Summer, this balmiest of seasons, evokes sunny scenes of kids running through sprinklers, smoky whiffs of charcoal grills, soft sensations of waves lapping bared toes and sweet sounds of crickets on steamy starlit nights.

But summertime is not all popsicles and dandelions. Actually, this beloved season heralds an event that strikes dread in the hearts of women like me.

No, I’m not talking about innocuous summer pests like blood-sucking mosquitoes. I’m not referring to nuisances such as hairdo-wrecking humidity. I’m not even referencing the annoying obligation of vacationing with relatives.

I’m talking about — brace yourselves, ladies — bathing suit shopping.

After nine months of covering our delicate and sometimes ample flesh with layers of protective clothing and binding spandex, we women are expected to abruptly strip down and let it all hang out.

Social mores dictate that at the beach or pool, I should don an itsy-bitsy garment that exposes almost everything. However, after birthing three large babies and two decades of yo-yo dieting, my abdomen has more rolls than a Mega Pack of Cottonelle. I can barely (pun intended) stomach (pun intended again) the idea of a one-piece.

A bikini? Entirely out of the question.

Thus, every year, I am on a quest to find a new suit for the summer season that lifts, separates, covers and conceals. Of course, these are generally the skirted kind worn by older women with bunions and flowered swim caps who play bridge on Tuesdays and clip denture cream coupons. However, I am determined to buy a garment that does not appear to have been purchased with a senior discount.

So, I hit the local department store, grab an assortment of bathing suits with a combination of style and function and head for the dressing room.

Ah, the dressing room. That bastion of garish fluorescent lighting and fun house mirrors, where women come to hate themselves. I hang the plastic number given to me by the attendant on one hook, the bathing suits on the other, and begin to undress.

Federal law requires (or maybe just a local ordinance ... either way, I’m fairly certain you can get arrested for violating it) that one must wear underwear when trying on bathing suits in the store dressing room. However, it is next to impossible to fully appreciate a bathing suit when one is wearing it over a pair of humongous cotton briefs like mine. So I subject myself to the moment that every woman on earth dreads — under the unforgiving fluorescent lights, I face the mirror, stripped down to nothing but my large Jockeys for Her.

No matter that I undress at home every day of my life, I am always shocked by what I see in a department store dressing room mirror. I gasp audibly as my mind races, “What!? Why is that so spongy? Is that a dent in my thigh? When did those get down there? Is that wiggling? Is this hanging over? Seriously? Good Lord!”

Traumatized, I contemplate giving up on buying a new bathing suit, but always persevere when I remember that the worn-out elastic from last year’s suit gives me a wedgie. One after the other, I squirm and wiggle my way into those little Lycra instruments of torture, hoping to find one that does not trigger my gag reflex.

Three suits accentuate my paunch. Another highlights my back fat. A tummy control suit nearly ruptures my spleen. One shows my armpit chicken fat. Another gives me “old lady cleavage.” And one has underwire that I fear might puncture my lung.

Finally, I find an ultra-supportive suit that is both flattering and has the added bonus of allowing me to breathe by taking frequent shallow gasps.

Eventually, I emerge from the dressing room, battered and broken, but not defeated. I toss the suit to the cashier, relieved that I have found a garment in which to enjoy the rejuvenating warmth of summer. My bathing suit shopping ordeal is finally over, and I survived.

At least until next year.

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: Email:

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