One of the greatest fears facing women in our country isnÕt highly recognized. For example, when TV's Discovery Health Channel polled 1,000 adults, snakes topped the fear list (25 percent), followed by fears of being buried alive (22 percent), heights (17 percent), being bound or tied up (15 percent), and drowning (14 percent).

No one mentioned trying on bathing suits for the upcoming summer. While it's one of the greatest fears facing women, it also seems to bring out the best in us. No matter how much weight we have gained during the winter, no matter how familiar we have become with potato chips, we steadfastly and optimistically believe that the color black or vertical stripes will cover all evidence of overeating and lack of exercise.

Keeping one's balance in a department store fitting room while trying to squeeze what could easily resemble a side of beef into two or three ounces of spandex is another matter. If women designed fitting rooms, trying on a bathing suit would be a much more positive experience.

Slenderizing mirrors, not unlike the elongating, fun-house mirrors in amusement parks, would become commonplace. In addition, there would be no three-way mirrors to surprise customers from behind when they least expect it.

Under the theory that what we can't see can't hurt us, all fitting rooms would be dimly lit with 10-watt bulbs.

The fitting rooms would be extra spacious, so elbows, knees, and other body parts wouldn't collide with the walls, subconsciously reminding the customer of how a sardine in a can or a bull in a china shop must feel.

All size tags would mysteriously disappear or else size tags in bathing suits would be decreased by one or two sizes. With the latter marketing strategy, a size 10 bathing suit would actually be a size 14.

Fitting rooms for single-digit sizes and fitting rooms for double-digit sizes would be placed so far apart in a store that they could just as easily be on different planets.

On the rare occasions that women would dare to model bathing suits outside the fitting rooms, specially trained store employees, posing as shoppers, would shower the brave model with compliments.

"You know, with those polka dots, you really look like Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman.' "

"That swimsuit is spectacular on you!" ("Breathtaking" would be a poor adjective choice. In many cases, suits are so tight that breathing is impossible.)

The fitting rooms would be off-limits to friends and relatives of shoppers, small, inquisitive children and salesclerks who poke their heads through doorway openings and sweetly ask, "How are we doing?"

Last but not least, petite sales clerks would be assigned to women trying on bathing suits in sizes 0-10. The rest of us would have full-bodied salesclerks who feel comfortable with who they are and their own bodies. The two groups of bathing suit buyers would not be referred to as "thin and svelte" and "big and plump," but simply as "abnormal" and "normal."

Full-bodied salesclerks would know the advantages of basic black and vertical stripes and the evils of floral prints and large geometric designs. They would understand the fear of trying on bathing suits.

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