Confessions from the Fitting Room: Searching for a Swimsuit

In the 1920s this was considered sexy and risqué. I think I was born in the wrong era.
It began last week in J.Crew. I rushed in at lunch hoping to find a suit as I had done in the past. But in the past I was 30 pounds thinner. And now finding a bathing suit isn’t a rush in kind of thing. I found one in my size 14 (the biggest size available) and entered a fitting room. I peeled off my clothes and shimmed, shook and squeezed into the polka dot suit I was so certain would fit.

It didn’t. 

The moment after you just finished trying on a bathing suit at J Crew & right before walking out of the dressing room feeling defeated you overhear a woman request something in a “extra extra small.”

There is something about the fitting room that makes me feel vulnerable. Standing alone, staring in the mirror with every flaw exposed. It’s easy to hate your body standing semi-naked in front of a 3-way mirror and under the glare of fluorescent lighting. And in those seconds between changing out of items that I want but don’t fit and putting back my own – I silently berate myself. 

Over the weekend, I asked Joseph to drive me to the Athleta in Vernon Hills. (The Vernon Hills Shopping Center is in a pretty swanky neighborhood of Westchester). I’ve been eyeing the Athleta swim collection since last year. But last year, I refused to buy a new suit until I lost weight. This year, I decided that was stupid. I have to accept and shop for the body I have now. Not the body I want to have some day. 

It wasn’t even noon when I walked into Athleta. I wandered around, picking up things along the way. I thumbed through the racks searching for my size among the many many XXS.

The woman running the fitting room, was attending to someone else so I put myself in a room. I spent the next twenty or so minutes trying on suit after suit. Not once did the woman in charge of the fitting room come over to see if I needed help. I wouldn’t have been bothered by it, had I not heard how overly attentive she was with the other customer in the fitting room. 

After finding a suit that I liked, I asked the woman if she could bring me another size. She brought it over a few minutes later but never bothered to check back. I could still hear her helping the other customer and then I heard them exchange goodbyes. At this point, I was the only person in the fitting room and still the woman didn’t see if I needed assistance.

When I was done, I left the items I didn’t want in the fitting room (I typically don’t do that but I was frustrated) and walked out with two swim bottoms and one top. I wanted to buy another and was going to search for my size. I glanced over at the woman in the fitting room who was hanging up clothes and she looked at me without saying a single word. 

With my items still in my hand, I circled the sales floor once again. Still no one offered any assistance or even a greeting. There were maybe 4 to 5 customers in the entire store – all looking like they stepped off the pages of the Athleta catalog. Those women were being helped. But me? Dressed in baggy boot cut jeans and converse. I was invisible.

Was I being ignored because I was Latina? Because I did not fit the image of their customer demographic? Or because they could tell I didn’t live in the neighborhood? Maybe a little of all three.

Finally I walked out, tossing the items I would have purchased on a table. Because why should I help that store make its goal or UPT for the day. I already knew my size and I knew what I wanted – I could easily order it online if I wanted.

I worked retail for many years. I was even a Gap manager. I don’t expect a greeting within 5 minutes but in some stores, I do expect some level of customer service – even a weak attempt will suffice. Shopping for a bathing suit can be frustrating, it would have been nice to have been offered some help. And walking into the fitting room to try on swim suits is tough, I have enough of my own body issues to get over, I don’t need to feel judged by the people who work there too.

Last summer, I went without a new bathing suit. We didn’t go to the beach and the few times we went to the pool – I didn’t get in. (Yes, I was that mom sitting on the sidelines, fully dressed.) When we went to Sesame Place I let Joseph do the water rides with Norrin while I watched from the beach chair. And I felt bad because Norrin wanted to swim and play in the water with me and his dad. This year, we’re heading to Disney World. We’ll return to Sesame Place and probably hit a few other water parks. I don’t want my insecurities to keep me from spending time with my son.

I need a swim suit (or two) that I could feel good in – one that is made of quality material that won’t pill after a few wears. One that allows me the coverage and comfort I need to run around after an 8 year old kid. And so the search for that suit continues…

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  1. says

    The Lands End and LL Bean catalogs are your friends. Seriously. Provided you are honest and accurate when you take your measurements — and you'll need to take a bazillion measurements — the swimsuit you order will not only fit, you'll look hot in it.

    I say this a woman who is, um, well-endowed and who had never, every been able to find a cute and properly supportive swimsuit before.

    (Ordering also means you get to skip the changeroom!).

    • says

      I keep hearing about Lands End. I actually did order a swimsuit from Athleta – I did like one suit I tried on in the store. It was 2 piece. The shorts felt good and were a flattering cut. And the top was forgiving. It's not really the color I wanted but it was in my size. I still want another suit so I still have some searching to do.

  2. says

    Since Saturday I've been in communication with Athleta via Twitter. They have apologized and I am thankful they recognize that my experience is not how they want their customers to feel. And hope it's a learning experience for their employees to look beyond what customers may look like – money is money and it doesn't matter who's holding it.

  3. says

    I feel your frustration! I'm searching for a swimsuit myself and it's a daunting experience. One of the perks of social media is that you can call retailers out and you get a quick response. I had a similar experience at Tiffany's. I was in search of a gift for my mother. I already knew what I wanted to buy but waiting for the sales rep to look my way took a while. I was in work attire and perhaps because I'm Latina she assumed I couldn't afford anything there. Meanwhile some hippy tourists with birkenstocks and cut off shorts passed by and she was eager to help them. They were just going in to Tiffany's for the experience. SMH. That was my first and last purchase there. Hubby bought me a bracelet but I will never purchase anything from them again.

    BTW – you sure don't look like a 14! Have you tried Macy's? I once got a swimsuit at Target that I loved. Old Navy is hit or miss. Good luck with your search!

  4. says

    Oh Amiga! Try being plus size we should shop together maybe they will help you first! or ignore us both! Either way we can keep each other company! Buying a swimsuit should be fun and create excitement for the places you will visit and get to wear it at

  5. says

    Hi my name is Julie and I ran across your post when i was doing some research online for a presentation on what women want in the fitting room. Thanks for sharing. I am a manager of a Lane Bryant store and am also a size 14. I'm confident we have some fabulous swimwear that would I'm sure meet your needs. I actually bought 2 this year myself. I'm not sure what area you are in and you probably have a suit already but I would try visiting us in the future.


  1. […] gone up and down over the last decade. I’ve struggled with body image and self-esteem – the fitting room mirror has become my enemy.  To make myself feel better, I bid farewell to those before mom jeans that I’ve […]

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