Back in July last summer I went swimsuit shopping and it was a complete disaster. Part of the problem was that waiting until July to buy a swimsuit leaves you with hardly any choices to pick from--except, of course all the suits that no one else wanted to buy. And it's hard enough to find the right swimsuit without having to select from all the sad, rejected suits that looked bad on everyone else. This year I vowed would be different. Not only would I shop earlier, but I would shop smartly--and lay the groundwork for the process long before I even set foot in the store. I started polling friends who were also moms: how did they shop for swimsuits? Was there some secret, successful, strategy they had stumbled upon? Most of the people I polled do as I often do: they stumble, reluctantly and with clenched stomach, into the swimsuit section of some store where they blindly grab suits off the rack and try them on, dark despair grabbing at their hearts, and sending their self esteem plummeting with every new suit they try on. One friend shops months ahead of time--from the comfort of her home office. She orders several suits online, waits for the to arrive, tries them on in the comfort of her own bedroom--and in front of her favorite flattering mirror--then returns the ones that don't work. Another friend sets aside an entire day for going from store to store--strategically reassessing her options while at the same time keeping careful notes on what worked for her, and what didn't. Another friend drives to meet her sister at some nearby outlets and they turn it into a fun afternoon, making the fun part the emphasis, and relegating the actual shopping to the very periphery of it all. Swimsuit shopping is like dealing with a bully--take the wind out of their sails and they'll soon tire of picking on you. (Ha, swimsuit shopping--I'm having FUN, so there!) So last week, while my neighbor/friend and I were planting tomatoes together (she has sun for a garden, but no gardening know-how. I have the know-how, but no sun) she suggested, out of the blue, that we go swimsuit shopping together. I hesitated. Would she have to see me in a suit? Would including someone else in the process prove too traumatic? Could I break away from the solitary practice swimsuit shopping has come to mean to me? Would she be too nice and tell me everything looked good? But we made a date and on Saturday morning I left Scott to take the kids to the flea market and my neighbor and I headed off together. Three stores and two failing hearts later we made it to the mall, where we both lucked at long last upon the perfect suits. It took us only three hours from start to finish (with a quick mall eatery lunch thrown in) but the best part was we had done it and, with some luck, we wouldn't need to do it again for a long, long time (I've heard Land's End suits last forever). Here's what I learned along the way: 1. Swimsuit shopping with a friend IS a good idea. Not only did it feel good to have someone along with you who would give you some concrete feedback (unlike your small child who will always tell you how "boofital" and princess-like you look no matter what), but it helped to be able to laugh out loud at some of the suits 2. Do make it fun! Set aside a nice chunk of time. If you can't find a friend or relative to go with you, make a date with yourself. Treat yourself to a lunch, or a cup of coffee, and use it as a chance to regroup on your own. 3. Don't go swimsuit shopping if you're feeling less than good about yourself. In other words, don't go if you need a haircut, or you're sick, or tired, or just out of sorts. Since swimsuit shopping is usually a guaranteed downer for many women, don't start out feeling worse than you will along the way. 4. Try Land's End--but shop early. I've had friends swear by the Land's End suits. When I went last year in July all the good suits were gone and I couldn't find anything to suit me. What's the big deal with Land's End? I grouched to myself when I left Sears. But this year I was amazed at the selection, and the helpful staff waiting to size me up and point me in the direction of the perfect suit. If you're an internet shopper, their website even offers a virtual model--plug in your height, weight, hair color etc. and the suit you like and they will show you what it looks like. My only complaint is that the virtual model somehow doesn't manage to quite convey all the lumps and bumps and curves a real woman develops along the way. 5. Forget about the suits you used to buy. I used to get so hung up with thinking about the bikinis I used to wear, that I'd get even more depressed at the sight of myself in the dressing room mirror. But think about it this way: chances are you're not wearing the same styles of clothes you used to wear in college, or maybe even listening to the same music, or hanging out with the same friends, or even wearing your hair in the same style. Make this your mantra: "I am who I am"--beautiful inside and out, lumps and curves, and amazing new contours and all.