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December 10, 2019

Tits Over Toes~My Memoir Of Hammercurls, Homeschooling, and Hemorrhoids~Chapter 3 Suit Lady

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.

 

Suit Lady

 

I drill Talulah on her six and seven times tables, make her listen to CBC news, and ask her to help me navigate with Google Maps on the hour-long drive out to Langley, a land of strip malls, churches, trucks, and farms. Yelena’s implored me to buy my competition bikini from Suit Lady; even though it’s in the boonies. 

 The end of February feels far too early to think about buying my bikini, but apparently, it takes up to three months to make a custom suit, so here I am driving through deep slush puddles, worrying about how much this drive is costing in gas.

Suit Lady is tucked into the end of a commercial park between a highway and a farrier’s supply shop, the kind of place that specializes in equine hoof care. I’m thrilled to see the farrier place. I’ll take Talulah in after my bikini fitting; maybe we can get a tour. That’ll alleviate some of the guilt I feel from dragging her bikini shopping on a Wednesday morning when I’m supposed to be educating her. 

Once inside Suit Lady, I run my hand along a rack of cotton-lycra booty shorts and glance at the shelf of Lucite heels. Rhinestone earrings and bracelets sparkle in the display case that doubles as the front desk. Autographed posters of female bodybuilders line the white slat walls; their bodies are formidable. 

Colleen, the proprietor of Suit Lady, introduces herself, then asks why Talulah isn’t in school. I hear this so often that most of the time I lie and tell people she’s got a Professional day at school, (meaning the day off for the students.) That way I don’t have to field all the inane questions and comments about socialization. But today I’m too exhausted to lie, so I tell Colleen the truth. I homeschool Talulah because she hates school more than anything on the planet (her words). 

 Colleen looks at me for a moment, then turns to Talulah.

 “Come on, I’ll show you around upstairs.”

 The stairwell walls are plastered with autographed posters of female bodybuilders. One, in particular, catches my eye. Maria Sharpe. Ripped as she is, she still exudes classic femininity. She’s tall and has short platinum hair like mine. She’s my new body goal!

“You have implants?” Colleen asks as we step into her second-floor bikini boutique.

“Uh, no. I don’t have implants.”

 Implants? Who do I look like? Pamela Anderson? I can’t believe Colleen thinks I look like the kind of woman who has implants. I have nothing against implants, I’m just not the kind of person who would get implants. Implants are for other women. I’m a yoga teacher, how would it look if I got implants? It would fly directly in the face of the whole love yourself as you are message I teach to not only my students, but my daughters as well.

Competition bikinis, I learn, range from about $500 (with almost no bejewelling) into the $1000s. Bejewelling is the term for the tiny crystals glued onto the fabric. They come in different shapes, sizes, and quality, like diamonds. Yelena bejewels her own bikinis with Swarovski crystals, but she’s a special kind of driven. The cost also depends on the type of connectors used.

Connectors, also known as joiners, are the rhinestone chains that act as bikini strings, the ones around the hips, between the breasts, the ones that tie up around the neck and the back. The thicker and more intricate the joiners, the more expensive the suit. 

The selection of fabrics and joiner options Colleen shows me makes my head spin. There’s plain joiners, infinity joiners, drop joiners, fancy joiners. It’s all too much, so I tell Colleen I have a $600 budget.

She raises her brows and suggests we begin at the rentals rack. For a few hundred dollars I can rent a bikini for the weekend, but unfortunately, the NPAA competition is only ten weeks out and most of the suits in my size are already spoken for. 

We head to the consignment rack. I don’t know where to start, so Colleen tells me to get undressed in the fitting room and begins to hand me bikinis. Talulah tries to help me keep the tops and bottoms sorted. Bathing suit shopping suddenly seems civil compared to this. At least bathing suits have built-in tummy-slimming features, adjustable straps, and full bottoms; these tiny squares of fabric are barely big enough to cover my nipples, let alone provide any kind of physique enhancement. 

As I struggle to tie up tops and squeeze into postage stamp size bottoms, I try to incorporate some math into this field trip for Talulah. I ask her to figure out the difference in price between the various bikinis, which ones would be the most economical—a new word for her—but the sequins and rhinestones distract her. How can I expect her to focus on math while her mother is naked in front of her? I realize the real teaching today will be in the form of a life lesson—I’m just not sure what it is. What I do know is that it’s going to be a loaded one, the kind that will come back to bite me on the ass one day. 

I try on a glamorous red bikini, much like the one Yelena wore at her last competition, but the color makes me look pale and pink-hued at the same time. I try a pink one and a blue one and a black one, but Colleen shakes her head at each one. 

I ask her how she started this business in the first place. She tells me she lives close by and used to make figure skating costumes for her daughter, then for her daughter’s friends. Word spread. she cornered the competition bikini market and hasn’t looked back.

  Finally, Colleen hands me a gorgeous emerald green bikini. The color I had in mind when Yelena had me visualize myself on stage in a green bikini. The color of the heart chakra. It’s meant to be mine. But it’s even smaller than the other ones I tried. 

The joiners dig into my hips and my flesh rolls over top of them. The bottoms are no wider than a mandarin. I still need to lose almost twenty-pounds before competition day. 

“How am I ever going to fit into this?” 

“Don’t worry,” says Colleen. “You’re on track. I’ve been doing this a long time.  I know what happens. You’ll probably have to come back here a day or two before competition to tighten your bikini up.”

I laugh, snort actually. There is no way this suit will ever need tightening up. 

Although the top is tiny, it isn’t padded, so my breasts droop. They don’t spill over the top and look perky like the women’s breasts in the posters.  I tug at them, pull them up to try to get them to sit higher.

 “Not to worry,” Collen says. “I can build you boobs.”

She stuffs silicone cutlet inserts into the top. My breasts look better, not perfect, but better. I look at the price tag: $660. 

“That suit cost over $1200 new,” Colleen says. “It’s been here for a while, that’s why you’re getting it for such a good price. 

 Lucky me, I’m getting a bargain. 

Colleen’s next client arrives so Talulah and I head downstairs. 

After grabbing Talulah a snack from the car, I call Hubby and tell him I’ve gone over budget. 

“I haven’t even bought the heels or jewelry yet, what should I do?”

 He laughs, one of those “well there’s nothing we can do about it now” laughs and tells me to go ahead and put it on his credit card. We’ll figure it out later. 

Only later do I realize I didn’t even contemplate buying all this stuff on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. It’s my first competition, and like most things in life, I learn from experience.

There are two types of Federation-approved heels, with or without an ankle strap. I go for the mules without the ankle strap, and Talulah helps me pick out a pair of rhinestone chandelier earrings and three bracelets. I used to own heaps of this jewelry when I was a New Wave teen and dressed to emulate Madonna and Cindy Lauper. Too bad I didn’t have a crystal ball back then to see myself at fifty, I would have hung on to it. Then again, it’s probably best I wasn’t able to see decades into the future, because this is not the life I visualized for myself.

I was sure I’d be a writer, most likely a journalist like Barbara Walters or maybe a screenplay writer. I’d live a fabulous kid-free life in New York or London, jet-set around the world, do humanitarian work in my spare time. Instead, I am the mother of two girls, twelve years divorced from one man, fourteen years into living with another. I live in the same city I grew up in and make a living by teaching yoga to kids in cold school gymnasiums. Where and how did my life slip so sideways? 

I snap back to the present when I hear the young woman at the cash register say, “Do you own a waist trainer?” She turns out to be Colleen’s daughter Rebecca. “Most competitors use one.”

Yelena’s opinion on waist trainers is neither here nor there. It wouldn’t hurt to wear one she’d told me, but it wasn’t a replacement for hard work. Suit Lady sells two kinds. The first one I try is the more traditional corset-type, made of stiff material and joined with dozens of tiny eyelet clasps. There’s no way I could put this on without an assistant. The second one is made by Dripfit, a local company. It’s basically a wide neoprene cummerbund that joins with Velcro. Easy to use and comfortable. 

Rebecca says that to create a more thermogenic result, I need to slather the accompanying DripFit cream onto my stomach and back. I let Talulah pick between the lemon and caramel scented creams. She picks caramel, no surprise there. 

“Don’t forget to get a tube of Bikini Bite. It’s an indispensable part of your backstage kit.” Colleen’s daughter hands me a narrow tube that looks like a tube of Polysporin or cold sore cream. “It literally glues your bikini to your butt.” 

I add the Bikini Bite to my pile and ask her if she competes. 

“No. I’d never have the guts to do what you ladies do.”

Because I am spending close to one thousand dollars (or rather Hubby is,) I get to select a pair of complimentary booty shorts to practice my posing in. There are two styles: tiny and tinier. Bigger than the bikini, but much skimpier than I would ever wear at the beach, or even in the bedroom. 

Rebecca notices me hesitate and offers her expert advice. “If you get the bigger ones you can wear them to the beach in the summer.”

***

A black Ford F-150 hauling a horse trailer pulls up outside the farrier as I am placing my purchases on the back seat of my Mitsubishi RVR. A woman about my age wearing scuffed Blundstones, muddy jeans and a thick wool shirt gets out; an Australian shepherd jumps out behind her. 

She carries a metal anvil so I hold the door to the farrier shop open for her. Instead of bikinis and booty shorts, it’s a vast array of blacksmith-type equipment, horseshoes, and other tools I’ve never seen before. I explain to the woman running the shop that I’m homeschooling my daughter, who happens to be an equestrian. Could we have a look around?

  Both the farrier and the sales associate are more than happy to take us into the three-story warehouse. There are multiple electric lifts and hundreds—maybe even thousands—of boxes of assorted horseshoes, nails and farrier supplies. 

I ask the farrier how she got into her line of work. I do this a lot, ask people how they ended up doing what they do. People’s life trajectories fascinate me, partly because I have a sliver of hope that they may tell me something I haven’t heard before. Perhaps they’ll offer me some breadcrumb of wisdom that may help me transform my life into the one I secretly hope for.

The farrier tells us she grew up on farms and always had horses. This vocation was a natural transition for her. She talks to Talulah about her riding, asks her if she owns her own horse. Like Talulah, this was also my dream when I was her age. I was an avid rider from eleven to fourteen. 

My friend Ingrid and I took three buses—over an hour each way—from Vancouver’s West End   to the exclusive equestrian neighborhood of Southlands, where the wealthiest people in the country lived and boarded their horses. We didn’t have the right sneakers or jeans or postal code, but we didn’t care. We loved horses and had the time of our lives. 

I half-leased a grey pony named Charlie and Ingrid’s mother, although a single parent on a tight budget, managed to buy Ingrid her own pony. In grade nine my parents pulled the plug on my riding; they couldn’t afford it anymore. I felt like I would die the day they told me I had to quit riding. How would I survive a life without horses? 

Ingrid moved closer to her horse and we parted ways. I drifted and tried to fill that hole with whatever distraction I could. Most often men and drugs. 

I still have the hope that one day I’ll live on a hobby farm. Talulah can have a pony, a pig, and a few goats. It’s an unrealistic dream, given that Hubby needs to be in the city for his job, and we can’t afford to buy an apartment let alone a farm, but still, it’s a faint hope I nurture. 

The farrier was a grounding distraction from the glitzy, externally focused energy of our Suit Lady experienced, and it made me realize that I don’t need to choose between being this person or that person. I can train for a bikini competition, and I can enjoy the freedom and connection to nature that comes from horseback riding.

I bought Talulah a horseshoe and drove back onto the freeway in the direction of home. She with her lucky horseshoe on her lap, me with a bag full of bikini. Both of us, deep in thought. 

 

 

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