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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Bikini or One-Piece: Whatever Floats Your Boat

"She wore an itsy bitsy Teenie weenie Yellow polka Dot bikini . . . "

I love to swim. Always have. Growing up on a spring fed lake in Michigan, I spent days from sunrise to sundown basking in the water--floating, kicking, paddling, racing, standing on my head with straight legs like church spirals and toes pointed for days.

I taught swimming to young kids--some willing students, others not so much. I was a patient teacher (Where has all that patience gone?) who coaxed and cajoled and got even the most reluctant puppy to at least do a few tentative dog paddles before sinking into the depths.

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college, a friend and I decided to get certified as American Red Cross Safety Instructors. With certification, we could get jobs as lifeguards, rescue swimmers with muscle cramps, exhaustion, high waves, and, oh, yes, be very cool. Our little bit of "Where The Boys Are" with a Motown beat.

The last time I wore a bathing suit in public was nine years ago. I have a photo to prove it. There I am in a one-piece black suit with my husband's arm wrapped around one shoulder and a monkey's paw gracing the other. We were staying at one of those all-inclusive resorts in Cancun. And this "photographer" walked the beach and looked for suckers like us who wanted to remember, what? That we were silly enough to let a monkey crawl all over us? Anyway, I look at that photo now and wonder why, with my buffed biceps and triceps, flat stomach and tiny waist, I thought I was fat and insisted that the "photographer" come in close and shoot me from the waist up. No hips or legs, please.

And then, no bathing suit, period. I did jump into Lake Michigan on a sweltering day last summer--with my long pants and t-shirt on. And just this February, I sported a pair of my husband's shorts and a bathing top with a frilly bodice and, yes, polka dots, and relished the warm natural springs not far from our rented Mexican casa.

What was I thinking? What was I hiding? That I'm a 73-year-old woman with all the badges of experience to prove it? Here I was having given up something I love because I didn't want to wear a bathing suit. I mean, what was that about, anyway? Vanity? Lack of self-confidence? Where was the powerful older woman who didn't give a damn about what others thought? Was she a fake? A farce? A bullshitter?

I hailed a taxi who ferried me to the only department store in San Miguel de Allende. The pickings were slim, but I found a black one-piece suit with a skirt--not exactly a skirt but more like a tutu. The straps were too long and the excuse for a belt was too big. But it was a bathing suit--my bathing suit.

My foray in the pool later that day felt like I'd returned home after a very long and dry season away. I eased myself into the water, pushed off the bottom of the pool with both feet, and submerged myself--a baptism of sorts. With the skirt of my bathing suit floating to the surface like an inflated appendage, I spent the rest of the afternoon floating, kicking, paddling, racing, standing on my head with straight legs like church spirals and toes pointed for days.


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