Next life, I want to be a man. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a woman. But, at this moment, I would much rather be a man — the “moment” being my current need for a new bathing suit. After all, the holiday over-indulgences have come home to roost. 

When I groaned to my husband about having to shop for a bathing suit before we go on vacation because my old ones are stretched out and threadbare, he looked at me blankly and shrugged. No big deal — for him! Men simply browse through a rack of shorts and pick a good color that fits around the waist. But for women, it’s another story. 

Trying to find a bathing suit in the middle of winter is right up there with other things women endure (I would put it as a close third behind Pap smears and mammograms), and not just because of the shock of seeing your pasty self in horribly lit dressing rooms with bad mirrors. But when the sparse, early January selection is designed for stick figures and made of material so restrictive it could hold the Space Shuttle together, it is, quite simply, torture.

All pain, no gain

After exhausting Queen Anne, Magnolia and Ballard shops, it was time to pull out the big guns. I spent an entire day at Northgate, trudging from store to store. The few stores that did have bathing suits carried mostly lacy one-pieces with see-through middles or bikinis with fringe hanging from the tops and bottoms the size of Band-Aids (think: Las Vegas showgirl).

There were a number of suits that promised to take 10 pounds off instantly, but what they actually did was redistribute the weight from my middle, forcing the excess up and over the back and chest and down to the upper thighs. I felt like one of those stress dolls sold at Archie McPhee, where you squeeze the middle and the rest of the doll expands. I became lightheaded from the lack of oxygen as the suit squeezed me like a boa constrictor. 

Removing the suit would be easier if it were designed like a Poppin’ Fresh Dough container: One rap against the counter, and you’re free.

Shopping for a bathing suit in summer is a little easier. The Spandex is as tight and the designs are as unflattering, but the selection is wider and there are less clothes to deal with. 

In winter, it’s unzip, untie, strip, try on the suits, look in the mirror, groan, fight tears, feel your back starting to go out of alignment as you crowbar the thing off, zip, tie, tame hair, wipe tears and go out for another round. 

When at last — if you are lucky — you find a suit that works, you look at the price tag and see what you are sure must be a typo. “Are you sure this is right?” you desperately ask the salesperson, who looks at you over her half-glasses as though you just asked her to clip your toenails. 

Paying well more than $100 for about a half-yard of material that could have been used to torture prisoners during the Spanish Inquisition is not something any sane person should agree to.

The icing on the cake is that I woke up with a tweaked back. My back has always been a problem for me, and at times, I have ended up flat on my back in excruciating pain that only prescription drugs (or tequila) alleviates. I have learned to avoid certain movements, be mindful of body mechanics and do my back exercises regularly. But my physical therapist forgot to warn me about the hazards of trying on bathing suits. 

I ended up buying a couple of bathing shorts called, naturally, “boy” shorts. I teamed them with tank tops with built-in support and tankini tops — done. 

I’ll keep the stretched-out suits as backup. I won’t make the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but I’m OK with that.

We all want to be

So, yes, next life, a man….

My husband is OK with that: He wants to be a man, too. 

But we hope to meet again and fall in love and, luckily, if we live in Seattle, we will still be able to get married.

IRENE HOPKINS lived on Queen Anne for 20 years. She can be reached at