The Bathing Suit Chronicles: A wOw Conversation

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What is it about women and bathing suits? Joni Evans, Lesley Stahl, and Sheila Nevins discuss

SHEILA: I have a pool. I have a pool that I worked hard to pay for, right? And I’ve only been in it two or three times. I cannot put a bathing suit on any longer. It’s over for me.

LESLEY: Yes, me too.

JONI: What?

SHEILA: O-V-E-R, period.

LESLEY: Me too.

SHEILA: And when I have friends that are less than perfect – and maybe it’s my own peculiar vanity – but when I have these friends and they come and they put on their little bathing suits and they go out … Some look good, some don’t; I do not. I won’t do it.

LESLEY: You won’t even join them …

SHEILA: Nope. I have a little muumuu that I wear and I sort of scrape out there in sandals. But I just won’t do it. I just don’t want to face it and maybe it’s me, myself.

LESLEY: Well I can remember the last time I put on a bathing suit and went to a swimming pool. It was at a resort and I went down to the pool and there was a chaise lounge and I lay down, and I had a feeling that somebody was very near me, and I opened my eyes and there was a woman who had leaned right down. Her face was right on top of me, and she recognized me.

SHEILA: Oh, no.

LESLEY: Oh, yes. And I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m humiliated. Oh, my God.” And I went up to my room and I never left my room again, and I’ve never been in a bathing suit since – ever.

JONI: Oh, you’re kidding. You have such a gorgeous body.

SHEILA: What about you, Miss Joni?

JONI: Well, you just reminded me of my most famous (to my own self) bathing-suit story. I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel as a guest. I was an editor and I was editing and my publisher used to put me up at the Beverly Hills Hotel when I was editing a big author. And remember they had that huge swimming pool.


JONI: I must have been, you know, 30 years old. This was in the early ’80s and I once had a great body and I was a great swimmer and diver, because I went to Camp Kinni Kinnic for many years and I learned how to do all those things. So I was on the diving board ready to do my spectacular dive, and I looked up and every single person at that pool was looking at me. And I thought, you know, “Is it my body?” So I looked down at the top of my two-piece bathing suit. You know, was it falling off? What were they looking at? I just could not figure it out. And then I just imagined I had the most beautiful body in the world – that must be why they were all looking.

SHEILA: Good for you.

JONI: So I dove very gracefully and swam the entire length of the pool underwater. But here’s the denouement – when I came up for air and looked back, Anita Ekberg was waiting to do a dive right after me!

SHEILA: But you still don’t know, Joni, if they weren’t looking at you.

JONI: No, they weren’t looking at me. Oh, my God, what hubris. I really thought it was my moment. I took these long underwater strokes …

LESLEY: You know what the lesson is? Never look back!

26 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Don’t I remember the quotation:  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . .”?  And weren’t our swim suit years beyond wonderful while they lasted?  Don’t we still have memories that will remain with us forever of specific “moments” at the pool that we wouldn’t have missed for anything?  Swimming off our room at the end of a pier in Bora Bora in crystal clear waters and getting second looks? 

    Like Joni, I was a champion swimmer and made the most of more than half a lifetime spent in water.  But, as I am truly not interested in the “OMG looks” that would ensue these days, I have just shifted gears and entered other worlds where I can still hold my own.  But I must admit that the memories of those days in the sun and surf were me at my best!

    • avatar blueelm says:

      Holy Crud I wish I had memories like that!

    • avatar TheTexasMom says:

      Joan, bathing suit time is just another version of “Dance as if no one is looking”.  If it’s something you enjoy, don’t be robbed of it just because of the “OMG looks”.

  2. avatar Barbara says:

    I have a pile of cute swim suits. I wear them at the lake (I don’t have a pool but I do have a little lake house). I am proud of my body but, more importantly, I really don’t care what anyone else thinks. My husband tells me I am beautiful. I have fun swimming and diving with my kids. I am not going to let my concerns about what others think keep me from doing something fun.

    And I agree…Never look back.

  3. avatar D C says:

    I happen to have really great legs, despite the long scar down my thigh due to surgery following a car accident induced broken femur.  The surgeon was kind and made it trace the natural muscle line, so in a way, on that one spot on my body, I look positively ripped!  Nothing we can do about the scar on the other ankle — but people don’t usually look at your feet at the pool — I hope.   Anyway… I have lost 80 pounds thanks to lap band surgery and spent the next year at Curves, and although I’m still plus sized, those marching band legs help me carry off the swimsuit.  I cannot express the combination of emotions the day that the swimsuit arrived by mail (that’s the key… never never never try on a swim suit in a store — do it in the privacy of your own underground storm shelter far away from humanity).  Anyway, I pulled the blue and teal with wisps of white fabric out of the bag and thought to myself, “oh no, that won’t fit.  Wayyy too small”  But I figured I might as well see just how far off the mark I was so I’d know what size to order for the exchange.  It not only fit me, it was a little loose in the hip/leg area.  YES!!! 

    Of couse I’m self conscious about other people seeing me in a swimsuit, but for heaven’s sake, if I had my own back yard pool, I’d forgo the suit and SWIM NAKED!!  OK… maybe only after putting up screens so the neighbors couldn’t look over the fence, but still… If you can’t swim in your own backyard pool, the I suggest selling the house and getting one with a backyard garden.  A pool is too expensive to maintain and uses too much water to just be something pretty to look at.  Get a house with a garden and put in a little bird bath if you want water to look at. 

  4. avatar Maggie W says:

    I grew on on the Gulf coast, swimming, surfing, skiing, and sailing.  Long summer days walking the beach looking for treasures.  I remember a tiny yellow bikini that showed off my caramel tanned skin.  A hot pink one that garnered a few wolf whistles also comes to mind.   I don’t wear swim suits anymore.  At some point, I was no longer comfortable in them .  I  still love walking the beach, but now I’m slathered in sun screen and a big floppy hat.  I don’t wear shorts either.  Same reason.  I like capris better on me.  

    Whatever rocks your boat.

  5. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

    The wow gals posted this last year and last year many said exactly what the above posters are saying: Why on earth would you have a pool that you don’t swim in? There are different kinds of suits, not bikinis, that would suit a figure that has gone south or slightly off kilter that look perfectly fine. You may not want to look back, but not facing forward is preventing one from enjoying summer’s water ways. Think of it this way:Only you care that much about how you look.

    • avatar Lila says:

      “Only you care that much about how you look.” Absolutely right. I don’t look as good as I used to and am self-conscious because I compare my current self to my old self. Yet I see some really overweight women in swimsuits, and think nothing of it, any more than if they were wearing street clothes. So I remind myself that no one thinks anything of how I look, either.

      Also, you are right about suitable suits! There are plenty of “tankinis” and swim skirts or swim shorts that look cute and are modest and flattering.

  6. avatar Anna ke says:

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  7. avatar ebbs says:

    Here in the South, it’s HOT and everything is about the water.  The custom for women of “our age” is to wear a better-coverage suit. Seawaves and Orvis are popular, with boylegs and sarongs and swimdresses. Very freeing—it’s about looking graceful, not perfect, and about participating. Try it, you’ll like it!

  8. avatar Anais P says:

    Land’s End also has some very nice suits that are not so brief, some with skirts. I would get in a suit that covers more and swim away when others are not there except family (don’t swim alone). Swimming tones the body like nothing else. Sheila, good luck! Get wet! And get toned!

  9. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    My 6 grandsons love to be in the pool and love to have me with them, so in I go. I am not a pool lover, I grew up swimming in the ocean but I would do anything for these boys so I wear a one piece tank style suit and a rolled brim hat because the sun is too much for my face and thinning hair and I get in the pool with them and we swim, splash, laugh and have lots of fun. It makes them happy and I forget every bulge and roll for at least a while!

  10. avatar Linda Myers says:

    I hope I never get to the place where I would avoid the water for any reason. Summertime would not be the same without it.

  11. avatar Mary says:

    I can swim like a fish and I love the water!  Recently I was reminded of how much I love the water but I will get back to that as that is my current dillemma.   I don’t know when all of my bathing suits left home.  I seem to remember having a few of them around and I seem to remember having one of those cute little bodies that could jump off diving board without a thought and swim the entire length of a pool gliding across the bottom of the pool and coming up on target at the other end, shaking my ears out from water, giving a brief smile and doing all kinds of crazy cute little water poses etc.

    Since then this rather strange phenomenom has happed to me.  I don’t live in a city and don’t even own too many clothes that would be almost required for shopping etc. in the city, but when we do go out here, we wear the casual preppy type things. We women put a little makeup on, and do a quick check in the mirror and when I do this I approve and think, “Hey, you still have it kiddo” and off I go.  When I leave the house I feel pretty darn good.  But somewhere between my house and the mall something happens to me and I see my reflection in a store window and think, who the heck is that getting in my way?  I see that lady has my clothes on too, YIKES, it’s me! 

    Knowing that I can change this fast in my clothes mortifies me when I think about a bathing suit!

    So now I have a dillemma.  Almost two months ago I got seriously hurt while working.  My back is a mess now.  I have seen 3 doctors specializing in back injuries and I do want to get better, I realy realy do.  Today I saw the third and every one of them has suggested that the best thing I could do for now to strengthen and heal my back is to SWIM!  Good grief, the one side of me is screaming to do it, have fun, enjoy, go to the PT at the swimming pool, it will do you good, you will get exercise, you will swim again, you will meet people on and on and on.  But but but, I don’t have a suit,  I don’t want to have a suit,  even the idea of trying on a suit is enough to make me want to just crawl under a rock somewhere. 

    So do you know what the doc said today?  ” I don’t care if you want to wear jeans, a long gown with capris underneath and  and turtleneck to boot”, ” you will be glad you did it.  Then he said the ultimate and you can take this anyway you want but you can guess how I took it……” I don’t know what you are so worried about, you look better than 3/4 th of the women I see in your age group and it is the women in your age group that most likely will be at the pool?”     I guess I am reluctantly going to the pool……

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Mary .  .  when you need water therapy, GO!  And like your doctor, I believe that if you needed to you would “WOW” the crowd around you.  I have watched friends go for their bi-weekly exercizing and everyone there is just themselves.  “Who cares?” as they will be jealous if they even look, but they want instead to tell about their aches and pains and don’t care what they look like.  It is the last thing on their minds when they hurt.

      Do we have to USE a pool to have one?  Have you seen Joni Evan’s pool??  There is no need to get into it as with its smooth surface, dropping to the woods beyond, it provides something we would kill to have:  serenity whenever we want it.  It serves its own purpose as is.  My question then: do we actually USE everything we own?  Do we have to?  Don’t we make our own choices?  And to whoever said it, if we own pools, we can afford to keep them up.  Our choices are our own.

      I still subscribe to the belief that at certain periods of life we step over a line and find ourselves in another stage of life.  We swam and have the memories.  If we are Joni, we have found that it is not too late to instead become a whiz at golf, meeting new people in a less solitary sport.  I found that tennis can be picked up when you are over 50, keeping you agile and having fun.  Both are great ways of meeting new friends I find.  Sometimes, the choices made for other reasons turn out to provide new worlds that open up.

      But I found I am still a water-baby when the offer is too good to pass up:  In 2009, for the first time in our years in Antarctica, there was an offer we had not heard before over the loudspeaker:  If any of you would like to jump off the deck and into the Antarctic waters, you have 15 minutes to get to the appointed spot!  Everyone ran out on deck to watch those insane enough to do this, but my daughter and I were throwing OFF our parkas and getting on our identical navy skin tight long johns.  Knowing the cameras would probably be rolling, we both added red scarves around our waists and our necks.  The polar version of New York fashion plates.

      The water was 33 degrees F, and that meant we had 2 minutes to live in that water.  Without hesitation, we jumped, felt the shock of what water that already was mostly icebergs — and were ecstatic that we again never missed an experience.  No, they weren’t swimsuits . . . BUT after hitting water, the long johns were figure hugging skin tight as we emerged, and I heard my husband whispering: “wow, wow, wow – what a shape!” 

      And that – to me – keeps me in memories forever.

      • avatar Mary says:

        Joan , you always bring a smile to my face !  I have been pretty down since this happened but trying to stay “UP” and trying to have nothing but positive thoughts.  It is hard but I’m getting there.  The vision of you and your daughter jumping in the frozen or nearly frozen Antartic had my jaw drop and I thought, gosh I want to be like Joan ………..when I grow up.  It is so encouraging that realy the mind can overcome so much and one cannot let the downfalls of life get into the way.   Time to be a big girl. ( Well, 20 lbs less would be ok too!)

        You are right about having things and not always having to use them.  I love my little home I built last summer and almost a full year in now.  I cannot do all I want to do, but instead of walking the woods or riding my horse I can admire them, relax with them and dream in peace and quiet of what is in the woods and what my Feather sees and hears and runs too in the fields.  That can be Joy as well.

        I think of two months ago working so many hours and realy setting myself up for a injury without knowing it and now a nudge to pursue a different path.  I don’t fear the path, I just want to know where and when I can start down that path and that is the frustration.  Getting the bathing suit probably represents starting down that path.  So thank you dear Joan for your encouragement and always thoughtful insight.

        • avatar Joan Larsen says:

          “As time goes by”, as they say, we find ourselves surrounded by others’ physical stories so frightful and it is often news that has happened in a minute.  Life changes then and usually the outer person we were, we no longer are.  I personally first research the best help – even I may be going a distance with help.  In other words, no fooling around with mediocrity.  You also are “doing something big” as procrastination makes your world go black.

          Swimming in therapy with strangers often makes you feel that HEY! I think I am looking  better than these people here which gives you a private chuckle every time.  But usually, with the therapist at the pool and others there to talk it out with, words well said can perhaps give you direction in other ways – and then that other path may open other doors.  Isolation may be needed in the early stages when you find your life has to be different to “adjust” and get that smile back a bit, but then finding youself in waist deep water helping others as well may make you realize that “giving of yourself” as well, has given you the shot in the arm.  Back problems – at least I have found – once there will be your companions forever.  . but their intensity can vary and lessen with physical help in the water and charting this new course.  Being the most beautiful lady in the water doesn’t hurt.  .  . and I am sure your smile assures that you will be.

          Go for it. 

  12. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Reality is most of us begin to “feel” our bodies around the age of 50 and most of us begin to “see” our bodies around the age of 55 and most of us who dare to look at ourselves “au naturale” in the mirror avoid pools.  Even our own. 


  13. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    Hum, I guess this is not the article to read just before I decided to go shopping for a bathing suit but I’m going anyway.  With Weight Watchers I’ve lost 37 pounds and probably need to loose another 30 or so.  In about 6 weeks I’m going away to the beach for the first time with my new “friend” and naturally I’m anxoious on many levels but I’m trying to push the vision of me in a swinsuit out of my 56 year old brain.  I’ve looked on line and seen styles with skirts so that’s waht I’m going for.

    All prayers accepted…..

  14. avatar Briana Baran says:

    My first psychiatrist gave me something to think about. I suffer from body dysmorphia. At one time, it became crippling, so much so that I would only dress in clothing three sizes to large, and in black.

    Here is what she told me: How can anyone be so arrogant that they actually think that everyone is looking at them? Trust me, no one cares about you. Most people are so self-centered, they are thinking about themselves, and whether everyone is staring at them. They aren’t worried about you except as you judge them. And if they do care, what’s it to you? Does their opinion mean a damn thing in your life? No, it doesn’t. So quit hiding, and quit being so self-loathing.

    If that seems harsh, let it be, because it worked. That was 13 years ago. I am not a beautiful woman in my own eyes. I am not thin…in fact, I am fat. But I am toned and muscled…no upper arm wings, no rolls. no double chin. I am a deceiving little thing. I exercise hard, and I am very strong.

    And I go to the public pool. O, I would love to be wealthy enough to afford to build and maintain a pool, but that isn’t going to happen. I wear a swimsuit. A one piece. No skirt, no shorts, no t-shirt or boy-cut legs. I prefer the Longitude or Ujena brands because, despite my short stature, I am very long in the waist, and both feature excellent long torso styles. I love Ujena, because their high-quality suits are lined front and back, and are extremely durable, comfortable, and the long torso styles also feature adequate coverage for my DD breasts. I like deep v-necks, because they look better on me, and halters, because they give a nice tan line (I don’t have back boobs or rolls, so why not?). I don’t “lay out”, and I do use sun screen…but I tan if I think about the sun, 100 spf or none at all, there is no skin cancer on either side of the family stretching as far back as anyone’s memory, including that of my 79 year old mother, will take them, and while at 52 I have a few lines around my eyes (bought and paid for in my twenties from squinting into hopeless futures), I really don’t give a tinker’s damn about growing older, as it is a vast improvement over the alternative.

    I love the water, I love the heat (90 degrees and up is paradise for me) and the sun, and I am not going to avoid two of the greatest joys of my life because someone might be looking at me, or my body ain’t what it used to be (it was never a prize anyway, and I didn’t give a raggedy rat’s ass back then either), or because I’m in poly-worm territory (read: a woman of a certain age). I’m not going to burden my body with dragging shorts, hideous little skirts that emphasize that you think you have something to be ashamed of, or t-shirts for modesty’s sake when I’m swimming, doing water aerobics, or floating blissfully on my back, watching cloud shapes. I never feel so free as when I’m in the water.

    Maybe that’s the reward I get for being “The Fat and Ugly Girl” in my youth. The girl from Janis Ian’s song “…ugly duckling girl like me…”. I never dressed like a slob…but I dressed exclusively for me, in ways that suited and flattered me, and never cared for society’s conventions, norms and expectations. Still don’t…and I’m the one enjoying the pool, meeting wonderful new people, and still getting compliments on my hair (odd colors, buzz cut and all) clothing and shoes (eccentric and eclectic though they may be), make-up (never have seen anything I use on this site), and jewelry (one-of-kind, lovingly made, unusual and carefully, thoughtfully selected to suit me). I may not be a celebrity, but I’m doing pretty well.

  15. avatar Mary says:

    Briana, I always enjoy your post , Thank You.  Between you and Joan I have decided that I simply cannot wait to go get a bathing suit and I will be on the phone first thing Monday morning for my doc to set up the Pool PT ASAP.   I am going to look forward to this with all of the energy it takes to do so.  

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Mary: Try Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Kohls and even Ross Dress For Less…they frequently have a wide array of high quality suits in a variety of styles. If you find something you like, but you need the next size up or down, try eBay. You might be surprised at the many very honest sellers (look for high feedback numbers coupled with high ratings…90% and above) who offer a wide assortment of designers, styles and options, and are all too willing to answer questions sent to them before you make a purchase. I have tried things on in department stores, and then purchased the same item, new, in perfect condition, with all tags, on eBay for up to half the price, with no, or very reasonable shipping cost.

      I attend water aerobics classes at our local Y. The women range in age from me ( I do believe I am the youngest, at 52) to an 82 year old woman who looks to be no older than her middle sixties. There are thin women, middle women and extremely obese women, women firmly toned, and women who are not, women who come wearing full make-up, including lipstick and blush (believe it or not) and those who come absolutely bare-faced and who sweat like marathon runners (I’m one of the latter). No one cares what YOU look like, though, because everyone is there to do her (or his, we have some men too) thing, not mind each other’s business. There is a sense of belonging, as in we’re all in this together.

      Don’t you hesitate to get that suit. I bought a new halter with a deep v-neck this year, in brilliant orange (it has good rear coverage…I don’t like cheek creep)…and my 14 year old son said, “Mom, I’m so glad to see you in something bright instead of gloomy black”. It’s the important people who notice, always remember that. You get in that suit, and in the water, and the world will become a much lighter place.

      • avatar Mary says:

        Briana, great suggestions, thank you.  I have been looking online and like the suits that you can mix and match pieces with.  I ordered from Lands End and will see how it goes.  I like the idea that you can add color to the top if you want or maybe if you like plain you can go that way too.  For me with my back the way it is right now, somehow the two piece idea seems it will be easier as well.  They don’t look like a two piece which I like.  I ordered 4 different pieces.  Now I can look forward to the arrival and hopefully they will fit and I will be on my way……..  Thanks again. 

  16. avatar firefly says:

    I can’t even remember the last time I wore a bathing suit. At some point I just stopped — or actually, it is more like I didn’t continue. The next summer season came around and I did not “suit up”, and I never suited up again. I didn’t make a conscious decision about it, life just rolled out that way. And with something like bathing suits, after you have gone a certain amount of time not wearing one, there just isn’t any way to get back to a point of feeling comfortable going back to doing it again. It is too much of a chasm of lost experience to try to bridge back to. Of course, if our bodies became more incredible as we grow older … well, that would be a whole ‘nother thing. So, I’m with Sheila on this … I will never wear a bathing suit again and that just isn’t going to change unless I become very, very, very senile. And if things go that way, then God help us all.

  17. avatar Elizabeth L says:

    I don’t wear a bathing suit anymore either but I must say if I had a pool that I paid for damn strait I would be in a bathing suit a swimming like a fish !

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