Monday, June 24, 2013

When I am an old woman I shall wear a monokini

So this morning after swim practice, I saw a woman in the locker room on her way out to lap swim. She must have been eighty-ish. She had that hunched over old lady posture and plodding old lady walk. She was about as tall as my shoulder. and while I wouldn't say she was fat, her body--perhaps partly due to her posture--was round. Round in front, round in back, a soft, pudgy ball on balanced on soft, pudgy legs.

She was standing just outside the shower room, struggling with a brightly colored bathing suit. She'd managed to get it over her hips, and the back was alarmingly low. I could see the front of the suit swinging around below her belly. She seemed to be having some trouble positioning everything. I averted my eyes, a little embarrassed to have witnessed this. The next time I saw her, she was shuffling into the shower room dressed in this exact suit:

Imagine this woman 50 pounds heavier and 55 years older.

Flesh ballooned out of every opening and sagged over every edge. A gaily striped band of material stretched over her belly, which bulged like two wrinkly marshmallows on either side.

Better than when she was half-naked and the suit was dangling between her legs, but still shocking enough for me to have to make an effort not to stare.

My first thought was, "Wow, that's inappropriate."

But my next thought--and this is the one that stays with me--was, "Good for her. If she wants to wear that suit then more power to her." I was reminded of the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. 

So which is it? Is she brave or blind? I guess we can't say for sure unless we know her. I just wonder what she thought when she chose that suit for herself. I don't think she could possibly have looked in the mirror and thought, "That's what it's supposed to look like." 
Did she lie to herself and say, "Oh, I can still carry that off." Was it like Botox or the wrong color hair dye (Ken Burns and Dave Barry, take note)? Was it vanity? Was it a desperate, pathetic attempt to turn back the clock, to pretend that she's still young and nubile? Should we laugh at her, or maybe feel sorry for her?
Or was she honest and did she just say to herself, "I like the stripes and I think it's cute I don't care if I hang out all over. I'm eighty fucking years old and I'll wear whatever the fuck I want, godammit, because I don't have to give a shit about what people think anymore."
I hope it was the second one.

P.S. There are people out there who think that old women (or whoever) should give a shit about what people think regarding their attire. I get that. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just fooling myself with my long hair and cutoff denim shorts. Do I look like I'm clinging desperately to youth? Or like I don't realize how old I am?

P.P.S. I think I would have felt far less sympathetic--even offended--if a person with an actual fashion model body were prancing around in a suit like that. I don't know why.

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