Wasted On Youth
From dreaming of bathing suits to dreading swimsuits: award-winning columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson takes a fresh look at beach fashions.
You’ll notice that above I wrote “bathing suit” instead of “swimsuit,” because that’s what we southerners used to say before we talked like everyone else. You went in “bathing,” not “swimming,” and only recently have we substituted the more sophisticated-sounding “S” word that I assume the rest of the world always used.
I’d save my money all winter for the routine spring splurge, counting the days till the sundeck was bearable. Soon as the temperatures made it past 50 degrees, we slathered ourselves in baby oil and iodine and worshiped the sun. I was always an even golden bronze by the end of March, ready to take the plunge -- along with my grade point average.
I can remember the look and feel of each of those four ancient swimsuits, always two pieces, though not bikinis, which nobody outside of the strip clubs in nearby Phenix City would have dared to wear. My favorite suit, bright yellow, had a little stop sign patch on the bottom half. I imagined it cute beyond words.
I remembered all this the other day when my 15th Venus catalogue of the past two months arrived in the mail. And that’s not counting the ones I suspect my husband of snitching. I’m not sure how I ever got on the Venus list. Even at 18 I wasn’t daring enough to wear Venus clothes.
The catalogue cover said “60 percent off,” and I wondered if they meant the clothes or the prices. I tossed the book in the trash.
If life gets any more ironic, I’m going to suspect O’Henry authored it. Now that I have a home near the beach, I dread with all my heart wearing a swimsuit. It’s not fair, of course, that the years you look stupendous in beach clothes are the same years you don’t have enough money for a cheap no-tell motel near the beach, much less a house. And now that the ocean is two blocks away and I have more time for sunning, I splotch and don’t tan. Where’s the justice in that?
Not to mention, the tricks of the two-piece trade have been refined. These days -- if you’re young -- you can almost fake a good body. There are “goddess enhancer tops” and “slenderizing tankini tops” in the catalogue. At my age, I’d be embarrassed to wear even the cover-up garments, which look terrific, of course, on models who are 18 and 6 feet tall and weigh 90 pounds. Anyone over 40 wearing snakeskin print should be shot, let’s face it.
Actual people on the actual beach look nothing like the catalogue, of course. Even the young people I see appear obese next to the swimsuit models. Those models are from Venus; the rest of us from Mars.
My late husband Don once recalled how his mother took a look around downtown Moss Point one day in the 1960’s and remarked: “All the modest women are dead.” Baby, look at us now.
It’s true that my own generation of women burned our bras. Trust me, in my case that was no big deal.