My bikini top split open. Luckily I was home at the time and the only witnesses were my husband and my baby daughter. Since I’m breastfeeding I feel like my boobs are on public display a good portion of the time anyway but still, I’m glad it didn’t happen while I was at the pool.
So this morning, while we were marketing and doing our errands, I left the baby with my husband while he was in the midst of a long negotiation with the butcher (I swear, getting a chicken here involves all of the planning and ordering of a Thanksgiving free range turkey. You’d think chickens were a valuable commodity), I dashed across the cobblestone street where I’d seen a rack of bathing suits on display.
No woman enjoys bathing suit shopping, at least no one I know. For me, I’d say its right up there with dental cleanings and bikini waxes. Maybe physically less painful but emotionally debillitating. So it is not something I was looking forward to.
I strolled up to the rack of suits, hoping I could grab one, try it on and buy it without incurring too much chit chat with the salespeople. Chatting about swimwear and lingerie takes my self esteem to new depths.
Immediately I was greeted by an elderly lady, asking if she could help me. I stupidly looked at the rack of suits, trying to guess what size I’d be. There were no corresponding American or UK sizes and I had no idea, so I asked, in halting French.
I tried to explain that I’d had a baby (leaving out the fact that this was 11 months ago) and therefore my boobs, stomach and butt are larger than normal. She looked me up and down, picked through the rack and grabbed a suit. Talking at me at a rapid pace, she stretched it across my hips, shook her head and replaced it. She retrieved a bikini top, holding 2 tiny triangles that looked like they might cover my 11 month old daughter, up to me. Stretching the miniscule bits of material over my chest, she cocked her head to one side and then the other, assessing. The swatch barely covered my nipples. I’m supposed to wear this in public?
I imagine myself at the pool with the baby, hunched over, holding her hands while she practices walking, boobs falling forward, wondering how this tiny scrap of latex would actually hold
"Trop petitie?" I ventured hesitantly. Madame looked at me incredulously. "Non!" Parfait!” She held a third teeny triangle below my waist, showing me how the thing strings would adjust fit me, no worries about how big my hips might be.
As I waited for the single dressing room to become vacant, I feigned an acute interest in the racks of lace and silk around me. I am probably more embarrassed by lingerie shopping than my husband is. There is something about having absolute strangers studying my potential undergarments that sends my modesty barometer through the roof. Granted, 11 months of breastfeeding has taken immodesty to a new level. The girl who changed her clothes inside her sleeping bag at camp is now a woman who bares her breasts in public to feed her child (honestly, for the first 4 monts I didn’t know if my shirt was even pulled down half the time). As I am waiting, trying to look busy studying rows of tiny thong underwear, a middle aged woman races in, a bundle of commotion, looking for a swimsuit. Madame jumps to attention, scurrying around, piling one tiny scrap of lycra on top of another. The woman is clearly in a rush. She eyes me waiting and suggests that she try the suits on in a corner since she has no time to wait for the dressing room.
She hurries to the back of the small store and strips down. Madame comes right over, helping her to try on and adjust various suits.
I haven’t got much time, having left husband and baby in the butcher’s (where I’m sure he could easily pass an hour chatting about organic beef etc), and I am tempted to sneak into a corner to try on my suits but am too embarrassed to be seen. Ironic, considering I am purchasing an item to wear in public.
Self conscious about my post-baby body, I am not confident enough to bear that much skin in the middle of the store. And I can not endure Madame’s critical eye.
I hear a man’s voice and the female customer is introducing her husband to Madame. She emerges from behind a rack wearing a leopard skin style one piece – which can only be characterized as a one
piece because it is, in fact, one piece of material. The whole lot is probably the size of an envelope. Her most private regions are covered, there is a gaping hole exposing her mid section and two curved cut outs exposing her entire waist. Two small pieces of material connected by a small silver ring cover her chest.
This suit can only be described as "hot". She struts out into the middle of the store, Madame, hovering over her, adjusting straps, smoothing material, as if preparing a model for the runway. Madame and the husband study her carefully and the three embark on a thoughtful discussion of the suit’s merits and disadvantages. As if studying a building project, they look from various angles, peering up and down, the customer parading back and forth, as if taking the suit for a test drive. Middle aged, soft in most places, not considered "thin" by any standards, she is completely un-self-conscious. Standing in the middle of the store in "less material than my hanky" as my grandma would say. This wasn’t some
skinny college girl or waify model. This was a normal middle aged woman, whose body had probably never seen a gym and other than a dip in the ocean to cool off, probably had never committed her body to the rigors of exercise, and here she was completely confident and comfortable in her own body, standing in the middle of the store practically naked.
I shimmied into the dressing room and quickly tried on the bikini. Just as I was tying the top, Madame appeared at the curtain, asking if I needed assistance. "Merci non!" I replied, mortified at the thought of having to prance around the store modeling the suit.
To my dismay the curtain opened just as I was about to tie on the top and there I was, topless, exposed to the entire store. Standing in front of me, Madame adjusted the straps, stretching the tiny scraps across my chest, muttering to herself as she adjusted the miniscule suit.
"Tres belle!" She exclaimed, calling to her daughter who was working the register. I avoided looking in the mirror and wished desperately for a wrap or something to cover up with.
Now her daughter was standing next to her as they eyed me up and down, analyzing the suit, the angles, my body.
All I wanted to do was throw some clothes on. I managed to squirm my way into the dressing room and hastily wiggle back into my clothes.
Emerging from behind the curtain holding the skimpy suit, Madame and daughter were waiting for me with congratulations on such a "good fit". I couldn’t escape without avoiding the cash register and I couldn’t bear to disappoint them, they were looking at me with such pride, such expectancy.
So I bought it. Now if only I have the courage to wear it.
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