I do love summer but my friends, I ask you this: what self-respecting queer woman does not dread swimsuit shopping? I have passed up pool parties, impulsive dips in the lake, flirting in the splash-pad behind The 519 on Pride weekend, all because I could not find a bathing suit in which I felt attractive, comfortable, myself. Most often you have to go into a sports store to buy a bathing suit, which is stupid because the majority of bathing suits are designed for fashion, not sport. If this was not the case I would not have found last year’s top down around my waist every time I jumped off the diving board.
This year I ended up at Sporting Life uptown. It is not a place crawling with queers. Actually it’s where all the people who have planned barbecues, weddings, reunions and the like on Pride weekend hang out, spend money and talk about how they (“Are you serious?! Tee hee!”) actually went to Pride last year and it was so much fun! Gag me with a spoon, as my third grade teacher used to say. She had a pool party for the class that year. I remember going. That might have been the last year I cared more about my cannonball than how I looked in a bathing suit. Could have been the same year they started airing Baywatch.
Seems like every year we get the same facade of choices on the racks. Skimpy little bikinis that would only stay put on a wax statue; frumpy grandma bathers that are gathered and tucked, flowered and padded until the figure inside is not only disguised but barely recognizable; brand-name one-piece racers that you only wear if you are an Olympic diver with an endorsement deal, a perfect wax job and an insane amount of muscle or flowy-top tankinis for the newly pregnant and the proudly prudish. Ooh, lemme at ’em!
There is always a tiny changeroom where the fluorescent lighting and the empty compliments flow freely. There is always an eager saleswoman, working on commission, asking if you’re okay like there’s a pit in there that you might fall into if she weren’t checking in. I always find myself trying on bathing suits when my legs are at their hairiest, my chest is pimply and there is no way I am offering my image up for public consumption.
Thank God this changeroom had a mirror on the inside. But outside there were angled mirrors, mirrors where you could actually see your body the way it might look on the beach – as in moving and three-dimensional. I wanted to sneak out while the saleswoman was off exchanging sizes but she was too quick, and there were others around me, debating the same move, keeping me captive in that tiny room with the pit, with one too many hangars and the giant notice reminding me to “leave undergarments ON while trying on bathing suits.” Another reason you are never really sure what you’ve purchased until it is impossible to return anything.
It took me 14 years of buying my own bathing suit and 25 years of wearing one to realize that the way a bathing suit fits when you buy it is not the way a bathing suit fits when it’s soaking wet. Asses are suddenly saggy, nipples are poking through, pubes are poking out. They should have a pool in the changeroom that you can haul yourself in and out of right before you choose your size. Come to think of it, there would probably be plenty more queers in Sporting Life — uptown, wherever — if that was the case.
Let us pause here to have a frank discussion about white bathing suits. In case you are not aware the white bathing suit is for people who do not actually plan to swim, get wet or be anywhere near the water’s edge when the tide comes in. The white bathing suit is not a bathing suit at all. It is an overpriced white outfit, like lingerie, that does not need to be waterproof. When it gets wet you can see right through it no matter what it’s made of. Trust me, my queer memory has been unable to erase the educational vision of Lina in Grade 6 at L’Amoreaux pool. In case there was ever any debate over who was going through puberty first.
What do all the butches do with the bathing suit dilemma? There aren’t even any good options for me, this boygirl who sometimes enjoys wearing girl clothes. I have a butch friend who swims in a wetsuit, which is pretty clever, but even she would rather go bare-chested, don surfer shorts and be done with it. Those of us in the middle of gender were forgotten at key moments in fashion design.
In the end I shelled out a hundred bucks for something okay to wear this summer. Fingers crossed they come up with something hugely innovative for next year that brings back the joy of the cannonball without all those pills on the ass.