Though the weather is stuck on scorch, end-of-summer sales are already sprouting in earnest. In search of a bathing suit, I'm game. When you live in Miami and spend time in chlorine-saturated pools, you're always looking for a suit to replace your faded, nubby, pilly old one.
Unfortunately, few other events -- excepting a root canal, maybe -- match the angst involved in purchasing swimwear. It's torture, plain and simple. Humbling. Humiliating. Depressing. I dream of the day when, standing in front of a dressing room's full length mirror, I'll shrug off the half-naked, spandex-sheathed reflection staring back at me.
For now, though, I do. I care enough to want to look good. I don't expect stares, I don't expect wolf-whistles, but I would like to...well, I'd like not to be embarrassed by some skimpy, stretchy fabric. When you're in your late 50s, this can be a difficult trick to pull off. And it doesn't matter that I weigh not an ounce more than I did in high school or that I work out daily in the gym, or that I'm a tidy size 6.
My body, bless it, bears the telltale marks of the calendar, of a life well lived. A bump here, a glob there. Cellulite as enduring as a best friend.
So a suit that is fashionable -- in other words, not my grandmother's -- but one that also provides coverage from the merciless sun and from my increasingly droopy self is the kind of garment I have in mind. Though I don't favor the flamboyance of some designers, I am nonetheless open to bright colors and funky patterns. The price must be reasonable, too. A yard of fabric shouldn't exceed my co-pay for a specialist's visit.
Apparently I'm hunting for a miracle, the Holy Grail of swimwear.
At my favorite discount fashion stores, the ones that award you 10 percent off on certain weekdays simply because you're wrinkling, the suits are either matronly or astonishingly scanty. Everything seems to be manufactured for women with no hips, flat stomachs, slight thighs and perky breasts. In other words, 15-year-old girls.
The department stores offerings are only slightly more appealing, but when I try on half a dozen, not one claims me, not one speaks to me. Feeling a bit worn around the edges, I return home with my 20 percent off coupon still in my wallet. What a mission!
At home I browse through catalogs and hop from website to website. The prices astound me. I consider a part-time job to buy a cute little black number with a tankini top and a flouncy skirt. The Hubby thinks I'm ridiculous. He's owned the same blue-striped swim shorts since Clinton was in the White House.
When I complain to a friend, she expresses no pity. She's long renounced trips to the beach or lounging by the pool. "Look at my neck," she says, and jerks her head up. "I need to cover it up as much as I can." I tell her to read Nora Ephron's essay book, "I Feel Bad About My Neck," then rush home to examine my own in the mirror.
Add a high neckline to my growing list of swimsuit requirements. I'm not willing to renounce pool or beach just yet.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)