I have just been through the annual pilgrimage of torture and humiliation known as buying a bathing suit. When I was a child in the 1940s, the bathing suit for a woman with a mature figure was designed for a woman with a mature figure: boned, trussed, and reinforced, not so much sewn as engineered. They were built to hold back and uplift, and they did a darn good job. Today's stretch fabrics are designed for the prepubescent girl with a figure chipped from marble. The mature woman has a choice - she can either front up at the maternity department and try on a floral suit with a skirt, coming away looking like a hippopotamus escaped from Disney's Fantasia, or she can wander around every run-of-the-mill department store trying to make a sensible choice from what amounts to a designer range of FLEXIBLE rubber bands.
What choice did I have? I wandered around, made my sensible choice, and entered the chamber of horrors known as "The Fitting Room." The first thing I noticed was the extraordinary tensile strength of the stretch material. The Lycra used in bathing suits was developed, I believe, by NASA to launch small rockets from a slingshot, giving the added bonus that if you manage to actually lever yourself into one, you are protected from shark attacks. The reason for this is that any shark taking a swipe at your passing midriff would immediately suffer whiplash. I fought my way into the bathing suit, but as I twanged the shoulder strap into place, I gasped in horror - my bosom had disappeared. Eventually I found one cowering under my left armpit. It took a while to find the other. At last I located it flattened beside my seventh rib. The problem is that modern bathing suits have no bra cups. The mature woman is meant to wear her bosom spread across the chest like a speed bump. I realigned my speed bump and lurched toward the mirror to take a full-view assessment. The suit fit all right, but unfortunately it only fit those bits of me willing to stay inside it. The rest of me oozed out rebelliously from top, bottom and sides. I looked like a lump of Play-Doh wearing undersize cling wrap. As I tried to work out where all those extra bits had come from, the prepubescent salesgirl popped her head through the curtains, "Oh, they are sooo YOU!" she said, admiring the suits. I replied that I wasn't so sure and asked what else she had to show me.
I tried on a cream crinkled one that made me look like a lump of used masking tape, and a floral two-piece that gave the appearance of an oversize napkin in a serviette ring. I struggled into a pair of leopard-skin bathers with ragged frill and came out looking like Tarzan's Jane on a bad day. I tried a black number with a midriff and looked like a jellyfish in mourning. I tried on a bright pink suit with such a high-cut leg I thought I would have to wax my eyebrows to wear it.
Finally I found a suit that fit. A two-piece affair, with shorts-like bottoms and a halter top. It was cheap, comfortable and bulge-friendly, so I bought it. When I got home, I read the label, which said, 'Material may become transparent in water,' but I'm determined to wear it anyway. I just have to learn to do the breaststroke in the sand.
(The bathing beauty in the itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikini is Venus of Willendorf. She is carved limestone, and was born around 30,000-15,000 BC. Venus was probably a fertility symbol. Click on Venus to see her in her birthday suit.)