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Fear and Loathing in the changing room

Vivien Mitchell

It’s that particularly confronting time of year, when we have to go out and face the winter-comfort-food-music.

The weather is warming up and we can’t wait for summer and the beach….but we need a swimsuit. For this mission, we’re faced with two warrior-princess choices: be a raider or a hunter and gatherer.

Raiding the wardrobe or drawer might seem like a soft option, but for some, it’s comforting to know that there’s a swimsuit or bikini in there that will do the trick or even make you feel fabulous. Others may be full of self-doubt. If a quick try-on rules out the raider option, we set about finding a new one.

Embarking on a hunt for a new swimsuit either online or in a shopping mall requires fortitude of character, because if we venture into a change room, we’re going to have a full frontal moment.

For most of us, the experience of trying on a swimsuit in front of a mirror, under unforgiving lights is a moment of reckoning. For some it’s a shock, as the reflection often doesn’t match our mind’s self-image, for others, it’s a bit like being called, “madam” for the first time by a shop assistant. It’s a blow to our self-esteem.

Thank goodness for friendship, because girls can laugh about these challenges over coffee – shared moments of self-discovery that we never wanted to discover.

Our bodies tell the story of our lives.

For over 40s, where we once defied gravity, it’s likely that we now have boob droop (yes, I think that’s a thing) and buttocks half way down our thighs. On the bright side, this is a situation where the small-chested women among us, who have never known what it is to have a cleavage – yes, we do exist – finally get the last laugh. There is simply not enough weight to drag ‘em down.

So for many women, there’s a bit of fear and loathing around dressing-room visits. There’s something about the angle of the mirrors that just isn’t flattering. Fluorescent light + mirrors (front and rear) + swimsuit = sense of humour failure or a ‘never-going-to-the-beach-again’ despair for some.

In the dressing room, we don’t see ourselves through rose-coloured glasses, we see ourselves in the harshest reality, and sometimes we don’t think it’s that pretty. Mothers-to-be may be startled (or impressed) by their new and curvy cleavage but the post-partum mum could be horrified by the droop that adorns any mother’s stomach.

Despite our attempts to persuade ourselves that each sagginess, each blemish, each droop, each too-much-there, not-enough-here, are all part of life’s rich tapestry to be celebrated, we still struggle with the idea that our bodies change. We hear a lot about fat shaming in the media these days, but the truth is, we’re our own harshest critics.

The reflection in the dressing-room mirror will shame plenty of women into walking away empty handed, dejected and forlorn…when what we should be feeling is confidence to embrace our physical selves despite the various imperfections!

Women report that dressing room experiences can be anything from ‘disastrous’ to ‘confronting’ but rarely deserving of a high-five in the mirror. How many swimsuits do we need to try on to find success? Often, we have to go on several forays to find something suitable, so hunting and gathering can feel like a futile exercise. This can be time-consuming, expensive and depressing. I’ve heard of 22 hunts in one season – that takes stamina!

Learning to love the skin across your torso, you know, the kind of wrinkles, rolls and has stretch marks that accumulate with age and every winter isn’t easy….especially if previously there really was a warrior-princess fit and flat stomach. But take heart, feeling confident on the beach isn’t out of our reach, either.

Fortunately, in summer 2016-17, there are designs that may offer some relief; swim and sun wear options that don’t compromise on style but are sun smart. They offer a bit of extra coverage, too – and if they also alleviate some of our concerns around ageing and changing bodies, then that’s a bonus.

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Vivien Mitchell

Vivien is a mother-of-five who values kindness and connection. She is an entrepreneur, founder and designer at Solar Bare, a boutique sun wear label that offers stylish sun protection with distinctive prints. In a previous life, she was snr partnerships manager at Centenary of Canberra and has also managed some high-profile events around town. She is a consultant on partnerships and development in the arts and has travelled the ‘long-goodbye’ Alzheimer’s path with her mum. She’s a creative soul who loves writing, photography, fashion (in particular vintage and op-shop finds), coffee, French champagne, Tasmanian sparklings, family and friends. Vivien tweets at @Viv54 and is on Instagram @54viv. More about the Author

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