The Swimsuit Issue


Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I stumbled over this souvenir photo postcard while searching for something else on eBay as occasionally (blissfully) happens. I love the frothy waves in the charmingly artificial background. Rough seas for Mr. Sailboat! Even that grimy box she is atop is sort of interesting to me. Our gal is both shy and bathing suit proud at the same time – maybe a tad of defiance thrown in? While certainly not risqué by contemporary standards, I get the feeling that posing in this bathing attire was a bit racy. The card is unsent, but written on the back is To Miss Sara Huffnagle and at the bottom Beulah Huffnagle. 

This swimming costume looks fairly new to me – although I guess no reason to think it was brand new. I like the little black shoes! In some ways they seem quite practical really – hot sand not mention the stones and hard shells in the water we have all stepped on would be avoided. I have written about my childhood and adolescence growing up at the beach on the Jersey shore, so for Pictorama readers it isn’t surprising that for three or so months of every year I lived in bathing suits.

As a more or less average woman with a fairly healthy body image, I have over my life thus far, gone the full gambit on my feelings about wearing a bathing suit. I remember being very young and a cousin giving me a very psychedelic bikini I adored. There was another two piece in a broad orange and white stripe I was very fond of before deciding in a subsequent year that I didn’t like two piece bathing suits. (I didn’t wear another until a few years ago when I bought one – a tankini which looks like a tank suit but has the freedom of two pieces. A grand invention.) There were, of course, reams of Speedo racing suits, unremarkable in design and fading with chlorine and sun over time, made for more serious swimming.

Please understand, I was never a serious swimmer. Unlike my sister who swam laps and joined racing teams, I swam for fun only – in the ocean riding waves, messing around a pool. I never looked at it as a form of exercise or discipline. Therefore, the swimsuits that live in memory were, while essentially practical, entirely about how they looked. I happen to have a photo of another favorite. I may have even had this one in more than one color combination.


Fast forward to New York City post-college (a place profoundly devoid of bathing suit wearing opportunities) and what followed was literally decades of not wearing or even owning a bathing suit. Later, as business travel became more part of my routine, pools at hotels became available. For the first time I was confronted with an older body and the question of whether or not I wanted co-workers to see me in a bathing suit. The answer was, largely, no and I rarely if ever threw a suit in my bag. (I will save opining on the horror of shopping for a bathing suit in florescent lit dressing rooms of department stores, which tend to turn your New York City pallor an overall greenish hue, for a future rant. All the women already know it.)

More time passed. In the past decade I became a gym rat and gradually grew used to seeing myself reflected in multiple mirrors, in running shorts, tights, and other revealing clothing and in equally unflattering light. I slowly adjusted to seeing colleagues in the gym at 5:30 AM in my exercise gear. My reluctance to do so has faded as my devotion to working out increased and I wouldn’t hesitate to pull out my bathing suit now. Good thing too, because I understand there is a pool at the gym near my new office, and I am looking forward to swimming some laps. I will never be as good as a teenage Loren was, but I am looking forward to getting back in the pool and giving it a try.