Call them hams. Call them my milkers. They are thighs, mine, and these names are the blows two boyfriends dealt them. I was, admittedly, ill prepared. Though spoken in the spirit of loving jest, the remarks nevertheless cut me. Let’s agree they cut me. Years on, I still secret my thick, pale burdens beneath denim and leather. Spring comes, summer’s in the offing: swimsuit season. My friends acquire Charlie- or Speedo-brand Speedos. I waver.
For much of my adult life, I have worn swim trunks disparate in cut but united by the fact that I didn’t buy them. At age twenty, a smallish, light-gray pair appeared in the stairwell of my Bushwick, Brooklyn apartment building, on a landing where tenants discarded junk for their neighbors’ taking. Young, shameless, brave, and, above all, cheap, I took them. Six years later, a black Polo Ralph Lauren swimsuit came into my possession courtesy of my roommate—or, more specifically, her boyfriend, whose body the not-quite-knee-length suit did not fit. In between, I paid bottom dollar for fast-fashion options from Topman and ASOS.
By age twenty-eight, something had changed. I was older, perhaps wiser, vaccinated, and ready to invest, at last, in a finer, hypothetically more flattering swimsuit, albeit one that still complemented my particular neuroses. I had become a gay man who loved his heaven-sent body and a gay man who loathed his rotten body. I therefore required apparel that would split the difference between showing off my delightful goods, which everyone wanted to see, and modestly presenting my spoiled milkers, with which I encumber onlookers solely because the season’s pools and beaches obligate me to do so.
Short but not briefs, loose yet supportive, blue and also green, hinting at bulge without giving print, with tiny inlets at the sides of each thigh pushing a centimeter extra of skin into the sunlight: Here was a swimsuit as ambivalent about its form as I was professing to be about mine; here were CDLP’s Swim Shorts in Deeper Lagoon. The only trouble was the price. Though I had not spent money on swimwear in years, I also had not saved any funds that would license me to spend $159. I did, however, have a new credit card and new credit limit.
CDLP swimwear’s other selling point is that it’s good for the environment—or certainly no worse than my polyester Topman suit. The swim shorts are made of 100 percent Econyl, an endlessly recyclable nylon synthesized from garbage carpets, fishing nets, and other industrial plastics that clutter landfills and oceans.
The idea that ethical consumption is, if not a scam, then an inadequate solution to climate change by now borders on axiomatic, even if its profiteers can’t admit as much. “Our appetite to create new products and buy new products is infinite. The planet’s resources aren’t,” Econyl’s homepage sagely observes, before insisting, “But it’s okay because we can have both: new products and a better environment.” (Farther down, Econyl advertises products adorned with labels like ethical labor, eco design, craftsmanship, and made in italy. Econyl is owned by Aquafil, an Italian company.) The labels give the lie. Whatever their real relationship is to waste reduction and sustainable manufacturing processes, they, like Econyl, also function to help shoppers suspend their disbelief—in the narrative proposing ethical consumption as a salvific force—long enough to enter their credit card information.
So what should we do? Jo Livingstone, writing in The New Republic about “the impossibility of doing no harm while shopping” for groceries, answers the question frankly: “I have no idea.” One option is to sip the corporate Kool-Aid just enough to get a light sugar rush: because CDLP markets its swimwear as sustainably produced, the shorts allow me to feel good about having bought them over a pair manufactured using unrecycled nylon. And if that feeling evaporates almost instantly, at least I can look hot—or possibly not—in them. Right?
Hotness haunts us—not Adonis’s heat but that of climate change, née global warming. We perform high-wire acts to get by; there are few other options. If I recycle, we murmur to ourselves, never finishing the sentence. If I eat no meat. If we believe we could do more, on an individual level, to change things, we might feel less helpless and small. We might be given to overinvesting in narratives of personal responsibility, in which something other than a miracle—of relentless collective action, of the rapid advancement and adoption of new technologies, of a socialist God, of merciful aliens—halts the advance of the overwhelming thing. And yet that investment—a sort of bit we perform, its bit-ness pendulating from the front to the back of the mind—has its purposes. It fills space and time, not unlike my body and my supposedly troubled relationship to the reportedly elephantine appendages that motor it. And the bit affords me an inch of agency, however illusory, and so an inch of pleasure. It’s something to play with.
So, in my hither-and-thither CDLP Swim Shorts in Deeper Lagoon, I accept the thing rather than shy away from it. I give thanks for the bit—for all bits: for aesthetic and moral vanity, for pay-per-praxis, for hope, the bit that is “the bit.” What I’m avoiding is wearing a Speedo.
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