toward the escalator.

“Good luck,” called one, and from the other, “Do you have your martini with you? They say a woman should always have a martini with her when she’s trying on bathing suits.”

As I made my way up three levels and to the very back of the store, I questioned the marketing strategy behind hiding the seasonal swimsuits in a location it all but took a bloodhound to sniff out.

Then I saw them—at least half a dozen women stumbling around the department, clutching multiple hangers displaying teeny, tiny bits of stretchy material. Every hapless soul there wore the expression of a person trapped in a nightmare. Unfortunately, their current circumstances were no dream, and I was about to willingly join them.

Actually, “willingly” is far too positive a word. It gives the impression that one welcomes the task at hand, even looks forward to it. No woman on earth looks forward to bathing suit shopping.

It is a contender for the ultimate in female humiliation, vying for the top spot with the annual visit to the gynecologist. And, we react accordingly, knowing full well that no good can come from such an enterprise.

Our faces confirm our torment. After cramming one’s body into swatches of fabric the size of cocktail napkins, then viewing our reflection in a three way mirror lighted with the requisite fluorescent bulbs from Hell, stark terror is pretty much the only reaction we can muster.

Is it any wonder, then, that the marketing gurus try and squirrel us away like the nuts we are in the most forlorn corner of the store? Seriously, we can’t be good for business. We are depressed, surly and generally disgusted not only with ourselves, but with a world that requires we wear bathing suits in the first place.  (What’s wrong with a caftan at the beach?)  Prominently display the swimsuits at the front of the store and watch the potential customers run for cover once they catch a glimpse of the bitter, nasty bunch of us trolling the department, looking for something, anything that will camouflage our “assets.”

However, they have to sell the things, and my friend the sympathetic saleswoman had the perfect solution. Swimsuit department martini bars. Just turn the whole thing into a tropical themed mini resort section, with counselors instead of bartenders. Bring friends along and join a support group to receive a twenty percent discount. Watch as the women flock to the store.

We won’t be any happier about buying bathing suits, but the martini sales will challenge those of any weekend hangout and inspire customer loyalty that will last well into September–when we can finally cover ourselves up again.