There’s a monster in my bedroom. It lives in my dresser, hibernates in the winter, wakes up in spring (to mock me), and attacks in the summer. It pinches my thighs, and runs up into places on my body I forget I have.
It’s the Swimsuit from Hell.
We met at a wispy beachside clothing store in Fort Lauderdale—one of those shops that keeps the front door propped open all winter long to remind tourists that their native climates are inferior.
I was looking through a stack of “Sexy Swimwear—50% OFF!” thinking of ways to get tan within the hour so I looked hot and nontouristy on the gay beach. I could spray-tan, but then it would melt, and I’d look like a leather candle.
I’m busy thinking of this and other ways to criticize my body when I realize a guy is flipping through the Smalls who is not a Small. He’s flipping, but not browsing. He’s looking at me, wide-eyed and terrifying.
“Need help putting any of these on?” he asks nonchalantly.
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Hello, welcome to town. It’s an afternoon in the middle of the week. Where the hell am I?
“I’m fine, thank you,” I respond, and move as quickly as I can to the table nearest the sales associate.
The movement is an act of fate. My new spot puts the Monster in my vision.
Across the room, enshrined in a glass display case, it reigns supreme: the Mother of all Swimsuits, a tiny piece of fabric some evil designer conjured up as swimwear.
Things go blurry, and before I know it, I’m outside with the Monster in a shopping bag. I’ve made the investment that will haunt me for summers to come.
When I purchased my Monster, I was in great shape. I wore it that day to the gay beach, and it did what it was made to do: Turn heads. Buy drinks. Get numbers. All with no tan. Gasp!
My reasoning behind the purchase was simple: I’ll just stay in shape for the rest of my life. Easy peasy.
Then, Thanksgiving rolled around. Then, Christmas. Then, whoops!—no Valentine again this year? Nothing a box of chocolate can’t help.
The Monster is one of those things we buy in heat. It’s that thing we can’t live without until we get home, when we realize we’ve demonized the drawer we stored it in. It’s the thing that reminds us how we really look—the “why would anyone manufacture this?”-inducing article of clothing 1 percent of the world looks good in.
The Monster is what it is because we make it that way. It is the hallmark of the insecure, that precious possession we dare not part with lest we lose the motivation it amps.
Our problem is that we try to do too much too fast. We can eat badly over the holidays because we’ll be healthy in January, right? When that doesn’t pan out, we’ll just indulge until April. That gives us a whole month—or two, if you live in the Twin Cities—to get back on track.
So, for four weeks, we eat right, go to the gym for an hour a day, and cry ourselves to sleep at night because we’re so hungry—all in hopes of looking good for the summer.
Like pouring Draino down a clogged pipe, crash diet-and-exercise works really well really fast, but if you don’t stop washing your hair down the drain, it’s going to clog again.
This summer will be different for real, I’ve decided. I’m approaching it the way diets are supposed to be: sustainable. If that means going to the gym just one more day a week, or drinking Sugar Free Red Bull vodka instead of regular, so be it. These are changes I know I can make, and keep.
If we can build up simple changes, like running just 10 minutes more on the treadmill, or drinking one less drink out on the town—changes we can live with—before long, we’ll approach those monsters in our dressers as we did when we met them: not symbols of insecurity, but symbols of hope.
Thanks to Brendan Murphy, who’s sickeningly healthy, for the inspiration.