I’ve put this off for 7 years. I don’t believe in jumping in headfirst. I stuck my toe in the water yesterday- it’s almost Open Toe Season in Alabama- I went and got a pedicure, with red polish- of course. The classic summer toenail color in the South is red, I chose ‘Big Apple’ because truth be told I’d rather be headed to New York City than on a Beach trip where I’ll actually be expected to go in the water. Oh lord, those are scary words. Shopping for a Bathing Suit is painful, especially for a woman of a certain age and stature. My whole demeanor, posture and bearing change in a dressing room full of bathing suits. Let me make this clear- I live in Alabama, her coastline is one of the most beautiful in all the world- I’ve been going to the beach since I was a child and love it.
However, I stopped wearing Two Piece numbers a good many years ago- they weren’t for swimming anyway. Two Piece Suits are reserved for laying out. A traumatic experience with a Two Piece happened when I was 13 years old taught me a hard lesson. Now, I was never allowed to wear Bikinis- I carried that rule into adulthood- you know the old ‘Don’t look trashy, much less act trashy’ rule, the older I got the more I liked the rule. A Two Piece is different than a Bikini, apparently Bikinis were in the trashy category, because my mother was always looking for Bathing Suits which were:
- Not Too Revealing.
- And leave Something to the Imagination, if you get my drift.
Now, take a look at my aunt, she has on a decent One Piece- she was just 4′ 11′ tall! Tiny. Now look at the writing on the back of one of those pictures of my Aunt Iva- she married out of the faith…and apparently started wearing bathing suits! Our Southern Mothers could be harsh when it came to Bathing Suits!
They adored each other and apparently got matching black suits one year. I loved them both!
A decent Two Piece Bathing Suit became acceptable when Annette Funicello was transformed from a cute Mouseketeer to a wholesome Beach Beauty . So, at age 13, barely out of my Mouseketeer Ears-I had a brand new Two Piece Bathing Suit that looked remarkably like Wonder Woman’s outfit- I was emboldened by it. I was going to take it out for a swim- a Dive was more like it. I went to the club early, hardly anyone was swimming… thank goodness. Mothers of toddlers were sitting sedately by the Baby Pool, a few golfers were practicing on the Putting Green nearby- this place was no Dive, it was a nice place where nice decent people went. The pool was Olympic sized for the Swim Team (which I wasn’t on). There was a Diving Well with a Low Board and a High Dive. I put everything in it’s place with my Two Piece and climbed up the steps, then walked all the way out to the end; now, don’t think I was brave enough to actually dive, I’m afraid of heights…Let me stop right here- all of this ‘face your fears mess’ is nonsense.
I walked to the end of the diving board afraid to even make it spring, then I jumped off- Mid-air? The top of my Two Piece popped, slid down to my elbows, then slipped off as I entered the water! The cups were floating on top of the water!! Horrifying! I might have been able to escape notice except over by the ladder was TR – the boy who cut our grass!! He was trying out his new underwater mask, bubbling- he had gotten a full view of…oh I can’t bear to say it! Indecent, trashy, nothing left to the imagination. I surfaced at Wonder Woman speed, grabbed that Top and… I believe I still hold the Underwater Record at that club for swimming out of the diving well, around and down the full length of that Olympic size Pool and managed to get my bathing suit top back on while doing it! I didn’t look back, I struggled out of the water, walked to the dressing room, changed into decent street clothes and abandoned my swim career … forever. My decent Two Piece had turned into indecent exposure– Traumatic. I didn’t get another decent Two Piece until I was a freshman in college- I never went in the pool or ocean when I wore it – ‘My hair, I can’t get my hair wet’ was my constant refrain. I used the Two Piece to lay out in the sun. We don’t say sunbathe in the South. We work on a Tan. We lay out in the sun. There are two types of ‘laying out’ in the South…
- there is the acceptable- ‘laying out in the sun’
- and the unacceptable ‘laying out all night.’
I love the sun- I love the ocean, I love the beach, I still love laying out by the pool. And let me just say here- ‘Ah ad-mire’ women who rebel against their mommas and wear Bikinis- I never cultivated that kind of confidence! I wore bathing suits, even Two Piece bathing suits over the years when I was young but I didn’t swim, I laid out. When my children were young, I became a Southern Martyr- I was a Pack Animal while they were on the water slides or whatever thrill it was. Several years ago- I swore off Bathing Suits altogether. I decided that the Crime of wearing a Bathing Suit was worse than the Cover Up. I have walked our beloved Alabama Beaches in Cover Ups for years now- getting older has it’s perks. I told myself-
‘Ah’m not going to in-flict mah-self on the general public anymore’…
This year is different, I have to buy a Bathing Suit. Our summer vacation is an Island Vacation like 7 years ago when we went to Atlantis® in the Caribbean. That time, I tried to be a good sport, I wore a Bathing Suit, put my things in a locker so we could ride the Inner Tubes- I did not consider this to be fun, the water was freezing…but what topped it off was the sitting in a wet bathing suit eating lunch by one of their million pools- I didn’t realize I would be sharing a seat with two yellow jackets! Zzzz ! They were not amused. The yellow jackets took offense when I sat down on them. The stings were bad, I am allergic to bee stings- the Health Hut recommended Benedryl®- I’m not saying I looked like a beached whale, maybe a dolphin- but when that stuff took effect, I wasn’t just layin’ out– I was laid out, down for the count.
This year, this vacation -my family isn’t going along with the old- ‘I’ll be the pack animal, I might get stung, My hair, my hair’ excuses. So I’m easing into the idea…I’m taking it slow, I am perusing catalogs that have Bathing Suits which cater to all figure types, I wish they would label the suits for what they are –
- ‘When you’ve put on a little weight, Darlin’
- Things have gone South, precious’ -or-
- ‘Bless your heart, holds you in, but you’re going to have trouble breathing’ style. Better yet-
- Decent. Not Too Revealing. Modest.
I dread dressing room mirrors- where you can see all sides. Now really, who wants to see blinding white legs, sagging knees – it’s demoralizing. So, I’m taking this slow. It’s Open Toe Season in the South- I got my toes wet yesterday when I got a pedicure, I’m looking at catalogs with fear and trembling- I’m thinking of getting a Spray Tan before I hit the dressing room, I’m definitely going with a One Piece and I’ve ordered a full length Black Caftan- a brilliant Cover Up, don’t you think?
Oh lord, unlike most Southern tales, this one is not Part Outright Lies, Part Myth and Part Truth- this one is the Truth and nothing but… Stay tuned.
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are from our family album with the exception of the opening photograph which was taken from the front of a card years ago- no known source; and the ‘diver’ which is from a vintage set of encyclopedias here at Camellia’s Cottage.