In 2007, when Suzanne Reisman launched The Swimsuit Brigade For Honest Photos, I promised to take part.
But I didn't.
I was put on my first diet when I was nine years old, and, ever since, I have felt that bathing suits highlight everything that's wrong about my long-torsoed, generally plus-sized body. Then, when I lost a breast to cancer in 2006, finding a suit that fits went from frustrating to downright traumatic.
I have not had reconstruction and I need a suit that will work whether or not I wear a prosthetic breast form. I hate the damn thing, (you try walking around with a gummy, heavy, fake thing plastered to your chest wall), and wear it as little as possible. I cannot even imagine swimming with it, picturing myself emerging from the pool, prosthesis askew - I like to call it “boobs akimbo” - or worse, having the form fall out altogether. (I once heard a great story about an elderly lady losing her prosthesis in the pool and remarking, “Oh goodness! It's doing the breast stroke all by itself!” *) At the very least, I think it would be uncomfortable.
The last time I needed a new suit, after my mastectomy in 2006, I ordered dozens of suits online, tried them all on and then returned all but two - one for swimming and a mastectomy suit for splashing around on the beach or sitting on a dock. This turned out to be in an expensive enterprise, so when I needed a new suit this year, I decided to be brave and face fitting room contortions - and the fitting room mirror.
I rejected suits that didn't cover my scars, that were two big, too small or both at the same time. I worked up a sweat trying to get tangled bathing suit straps over my shoulders, often resulting in a look that was reminiscent of a wrestling uniform. I cried a little bit. Regular suits left me feeling too exposed and mastectomy suits bagged on the chest when I was not wearing a breast form.
I eventually found success in a mastectomy boutique, settling on a tankini. The top is relatively flattering and covers everything that ought to be covered (including my post-pregnancy tummy.) I haven't been swimming with it yet and am fervently hoping that I won't end up with the top around my neck if I try to swim a couple of lengths.
I ended up buying two bottoms, one for swimming and a skirt that covers the cottage cheese that seems to have accumulated on my legs. If I stand up straight, suck in my stomach and glance quickly in the mirror, I actually look OK.
The whole thing was a fairly significant financial setback and the experience wasn't one I care to repeat any time soon. One bathing suit will have to be enough for me.
Why does this all have to be so hard? I know I need to work on accepting my body as it is, with all its lumps and bumps and missing bits but it would be nice if finding a suit that fits (and doesn't cost the earth) could be a reasonable goal for every woman.
Not Just About Cancer
*If you know the source of this story, please let me know so I can give credit where it's due.