Beach Duds

I’ve been having a reckoning with my wardrobe.

It’s not the first time. I’ve done the gain-5-10-15-pounds-and-lose-it-again thing several times, usually on the timeline of gaining in winter, losing over summer. I tend to gain around my belly and hips, so the springtime closet changeover often means pants and shorts are too tight, tops mostly okay.

This year’s reckoning has been a bit different.

It was precipitated by packing for a beach trip, typically a joyful enterprise. I adore the beach. The month I spent living on Sanibel Island, Florida, some ten years ago counts as one of the highlights of my life, and Steve promised in the wedding vows he wrote to deliver me to sun and sand at least once a year. Those who know me well know I love the beach as much or more than I love, well, my clothes. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that over the years I’ve amassed a small beach wardrobe. It includes bathing suits, of course, but other pieces too: a green vintage wrap skirt appliqued with a glass of lemonade I bought in a thrift store on Sanibel. A turquoise ombre silk tunic top with delicate embroidery that makes me think of ocean waters. A teal cotton polka-dot button down from Target I like to tie over a bikini top in the same color. Some of my beachy items have sentimental value, like the mint pleated dress Steve bought me an hour before he proposed–probably largely to get me out of the store and walking on the beach so he -could- propose. And then there’s the pink halter dress I bought on my first solo trip to Ocracoke that’s traveled with me on every beach trip since.

Discovering that a number of these pieces don’t work with my new body has been hard.

It’s not simply a matter of weight. With all my swallowing issues, I’ve actually lost weight overall, and my pants, for once, are if anything too big. The challenges are my swollen left arm, discoloration and disfigurement of my neck, chest, and shoulder, and the ulcerated patch of skin above my left breast. My sausage arm simply doesn’t fit into the sleeves of some of my faves, so that’s a complete dealbreaker. And anything with much of a v-neck either calls attention to the redness and lumpiness of my skin, or reveals my port on the right and/or the scabby ick on the left. I know I could still wear those pieces, but I feel exposed in them, and I don’t like seeing other people’s pity or discomfort when they look at me. More than that, I dislike seeing those markers of illness myself when I look in the mirror, and it’s hard to feel pretty and confident when they’re on display.

So it’s been depressing, realizing I have to part with some of my beach favorites. It’s also sobering to realize how much my body has changed since September 2020, our last trip to the shore.

And that’s where the real reckoning is, of course. It’s never really about the wardrobe, is it? It’s about our relationships to our bodies, our feelings about them, our acceptance of or resistance to their changes. For me, that process is ongoing. I keep hoping my arm will shrink down at least a little, that my skin will heal. Things might improve some, but I know my body will never be the same as it was before cancer, before surgery, before chemo and radiation. That’s hard to accept.

I know it doesn’t help, regularly looking in my closet and feeling sad about the things I can’t wear. So maybe I’ll take this as an opportunity to weed out anything that doesn’t make me feel fabulous. I’m learning the shapes and styles that do flatter my new body, and I have one new dress that–even with a v-neck–makes me feel smashing.

And, I suppose, I now have an excuse to go shopping. Steve will be thrilled. 🙂