From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Enlightenment of a
Spandex-Clad Eavesdropper

Every exit is an entry somewhere.

Tom Stoppard

The experience was always so excruciating and fraught with potential psychic assault that I had postponed it as long as possible. It was only because my trip to Hawaii was swiftly approaching, thus necessitating the purchase, that I even considered the agonizing activity. Yes, for sheer emotional drama, trying on swimsuits was up there with root canals, incarceration, and various forms of public humiliation.

In truth, a swimwear purchase was no joyride even in my younger years. Now, however, menopause had left its all too evident markers upon my body. Facing myself, scantily clothed, in a fluorescent-lit dressing room replete with full-length mirrors was almost more than I could bear without heavy sedation.

Nonetheless, I am an optimist and I was determined to find a suit that would flatter my expanded figure. So, after repeating several uplifting affirmations of love and acceptance of myself in all of my matronly magnificence, I headed off to the store. Locating the swimsuit department, I swiftly strolled past the size-two bikinis and headed for the mature woman’s section—the one featuring dark colors, industrial-strength spandex, and swim-skirts cleverly designed for concealment.

After making my selections, I entered that chamber of horrors, aka the dressing room, to face my fate. Astonishingly, I was in for a rather pleasant surprise. Technology does have its good side for once, as I was able to squeeze my ample hips into the swimsuit. The result wasn’t all that bad. It was evident that major improvements to the muscle-power inherent within elastic and its subsequent clones had evolved over the years. In fact, the suit compacted my flesh with a brawny force so strong that I was pressed and squeezed within an inch of my life. I did realize that I would be unable to draw a full breath, so I couldn’t save myself should I be drowning, but, all in all, I was happy. I even decided to venture out of my curtain-draped cubicle to brave the real test—the “cheek check” in the three-way mirror down the hall.

It was then that I heard them. I parted the curtains just enough to spot two giggling teenagers, with taut, perfect bodies, carrying in their selected suits. I quickly closed my peephole and swiftly hid myself in the dark recesses of my cubicle, thankful for a place to conceal my barely clothed body. It had only been a matter of seconds, or I would have been caught observing my backside, reflected with triangled grandeur in that ghastly mirror, fully exposed to laughing teenage eyes and smirks of disdain.

Shortly after I huddled silently in my draped refuge, however, something remarkable happened. This unexpected encounter became a mind-blowing lesson that totally transformed my outlook on life.

Unaware that I was there, the girls ceased their giggling and started swapping tales of boyfriends, girlfriends, and some real instances of teenage angst. Their feelings seemed openly raw as they shared stories of social slights, rebuffs, and even betrayals from their so-called friends. More amazingly, as they tried on their suits, they each expressed anxiety and even pain about their bodies.

“I’m a disgusting whale!” whined one.

Her friend moaned in reply, “Like you should talk. I look like a fat pig with no boobs and zits on my back.”

I was astounded. These girls, with their unlined skin, firm flesh, and slender bodies, believed their looks to be woefully substandard and “gross,” while I viewed them as youthful perfection. They focused only on their imperceptible flaws, and each seemed to suffer major distress and insecurity.

Then it hit me—no way would I ever want to go back there! Mercifully, I now benefited from the buffer of several decades between my present reality and my own teenage years. Remembrance of that time had, thankfully, softened into bits and pieces and the hazy mists of recollections from long ago. The conversation I was now overhearing, however, struck me in my gut as it evoked my own teen feelings of self-consciousness, inadequacy, and major, painful mood swings.

How grateful I became in my eavesdropping-induced reveries to realize that I now enjoyed the wonders of full-fledged menopause! My days passed pleasantly and productively, and I enjoyed my many activities. I no longer experienced hormonal moodiness, nor did I obsess over every perceived slight, omission, or inadvertent social snub. I had ceased my slavish need to please others and even learned to say “no” when it suited me. I was more assertive, more confident, and far more self-possessed than ever before. I realized, with a rush of joy, that I really and truly liked myself!

Even more, I recognized how happy I was with my well-worn, puckered, and full-figured body. This remarkable organism had experienced love, borne a child, remained healthy, and served me well all these years. In fact, I became so enthralled with myself that I decided to venture out of my hiding place and strut down the hallway to that three-way mirror in all my vibrating glory!

So, taking as deep a breath as possible, given the crushing force of the swimsuit, I parted the curtains and marched regally down to the mirror. The girls were just leaving and walked by me with nary a glance. There were no smirks or rolls of the eyes. They were far too engaged in their own conversation to even notice me.

When I later approached the checkout with my selected suit, I recognized that the cashier was a woman about my age. As she removed the plastic sensor, she remarked: “This one is really attractive. With your coloring, I bet it looks great on you.”

“Well, thank you,” I replied. “I’m really pleased.”

And, as I left the store I realized that, in every fiber of my being, I truly was.

Mary Eileen Williams

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