That Humiliating Harbinger of Summer… Swim Suit Shopping

It’s the end of June. A time of year that triggers so many memories for so many of us. School winding down, squirming in our seats in a hot classroom, trying hard to pay attention, and not stare out of the window. Remember those days? End of year ceremonies, wearing our best dresses to closing assemblies, prize giving and getting, cringing as we listened to the school band or a young vocalist hit a few wrong notes. And then the final day, report cards, waving to classmates as the bus pulled away.
And then the torture was over. And summer had begun.
Well, most of the torture was over.
Except for one iconic activity that ushered in the season. The humiliating, exasperating, and often futile trip to town with my mum to buy a new bathing suit. I was always too tall, too skinny, too long in the legs and short in the body. And later around age 12 or 13 not developed enough to fill the top half… even a little. But I’d insist that I was too old to wear a child’s suit which would be like announcing to all the world, heaven forbid, that I was still as flat as a pancake. Sigh. And so we would stand in the dressing room, with Mum pulling at the front to see if she could make some sort of alteration to the built-in, padded bra. And me whining…”Mu-um!” And then she’d try to pin it and I’d still whine, “Mu-um… it’s too pointy.” Gad. What an ordeal. For both of us.
Grand Lake, New Brunswick, 1959

I’ve never been a beach sort of person. That’s me, in the shot above, in 1959, age three. We’re at my aunt and uncle’s camp at Grand Lake, in New Brunswick, where I grew up. My older sister is sitting beside me. She, at least, is in swimming attire. Me. I’m in overalls, socks, shoes, a coat, and a sun bonnet. That’s because I frequently had a cold and a sore throat as a small child, until I had my tonsils out. And I guess my mum was worried I’d … get a cold and a sore throat. According to my sister every time our family was close to being able to go somewhere, I’d get sick and we had to stay home. Maybe she exaggerated a bit… but my outfit here says maybe she was right.

On the beach or the next best thing to being there, we thought.
A few years later, tonsils looked after, I didn’t get sick so often, and I did wear a bathing suit. But with my mum working full time by then, and raising four kids as a single parent, we didn’t get to the beach much. As you can see in the shot above at age seven or so, I was still too young and too much of a tomboy to care what my bathing suit looked like. And with the garden hose to fill this old washtub, and our trusty bucket, my friend Marie and I enjoyed pretending we were at the beach. Or enjoyed getting wet, at least.
I think I was around eleven when I began worrying that everyone else in the world (the world, mind you) was the epitome of Betty and Veronica in a swimsuit: curvaceous, chic, confident… well, everyone except moi. And if my grade eight class picture is anything to go by, I just needed to look around me to see that assumption was patently untrue. But it was all about perspective then, and of course being a teenager (or almost), I didn’t have any. Perspective, I mean. Or curves.. or confidence. Hence the dressing room scene with my mum, me, and a baggy-arsed bathing suit, with an unfilled top half. So to speak.
After a few years I didn’t struggle so much with my confidence. Teaching helped there. My students used to goggle when I told them that I was so shy in high school that I never spoke willingly in class, and a kid gasped one day saying, “What happened to you?” They couldn’t imagine me as that shy, self-conscious girl. Funny, eh?
Hubby on the beach in Prince Edward Island, 1989
This is Hubby above, on a trip to P.E.I. in 1989. He didn’t mind getting his photo taken. I was still not entirely confident in my swimsuit. But I had finally found a bathing suit that fit, without Mum having to make alterations, though.

My husband and I have been on lots of different beaches since then. From Florida, to Prince Edward Island, Algonquin Park, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. We both love the ocean. Especially me. But we’re neither of us beach people. Not exactly. At least not when it comes to lying on the beach. We’re either in the water, or on our bikes riding to or away from the beach, or in the canoe. And mostly I don’t worry about my bathing suit. You see it’s not the swimming or the beach I dread. More the shopping for the attire to get me there.

For quite a few years in my twenties and thirties I didn’t find bathing suit shopping quite as traumatic, as when I was a teenager. But now deep into my middle years, emphasis on the word ‘middle,’ I find I’ve come full circle. Or almost. I don’t lack for confidence, at least not in my normal day-to-day life. But…gad! There’s nothing like shopping for a bathing suit as a sixty year old to propel one back to one’s pre-teen angst.

As I said above, it’s not exactly the beach experience that I dread. Just the shopping itself. Shopping for a swimsuit has become all over again… a special kind of hell. An ordeal that I face all on my own now because I certainly cannot subject my 89 year old mum to anymore of my whining. She did her bit. Now it’s Hubby who hears the complaints. “How can one person be too skinny, and too fat all in the one day?” I asked last year when I came home from the mall empty handed.

Swim suit shopping is most definitely not for the faint of heart. But it is, it seems, one iconic activity that heralds the beginning of summer.

And this week, I’m girding my loins to begin the search once more.


Here we go again.


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29 thoughts on “That Humiliating Harbinger of Summer… Swim Suit Shopping”

  1. My advice is to look at real people at the beach as very few look that good in a bathing suit, find one that you are comfortable in, find a great hat, sunglasses & cover-up that make you feel pretty. Enjoying who you are with and what you are doing while in the suit is more important than how you look. This is all a result of photo shopping and society making women think it's important…do men feel the same anxiety? – Kara

    1. Thanks, Kara. It's not so much how I look at the beach that makes me grind my teeth…but the ordeal of the shopping. So many styles and shapes of suits, so many which do NOT fit, so difficult to find anyone to assist in a store, and when the first ten I try on do not fit, I have to get all dressed and go back to the floor to look for more. Gosh I hate that.

  2. Hi Sue, as soon as I saw the title of this post, I knew what you were going to write … it's got to be the same for everyone surely? I am so not a beach person (although if I could land on a beach that was absolutely devoid of other people, I might be ok!). Good luck with the hunt!

    1. Ha…you know me too well, now, Patricia. Beaches devoid of people are wonderful aren't they? We get those when we are canoeing in Algonquin Park… not very many other places though.

  3. All about the cover-up. Definitely.

    Just needed to say how delightfully recognisable your three-year-old face is in the top-but-one pic!

    1. I'm in the process of looking for a cover-up that will be cool, which I can throw over a bathing suit to block the sun, and then climb on my bike, and which will survive a canoe trip. Still looking.

  4. I love those red and yellow chairs, I especially like how the arms widen at the end so you can stand a glass of wine on them!! I remember that from a holiday in the US. They're not that easy to find I the UK and I'd love some for the garden.
    Re Swimwear!! My advice is simple ..I wear a kaftan or tunic!! Like you I'm not keen on lazing on the beach. I prefer strolling along one! If I'm on holiday with my daughter I'm the one by the pool hiding away under the parasol! I vividly remember my first bikini when I was about twelve …it was a mix of red and purple …I guess my mum must have given up in the end as she never bought me anything red! With regard to the kaftans …I was on my first "girls" holiday with my daughter and I noticed a Spanish lady who although tall and very slim wore a white tunic and white linen trousers by the pool ( when she wasn't swimming!) I thought she looked so elegant and "cool" literally. Since then I've worried less about my swimwear and more about what I ll wear over it! The swimwear I do wear is usually navy or black. Also I agree with Kara, add a great hat and sunglasses!
    Good Luck with the shopping!!

    1. Those are classic Adirondack chairs. We have four on our deck… actually I think ours are "Muskoka" chairs. We saw them sitting (hand made, unpainted, and for sale) by the side of the road on our way home from Algonquin Park one year. Stopped and bought one, then went back for three more. You know you could probably buy plans for them on-line if you know someone who could make them for you. I love ours. Big arms are indeed perfect for a glass of wine or a cup of tea.

  5. Great memories Sue – Swimsuit angst ! I now realise that I had the perfect swimsuit figure when I was young , without the confidence to carry it off . These days I have the confidence but the body's shot . However , I'm usually dog walking on beaches now – well wrapped up .
    Wendy in York

    1. We none of us appreciated what we had when we were young… too busy looking at what everyone else had or didn't have. What a waste. I'm not confident about my changing body…really we have to work with what we've got…and I'm good with that. It's just the long process of finding something that fits me that I find frustrating. Maybe I need to find a way to magic a pattern off a swimsuit I see on-line and then buy a 3-D printer. Instant bathing suit?

  6. Ah, I just went through the horrors of bathing suit try on at Target .. lol. I exercise, eat well .. think I look pretty good in clothing .. but then you strip down, put on a suit, and it's .. Oh, I have much work to do. But in reality, I haven't seen anyone look hot in a swimsuit since the 80's! So I'm just going to wear what I like and folks can stare all they want 😛


  7. First of all, you look fabulous!! At the other end of the spectrum, aka…the girl who developed first….I was equally tortured! My body was the equivalent of a loaded gun and I most assuredly did not know how to handle that, either!! I am now a curvy , but healthy and active 60 year old with veiny legs, a belly and a too well developed top. Still, I refuse to listen to those inner voices that are so critical of us all. You thought you were too skinny, I thought I was too curvy, we all have our issues. I, for one, have decided to reject all of them. I walk daily for an hour, eat a (mostly) healthy diet, do pilates regularly and the devil take the hindmost! (And he/she has!!) It is time to let go of all of these insecurities and celebrate our health (if we are lucky) our families (again, if we are lucky) and ourselves!! Life is too short to stay fixated on these ultimately meaningless issues. In any case, my preschool grandsons believe that I'm perfect!

    1. I'm sure the well developed girls were equally as angst ridden as I was. I just couldn't see it at the time. Life is short as you say. Don't think that I'm fixated, as much as I am bored and frustrated with stores and designers who can't make a suit to suit me.

  8. Leslie in Oregon

    I share your horror of shopping in stores for swimsuits. For decades starting when I became a competitive swimmer at age 10, I wore racing suits (similar to the one you are shown wearing in 1987). That was when I became accustomed to picking a suit from a catalogue (or one my coach had picked for the team from a catalogue). Like you, I use my swimsuits for swimming and other water sports, never for lying on a beach, and I still wear suits that let me glide relatively unencumbered through the water. For the last 15 years, I have purchased all of my swimsuits through, which has a huge selection of all types of suits. With Land's End's catalogue, website and customer service aids, selecting a suit that fits me well and suits my body has never been a problem. Since I swim frequently, I purchase 1-4 suits from each year, usually the same style but in different colors or patterns. You don't have to go through the frustration of store shopping!

    1. I'm going to look up the site for Land's End, Leslie, to see what their policy is for shipping to Canada, and for returns. It's sometimes too complicated for me to shop on-line. But if I knew style suited me, I might try it. I've just been looking at a few web articles on swimsuits and body types. Gad… so many bobbles, and adornments, and even one with fluffy off the shoulder sleeves…do they not expect to actually swim in these suits??

  9. A serious suggestion for swimsuit shopping – I needed one for a cruise in February. I went to a store that specializes in them. They measured me, and brought me suits to try on once I told them they style/type I wanted. It was relatively painless and I ended up buying two suits – they fit well, I felt comfortable in them and wore them both on the cruise. And neither is black or navy.

    1. That's exactly where I'm headed tomorrow. We have one dedicated swimsuit store in Ottawa… well, except for a few bikini places in malls. I bought two suits there in 2008… and haven't found anything that I like and which fits me since.

  10. I'd second PurlyGirl78 — shopping at a dedicated swimwear store made a world of difference.
    I'm so like you about not loving the beach scene (and very similar experience with late development of the up-top variety which, when it finally arrived, did not make up in bulk for tardiness). I've been crazy spoiled the last two decades, putting my swimsuit on in my own home, walking outside for a swim then toweling off and back in to change. We rarely do any kind of beach holiday and my public swimming has been very limited. Yet I do love swimming both for fun and exercise, and I've been wondering how to keep it in my life post-move. . . We'll see, I guess. . .

    1. I imagine you are going to miss going directly from your kitchen to the beach. That's one reason why we love being in the interior of Algonquin Park…private beaches on some lovely sites. Looking forward to our meet up this week:)

  11. Yes, bathing suit shopping is a whole different experience in itself, especially if it is midwinter when my skin is a pearly white with sock marks on my legs. One thing I have noticed on our vacations, is that people have a body confidence now that didn't exist before. It does not matter about size or proportion. I have seen women of all sizes sporting two piece bathing suits on vacation with what appears to be not a care in the world. I wish I had that kind of nonchalance and self-confidence. -Jenn

  12. My bra size is 30J (UK) but my bottom half is much bigger. I have to buy a 32J swimsuit (not much choice) and because I feel the lower half is too tight, I decided to try a tankini. How on earth do you get them on? The lovely assistant said I should step into it – impossible, but I managed to get it on over my head. I couldn't fasten it without help and then I couldn't get it off without a great deal of help from the assistant! Embarrassing nightmare and after all that they couldn't find a swimsuit for me, and that was our leading bra/ swimwear shop. So you think you've got problems!!

    1. Oh dear… I feel your pain. I shopped last week and became all tangled up in the complicated straps of one suit and had to have help extricating myself. But at least I eventually found a suit.

  13. Absolute must follow advice: buy new bathing suits as soon as you get home from your holiday. Why? By that time you are used to seeing your bathing suit body. You will have discovered what you want and what you will be comfortable in. Also you might not be so pasty white by the time you get home from your holiday. It works for me!

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