An agonizing spring ritual for women

Thursday, April 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Women love flowers, which is why I think there are so many of them this time of year. God wanted to cheer us up because he knew we'd be trying on swimsuits.

Men probably don't know what I'm talking about, but they might have noticed that women seem a little depressed despite tulips, daffodils, actual sunshine, flowering trees.

We refuse to be consoled.

Of course, this is completely baffling to men. When a man decides to buy a swimsuit, all he has to do is figure out if the waistband is roughly the size of his middle. Well, I suppose he has to notice if he likes the color. But that's about it.

He does not have to wonder if the holes for his legs will expose his thighs up to his waist. He does not have to check to make sure the fabric will not further pucker his cellulite. He does not have to search for a Lycra tummy tuck.

Hot, cross buns

Men don't even try on swimsuits before they buy them. (This may explain why some of them show up at the pool in Speedos.) They also don't buy a new one every year. Or even in the spring. They decide they need a new swimsuit when they see that the elastic on their old one has given out.

If only life were this simple for us.

Women have to gather up as many suits as we can carry to the dressing room. We are usually shopping on our lunch hour -- and we do not want to have to undress more than once, pulling a sweater or blouse over our hair.

It's bad enough that we'll go back to the office late and crabby, but we don't want to look as though we've been mugged or seduced. We have to try these garments on, because you can't return a swimsuit. Which we think is a good idea, theoretically and hygienically. But it leaves no margin for error. The bale of suits we carry to the dressing room are in three sizes: the size we'd like to be, the size we were last year, and our actual size.

(Aside to clerks working the dressing rooms: If we seem particularly jumpy when you fling open the door, it's because we think we look just like Moby Dick and we're afraid you might be packing a harpoon.)

Even if you have spent the winter aerobicizing your buns off, you will find that you still have plenty of buns left. In fact, if you glance over your shoulder you will see acres of them, stretching into infinity in the triple-mirror of the dressing room. Personally, I think that we should use a mirror like that little one with a handle that the dentist has.

We could get the bad news a little bit at a time.

Dressing room mirrors are hatefully unflattering. And big. In department stores, we try to sneak into the "better dress" area, where there is also better lighting and better ventilation. You can say we should base our self-esteem on something else. Most of the time, we do. We are proud to be athletes and doctors and mothers and teachers. Somehow this is no consolation when we find ourselves alone in the dressing room with just a greenish light and three full-length mirrors.

Every high-powered woman I know checks in to Canyon Ranch or some other expensive spa every chance she gets. Believe me, this is not because they would like to spend a gazillion dollars to eat gourmet diet food and boxercise.

If fat didn't show, most of us wouldn't care if we had it.

Over a winter of wooly suits and jackets, you can avoid noticing a few extra pounds. Or things that have shifted or dropped. Then comes springtime.

We are torn. We don't want to water ski in a muumuu, but we loathe the way we look in big mirrors and harsh light, winter-pale and wearing almost nothing. Even women who look great on the beach think they look awful in the dressing room. They probably do.

And all the daffodils in the world won't help.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at