On a recent frigid day in February as I was entering Target to defrost my nose hairs and purchase a designer toilet brush, I noticed that they already had an array of skimpy women’s swimsuits on display, which dredged up some disturbing memories for me.
If you’ve ever wondered how awkward it might be taking adolescent daughters shopping for swimwear, imagine that you’re taking adolescent daughters shopping for swimwear. That should do it. For fathers of girl children all over the world, except maybe in Saudi Arabia, bathing suit shopping is a task that ranks right up there with taking an armload of feral cats down a waterslide.
For me, this harrowing event with all three of my daughters took place a couple of years ago on a Sunday afternoon in March, ALL Sunday afternoon. When we hit Target’s swimwear section, I first noticed that each suit was designed to reveal everything except one shoulder blade. I actually thought we might have strayed into the first aid section and were looking at a new line of colorful ACE bandages.
I’ve never understood the apparent gender bias of swimwear. Bathing suits for males typically look like long gym shorts, and most of the girls’ suits I was looking at would have made J-Lo blush. Whatever happened to those 19th century bathing machines that were rolled down to the water so that no one could get a glimpse of female skin? I guess Target has something against history.
My main criteria was that any suit we purchased exposed only enough anatomy to allow for the intake of oxygen. Eyesight and hearing would be optional.
Surrounded by bikinis, tankinis, monokinis, and other suits with important segments missing, I was in a constant state of paranoia about being tackled by security, struck with a purse, or spotted by someone from church while I held each suit up to the light to determine whether I could see through the fabric.
After gathering a few unlikely options, the next phase of the ordeal involved my daughters’ attempts to wedge their bodies into these perforated sausage casings in the dressing room. My task would be to evaluate each suit modeled by one of my daughters and, inevitably, return to the swimwear section (exactly one mile from the dressing room) to look for something with more coverage.
Each time I returned to the dressing room, I first had to knock on the door and identify myself, which always resulted in screams and giggling — and not just from me. Then the girls would castigate me for opening the door too widely. When I managed to squeeze into the dressing room through an opening almost large enough for my left earlobe, the real agony began.
The room looked like the aftermath of an Olympic Swim Team slumber party. As the girls modeled the suits, my wife had them squat, stoop, and contort themselves into various unnatural poses while I made rude gas noises to lighten the mood. The girls would then disdainfully order me back out of the dressing room (to my great relief) and tell me to look for another size, color, shape, style, texture, etc. Apparently, they weren’t open to something made of burlap.
Eventually, my wife and I were able to find a few fairly modest swimsuits that I could tolerate (once I’m dead). And the process was no more painful than having a chimpanzee remove my spleen with a popsicle stick.
These days, our swimsuit approval process is done mostly through text message since I’ve now been banned from participating in-person. (Thank the sweet and merciful Lord!) And despite my ongoing disappointment that their bathing attire choices don’t more closely resemble hazmat gear, I really am proud of the mature young ladies my girls have grown to be.
I trust that their maturity will show itself again when I surprise them with my plans to move us all to the Middle East. Burkinis, anyone?
Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at firstname.lastname@example.org.