After overindulging at Christmas, a matter of tradition with me, really, I’m close to panicking. This time around, I have barely three weeks to get into bathing-suit shape for early February.
Of course, I know only too well that my present shape wasn’t built in a day; it has taken a lifetime, with each Christmas accounting for a significant accretion.
Although only slightly overweight, shape-wise I still look full-blown. Sideways to the mirror, I can see that sucking my breath in no longer makes any difference, except to make me red in the face.
Indeed, in no other place than the beach, and in no other outfit than the bathing suit, is such truth more cruelly exposed. So, how do I now manage Boracay? How do I manage the sticky sand and the wet suit that connive to outline the shape of every guilty flab I now own, and the bright sun that glares on the scandal? How do I manage the relentless wind and the dense seawater that compete for the best way to ruin any hairdo?
A cousin who spent the New Year with some of her grandchildren in Boracay has left me to imagine how it was for matrons like her and me when even titled beauties were not spared; enough for her to say that they themselves were unrecognizable.
My generation was initiated early through the beach test. The boys called it “the water test.” They took us out on the beach precisely for the exposure, bathing-suited, unmade-up and prepared for a full soaking. I managed to pass the test without possessing any water skills whatsoever.
Never a water person, I learned to swim quite late and even then, with weak legs, didn’t feel confident enough in the water without flippers. My children—who by then had themselves become such good swimmers that they began taking on their own tutor, their dad—made fun of me, imitating my awkward and inefficient strokes.
Summers were spent at the beach with my children and their dad in the water, and me indoors preparing meals or snacks. The arrangement, pretty much the same in other aspects of my first life, particularly in my relationship with my husband, couldn’t last forever.
Despite being hopelessly unathletic, I was fated to marry another athlete, a tennis man this time. But with him I didn’t mind playing the game even if only vicariously. In fact, I have become so good at it I can now score, name shots and recognize the top pros. It helps, too, that like me, he prefers the mountain—the ground, in any case—to the sea. For one thing, it’s easier to look better in warm clothes. Besides, while still able to hike, I can be part of, not separate from, the fun.
But with the arrival of grandchildren, the beach has reappeared as a destination, which raises a different dread in me: bathing suitability.
In September at Hilton Head, a seaside tennis resort in South Carolina, I managed to avoid the suit without snubbing the beach entirely. Helping prepare the barbecue at poolside was the closest I got to the pool in the rented villa we shared with my husband’s family, and walking on the near shore, in long shorts and a blouse, the closest I got to the sea.
In Boracay two years ago, I had been kind to the beachgoers by similarly overdressing, with a perfect excuse: the sea that May was swimming with algae.
But for February, in partial surrender, I have bought myself a bathing suit of bright turquoise, though again made precisely for inhibited women like me. It comes down to just above the knees and is held up by wide shoulder straps. For full confidence, it comes with undershorts sewed in. A stickler for accuracy, my editor husband prefers to call it a bathing dress.
I have dress-rehearsed in it a few times and become convinced it’s not offensive at all. People may indeed wonder if it’s a suit trying to be a dress or vice versa, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some fellow elderlies came up to ask where I got it. It may not be cheap but it suits my critical purpose.
In case I still fail to work up the confidence to suit up when the moment comes, I have a piece of black flimsy clothing, like a veil, to wear over it.
To be sure, to suit or not to suit is not an easy proposition to resolve. A day on a nudist beach in Sydney, Australia, where Uncle Ding, a resident there, took me, is enough discouraging memory. Nearly all the bodies there begged for cover, yet nobody seemed to care but me. I felt they owed me an apology.