THE SWIMSUIT CATALOGUE
Shiny, sunny, filled with possibilities, the first of many to grace my mailbox arrived yesterday. The last days of February winding down in blustery New England where on the first sign of a warmer day (aka 40 degrees) hardy New Englanders have already pulled out their summer shorts. Down come the convertible tops, with heat blasting bundled up in our winter clothes driving the beautiful routes our coastal communities offer, a sure sign that hope is in the air.
March always fools us though. The windows have been opened and shut a few times to let some of the old winter heat air out and fresh bird chirping air in. The shoots outside tease us and the seed companies have started to advertise sending us their gardening catalogues. And it always snows one more time.
I don’t care though, I have my Athleta, Lululemon and Title 9 spring and summer wear catalogues and email blasts waiting for my credit card. The catalogues have their pages folded to the possibilities, and I pour my morning coffee with the teaspoon of organic coconut oil because fat is good now to have another look.
Victoria Secret stopped sending me their fifteen catalogues a week around the time I turned thirty-eight. I guess they figured there was no hope in trying to get me to see their light with their blond haired, come hither look, six foot, maybe 105 pound models daring me to purchase one of their hundred dollar suits staring back at me from the sands of St. Barts.
No; Athleta and Title 9 are my new best friends as they have brilliantly made yoga clothes and hiking wear look like fashion statements. As I start folding down the pages of all of the active clothing I can’t possibly live without, I think I can actually start smelling sunscreen and sand. Swimsuit catalogues, for those of us who live in extreme seasonal climates, are the first sign that winter is not going to last and all of that circuit training and clean eating you had forced yourself to do in those cold winter months was for a higher purpose.
Being able to possibly order a medium pair of swimsuit bottoms.
These companies are smart. Long gone are the days where you purchased an entire bathing suit in the same size. Or you loved the top, but the bottoms looked like they were made for a five year old and the one hundred and fifty dollars you were about to spend on the suit was really for the top because there would not be a chance in hell those bottoms would be remotely covering your 40 something ass. Well now I have a 52-year something ass so read between the lines, pun intended.
Athleta and Title 9 have figured it out. We 50-year-old women want to stay hip. We want fun patterns and great sun dresses. We still want to wear 2 piece bathing suits and we will regardless of what the male marketing teams think we should be (or not be) wearing on the beach or at the pool. And we also lived through the real Title 9 and know that it means something much more important besides a clothing catalogue.
We have the money. We buy nine hundred dollar paddleboards. We belong to boutique gyms and take private boot camps with other like-minded women who are not afraid to share their love or disdain for companies between burpies and mountain climbers. We shop at Whole Foods. We buy our own homes, our own cars and don’t need men to negotiate. We are finished looking in the mirror and seeing what is wrong, like we did so often in our thirties, (Christ, if I only knew how good I had it in my 30’s as I was fretting about some part of my body that deserved no fretting)
We look in the mirror now and embrace our bumps and bruises, our stretch marks from the beautiful children we raised, our scars from mole removals from the sun we worshipped with baby oil and silver blankets in our teens, our white hairs sprouting from areas we never considered as possibilities. We enjoy the battle wounds of the dimples in our thighs knowing that all of the pizza, nachos and margaritas we so loved in our twenties left their eternal marks on our bodies. Who needs tattoos?
We consider our breasts, either happy we still have them even though no matter how many push ups and full body planks we do, gravity wins. We also contemplate the soon to be removal of them because at fifty our risks are much higher than they were at forty and despite what all of the changes to guidelines about getting our mammograms, we are still demanding them as we also know how to advocate for our own female health.
The catalogues are starting to show “real women.” Or at least their perception of real women. They are trying at least.
The last one I received had the lovely 98 year old yoga grand dame, Tao, blasted on the cover sitting in a cross legged yoga pose in the air because her strength of her beautiful arms was holding her up. The one I received yesterday showed a bodacious dark skinned woman in a two piece and they didn’t have her labeled as “full figured” or whatever crazy ass label clothing companies feel they need to put on clothes over a size ten. This time they added a fifty something, very hip, tan and reasonably fit looking white haired woman who was probably blond in her younger years. I’m guessing it was their attempt to include me in their tribe so I could feel like I belonged (read: spend lots of money to be part of the tribe)
The problem is that every person in the catalogues besides these two stand out women are easily in their low thirties maybe early forties, easily size 4 or 6 and mostly all have long legs except for one or two. So the problem is, as I stare at the twenty five different bathing suits on most of these seemingly real models, is that it is already a set up to fail. We all know that none of us except for them (or my two different personal trainers) look like their bodies when we get our packages filled with five hundred dollars worth of SPF 50 SUP tops and bottoms in our mailboxes.
Our vision, as we remove our winter jammies to expose our pasty white pre Florida body parts to try them on, is how they looked on the women in the catalogue. Even though we know that our bodies are not that, we still unconsciously compare the way we show up in our mirrors. All the work I do to embrace my curves, my hips, my uneven premastectomied breasts, my moles (and not the Cindy Crawford good kind), leaves me for a moment as I adjust my glasses (which I now need to even see myself) to accept and allow the life in front of me staring back.
I realize and know I have done incredible amounts of work to enjoy my body shape as is. This is no easy feat for us women. We have been shown for our entire lives that our bodies are not good enough, our not thin enough, are not fit enough, are not smooth enough. The thing I love about my fifties and all of the like-minded women I know is that despite all of the media telling us how we are supposed to look, our fifties give us permission to say FUCK YOU.
The liberation of fifty is that the beach is no longer a fashion statement. If anyone was looking at me before and I cared, I was 20 and I didn’t know how amazing I looked. Now I look at me and I enjoy my curves and the weird things that are happening to my body. I just wish some active wear catalogue like the well intentioned Athleta and Title 9 would have the balls to show women really like me in their catalogues so I could see for a change what my uneven breasts, my beautiful hips, my strong thighs, my very salt and pepper hair, my starting to wrinkle neck would look like before I bought my goodie bag of summer.
Probably not a fat chance, but my grownup sassy self can dream, right?