Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Spirituality of Swimsuit Shopping for Seniors—Women

It all started when I noticed what I thought was a spot on my old black bathing suit, the one I'd had for I can’t remember how long, the one with the little diver on its lower left side.

This swim suit has no class. It's not sexy nor is it particularly flattering. It's black, a non-color supposed to be slimming but I doubt this fashion truism. At any rate its main purpose in life right now has been to help me avoid having to buy a new swim suit.

And now my old suit was failing me, had abandoned its mission.

The spot I noticed wasn't a spot. It did not succumb to soap and water laundering or serious scrubbing or soaking. I looked more closely, held the fabric up to the light and sure enough I could see through my little spot. It wasn’t transparent but more like a veil of the kind some brides wear that hints at what’s beneath its lithe folds; or like the veil Moses put over his face so the people would be shielded and not afraid of the divine glory that shone on his face.

(Basically the veil was meant to take the edge off the fullness of the divine presence which most of us couldn’t tolerate for seconds let alone a conversation. TMI as they say today.)

My spot wasn’t this romantic. It was out of place, not supposed to have turned from concealer into partial revealer. My spot was/is a stretch mark, not the silvery kind women get from childbirth but the kind that suddenly let me know truth: elasticized fabric was/is not eternal. It doesn't stay stretchy and snapping back forever—unlike Godde, angels or, as some believe, post mortem souls. My swim suit wasn't going to hold up. I knew the small spot would multiply and....

So now the torture of trying to find a new suit had to begin soon. I thought to get it over with so I snuck  into a large department store where no one would know me (we were traveling) and located the ladies swimwear department. The selection was meager. July. The fall clothing was already on display. but at least there was no one there.

I selected too many suits to carry, none of them very alluring but ones I thought would accomplish what I wanted: not let me swim like Esther Williams but hide the emergent hanging gardens of upper thigh flesh and lower upper arm flesh.

The suits I chose had little skirts or faux skirtlets that brought the base line just over the top of my thighs. The suits I chose looked as if they’d fit tight under the arms so the shoulder straps would allow space enough for my arm to get through but not enough for anything else to hang out.

The fitting room had its usual array of sadisms: mirrors that had no veils or subtlety, soiled carpet on the floor, and pull curtains that left significant gaps on each side for viewing the victim inside. Privacy was out. Luckily no nosy sales woman came to peek asking "How're we doing in there, OK?""

The first suit had a full skirt that made me, a short mostly waistless woman of 71 look about 80. The next one as well. The third one I pulled, no hoisted, up and suddenly my boobs popped out one through each arm hole.

Every suit I tried exposed the truth: my flesh isn’t wrinkle-proof and never will be again; I am getting old; my true shape is more like an inverted pear than an hourglass; my utter self-disgust was a sin against the Christian doctrine of God-in-the-flesh, an idea I love.

All of this ugliness tumbled out in tears. I vowed I’d never eat again. I thought of my dear husband and his patience as he sat for what felt like hours outside the ladies fitting rooms. I thought of how he loved my flesh. I thought of how often I had preached about the beauty of the flesh, a house fit for the indwelling divine presence. And now I was a hypocrite.

The Old Testament prophet Elijah suddenly popped into my head. Elijah, sitting alone sulking, feeling like a failure as a prophet, fearful for his life and probably secretly thinking God was all wet as he indulged in a bit of “poor me-itis” And God quietly inquired, “What are you doing here Elijah?”

Enough said.

I laughed through my tears. Godde had not been in my tears this time, though I did hope they might attract a little consolation. Godde hadn’t been in my exasperation, nor my hatred of this foolish store and the whole abusive fashion industry. Godde arrived in my laughter; its lilting generosity lifted me up.

What in the hell WAS I doing here mooning over aging flesh?

I gathered up all my failed suits, hung each one back on its own appropriate hanger, put my flesh back in my shorts and tee, retrieved my beloved, told him my tale, got a hug and a suggestion with a grin that we go back to the motel for a swim.

Honestly I was sleek enough to be a selkie in that little pool with my old black suit!