There had to be ONE good angle it would work from, right?
The thing is... I’d been dying to buy myself a fabulous, new bikini for a few years. Kept putting it off. Last summer I finally found the courage to saunter into an elegant swimwear store in the ooh-la-la fabulous, South of France seaside town of St. Jean de Luz. Where hubby and I had been enjoying a taste of the authentic good life in our trusty old camper. Told him I was popping in ‘just to browse’ (yeah, right).
Having loitered in a slightly sinister way outside similar tempting but equally intimidating boutiques many a time – without going in – I surprised myself that day. Maybe it was the clear blue sky, fresh summer breeze or sparkling waves that spurred me on. Or maybe I just had a momentary burst of confidence (not easy after two pregnancies have yanked your stomach muscles out of all recognizable shape). Whatever. All I know is I did it. And I’m still glad I did, even though the little venture made a fairly hefty dent in my purse AND my pride!
Why was I so scared you may ask? Because I knew exactly what was facing me the minute I stepped over that threshold. Reality, that’s what. And a full-length mirror to boot, both of which I’ve become marvelously adept at avoiding in recent years. The Madame of the sumptuous, air conditioned little shop was pleasant and experienced, smilingly tolerating my pigeon French response to her Bonjour greeting that I would let her know if and when I needed her assistance. Without bothering me (and I am easily bothered in stores) she gently slid a small selection of the brightly coloured little items in my direction, her soft voice barely intruding on my feverish thoughts as, trance-like, I slowly succumbed to the general a-la-plage mood of her boutique.
Then, “Quelle taille madame?” (me: frantically wondering why she needs to know my waist measurement before realizing it’s my size she’s after). With only a small measure of shame I tell her size 14. After all, I’m 52 years old, have twice given birth and I enjoy life. Food. A glass of wine with dinner most evenings. Could be worse right? Turned out it is worse. Within minutes I was stepping into the tiny changing room, three bikini tops draped across my arm, her smiling face encouraging me as her skinny little arms yanked the curtain closed. As soon as I caught sight of my pink, sweaty face in the mirror, I knew I was in trouble.
From beyond the narrow bit of fabric that shielded both of us from total embarrassment, she peppered me with questions while I struggled to remove my heavy Diesel sneakers (my husband having insisted I cycle with ‘real shoes, not flip flops!’), my socks, my baggy summer pants (which by now were moist around the waist with sweat from the hills we’d puffed up and down to get here). My tiny summer top, which I’ve told myself emphasizes my good shoulders. And there it was, staring me in the face in the long mirror: The TRUTH. Layers of fat that should be somewhere – anywhere – else, resting on my hips, my thighs, my belly and upper arms, staring me boldly in the face. Filling out everywhere except the one spot I might not find it so objectionable: my boobs. Holy Crap.
How the hell had I let things slide this far I whined in silence to my shiny face as desperately I swiveled my body in all directions, frantic to find at least one angle which looked less whale-like than the rest. There wasn’t one. Merde. Well, there was nothing for it but to try on the damn tops now I’d gone this far, I told myself. Lunging my boobs into the first one, I gained a moment of satisfaction from the sight of my good shoulders saving the day slightly. Maybe it wasn’t that bad I whispered to my mirror image, maybe there was still hope…but then the curtain swayed and there she stood, her expert eyes narrowing at the sight of me. ‘Excusez moi madame’ and before I could object she had stepped into my space, her small, capable hands yanking the damn thing higher, reaching into my bra top with more determination than any man I’ve ever known!
With nowhere to go my poor boobs tried manfully to cooperate and as the seconds ticked by even I could smell the sweat from my armpits (damn those hills!!). Finally, with a sigh, she stepped back. ‘ah oui, n’est-ce pas? C’est meilleur madame’. Well it had better be an improvement or I’ll have you for sexual harassment I mumbled under my breath but of course she was right. The mirror and I were in agreement. Who knew my boobs could reach such dizzy heights?
But now we had reached the trickiest bit of all: the lower-garment. La culotte. ’Quatorze?’ she asked with a question in her voice. ‘yes, but perhaps you can bring a bigger size as well?’ I countered, trying to sound casual about it. Glancing at my front bottom, she swiftly agreed, ‘Oui’. That said it all. Two tryouts later and an apologetic mumbling on my part to explain my sagging belly, we’d settled on a black bikini bottom. (One size larger than what I’d hoped for). I’d had enough and so had my scalding limbs.
Smiling coyly at me while I pinned a small fortune for my indulgent act, she helpfully remarked that starting a diet en vacance was never a good idea. I rambled on about the lusciousness of French patisseries as if my unwelcome chubbiness was something new, something recent which could only be blamed on my eating habits of the past ten days, ‘les gateaux en France, vous comprenez?’.
Pitiable. Vraiment. And a load of old cobblers what’s more. Still, I was pleased with the new bikini. I felt better in it once I’d left the pretty shop and could view myself in our camper’s half-length mirror. My husband even managed to squeeze out a “Nice love”, bless his heart. I allowed myself to believe him. But the bell has tolled in whatever language I chose to go for and that night I promised to shift some of those extra kilos, as soon as we got home. I did. But when your fridge has a pretty box stuffed with jammy beignets (sounds so much nicer than donuts, don’t you think?) it’s a big ask. N’est ce pas?