Tired But Happy Mom Reads Study That Confirms What We All Knew Already: Trying on Bathing Suits Makes You Feel Like Crap

Summer: Tired But Happy Mom loves it. Though it leaves her with a childcare problem of virtually insoluble proportions (day camp is too expensive on a writer’s earnings), she nonetheless loves the break from the routine of packing lunches, schlepping to school, driving children to their various after-school activities, making dinner by clockwork, and strong-arming everyone into bed. In the summer, people go to bed when they’re tired, graze all day long on tidbits Tired But Happy Mom sets out, hose each other in the backyard, and spend whole days at the beach or pool. Bliss.


There is only one thing she hates about summer: bathing suits. That is, she loathes trying them on under the spotlight of those jaundice-lighted dressing rooms and facing the blunt fact of gravity’s work on her body. Turns out, she’s not alone. According a new study conducted by researchers at Flinders University in Australia, it’s not just trying on any old piece of clothing that makes women feel bad. It’s bathing suits in particular.


The study’s objective was to find out how women’s clothing choices affected their body image and feelings of self-esteem. Researchers asked participants to imagine four different scenarios: a) trying on a bathing suit in a dressing room; b) walking down a beach in a bathing suit; c) trying on jeans and a sweater; d) walking on a beach in jeans and a sweater. Here’s a shocker: The first scenario made them feel the worst, while the last made them feel the most confident. Thanks, researchers, for that useful insight.


But there is, actually, something of a shocker. It was imagining themselves trying on the suit in private that made women feel most embarrassed and self-critical of their bodies—not wearing them in public. That is, they cared more about what they themselves thought of their bodies than how others might judge them.


As Tired But Happy Mom pondered this fascinating outcome, she couldn’t help but conduct a reconnaissance of her own past bathing suit experiences. About a month ago, for example, she was in Brooklyn and stopped by the eye-wateringly expensive suit boutique Malia Mills. Because Malia Mills is an amazing designer and also a person Tired But Happy Mom happens to know, she can vouch for Malia’s commitment to designing fabulous bathing suits for every woman’s shape and applauds Malia for featuring ladies of all sizes and forms on her website and marketing materials. Go, Malia!


Still, as Tired But Happy Mom slipped on the fantastic gunmetal gray metallic one-piece that had been recommended to flatter her body type, this is what she saw: cottage-cheese thighs and rump, a protruding gut, flabby arms. When prompted by the very nice sales associate to step out of the chic dressing room, Tired But Happy Mom skulked out reluctantly. She was oohed-and-ahhed over. Tired But Happy Mom didn’t believe a word of it. She knew what she’d seen in that three-way mirror, and it was a damn horror show. No way was she going to buy that suit. A wet suit, maybe, but not that soul-crushing garment.


Then, Tired But Happy Mom’s thoughts turned to this past Memorial Day weekend. On a blazingly hot day, she, Awesome Dad, and the children were aboard a canoe on a lake. Tired But Happy Mom had laid down in the bow, wearing a baggy old bikini, not giving a whit about her pooch, thighs, neglect of waxing, or anything else. She was just chilling out in the lovely heat and taking a dip in the lake when the spirit moved her. She was having a good time with her family.


It makes you think. Maybe there is something about the sterile isolation of a dressing room that summons our demons as women, maybe especially as mothers. That room with its brutal mirrors forces a mom to see herself in the frame of a catalog photo shoot. And she rarely likes what she sees. Frankly, it’s shocking. For one thing, moms are rarely alone, but for another, they rarely have the mental or physical energy to think of themselves as women, much less women with sex appeal.


Raising children demands endless self-denial, and while we might give it willingly, Tired But Happy Mom is willing to bet there isn’t all that much in the way of “self”—never mind “woman”—by the end of each day. Tired But Happy Mom, a sex object? You must be smoking the happy tobacco. She’s had three children journey out of this 43-year-old body, and 12 years into raising them, she’s lucky the thing still functions at all, never mind look like a kid in her 20s in a bathing suit. Leave that to the Photoshopped American Apparel ads. Which she rips out of magazines.


Maybe the answer is not to try on bathing suits at all. Maybe the answer is to use what you’ve got, or order one online, put it on, and forget it. Maybe just enjoy summer with your kiddos. Have a good time.


Later, Awesome Dad told Tired But Happy Mom that he’d felt proud looking at her on boat, as if she were the glamorous mermaid on the prow. She didn’t look in a mirror or imagine herself as a mermaid. She just felt good.


Tired But Happy Mom is also known as Susan Gregory Thomas, author of In Spite of Everything: A Memoir (Random House: July, 2011) and Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds (Houghton Mifflin: May, 2007). Thomas writes for The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Marie ClaireParents, and others. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

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