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60, and still about the teeny weeny

KATHLEEN CLARY MILLER, a freelance writer in San Juan Capistrano, has completed her memoir, "The Queen of Second Chances."

‘THE BIKINI TURNS 60 this summer,” I announced in the dressing room to my lithe, 21-year-old daughter. She paused in her attempt to secure the thread-like strap around her back and looked at my reflection in the full-length mirror.

“Reeeally?” As she tightened the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bows anchored at her hips, I caught her look -- confounded and a bit concerned. Might this potential purchase not be on the cutting edge, especially if her mother had worn one?

“We’re at Gap Body,” she said, as if to reassure herself that that made it OK.

“I had one exactly like that,” I said, smiling. Despite a recent Mervyn’s survey of customers that revealed 68% of women shoppers would rather clean bathrooms than try on swimsuits, we were enjoying ourselves -- or I was, because I wasn’t the one trying them on.

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“And I looked so good in it!” I added. Such uncharacteristic braggadocio was, in part, vanity as I grasped for yesterday. The rest was rightful claim to ownership. After all, I was alive -- albeit just 5 years old -- when the skimpy two-piece made its formal debut at a Paris fashion show on July 5, 1946. Frenchman Louis Reard wasn’t the first to come up with a small swimsuit. Some say wall paintings dating to 1600 BC show women in two-piece bathing garments. Reard’s contemporary, Jacques Heim, also designed a two-piece suit he called the Atome (after the then-smallest known particle of matter), but Reard was the one who dropped the bottom half below the navel.

I wasn’t thinking of any of those suits as I sat behind my daughter, my unnipped and untucked midlife torso long ago having surrendered skimpy and embraced full coverage. “It was bright yellow -- when I was 20,” I said to her. A very good year -- the August when I loved 21-year-old John, a tennis player and body surfer. In the Polaroid photograph his sister took of us on the beach at Del Mar, there I stand -- tall, tan, young and lovely. That girl from Ipanema had nothing on me. In that one glorious instant captured on film I am at my peak (the one I thought would last forever) -- my hair spills down my back like spun gold, and my skin is bronzed.

This was the single, solitary summer when my stomach was magically concave. My back flat on the beach towel, my hip bones would lift the bikini edges, ever so enticingly. John was quite the gentleman when he averted his gaze and rescued me with a towel and T-shirt after an exceptionally tumultuous wave washed my top to shore.

“Shouldn’t you tie a double knot?” I asked my daughter as she pranced around the dressing room for the view from every possible angle.

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“We don’t wear them in the ocean, Mom.” It was true; I’d also read that 85% of swimsuits never touch the water. It must have been different during those Beach Boys summers. Either that, or I was one of the other 15%, and clueless.

After we returned home with our purchases, in an effort to prove to my doubting daughter that I too had once enjoyed my moment in the sun, I searched high and low for the photograph. It must have been lost to some overstuffed drawer or discarded when John didn’t last, like the moment I was made for a bikini. It’s just as well, I tell myself. One should never measure attractiveness on the outside, especially this late in the game -- although in this SoCal, sculpted culture, that’s no easy resolution.

I remind myself that it’s all relative. Last week, when I walked into the kitchen dressed for my exercise regime in Lycra shorts to my knees and three-quarter-length sleeved shirt, my 89-year-old father looked up from his cereal.

“Are you going for a swim?”

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I realized that he had lived many years before the bikini was baptized, and in his youthful reverie, my outfit was the revolutionary, alluring answer to bathing apparel.

Hmmm. I wonder if Gap Body -- and the boys -- would buy that.


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