Originally published in the Suburban Trends by North Jersey Media Group, August 2013
Once the adolescent days of a fearlessly bared summer body have passed, our physical image becomes subject to criticism by friends, family, mass media, and even ourselves.
Because of this, buried in my bottom dresser drawer is a brand new bikini.
I bought it at the beginning of the season—a sort of motivation to get into shape. Numbers on the scale notwithstanding, I’ve definitely slimmed down. I’ve been trying to eat healthier, stress less (if that’s possible), and work out more often. Still, that bikini sits where it lay untouched.
To bikini or not: A daring personal decision
Wearing a bikini is a daring personal decision—one that was much easier when I was nine or ten…. Back when self-esteem was a word I scarcely understood; when lack of curves was neither good nor bad; when a beach day was more about fun than who looked better than whom. Today, as a mother of two young children, the definition of bikini goes much further than what’s lying in my dresser drawer.
I’m not sure what the allure of a bikini is. Maybe it’s the comfort, minimal tan lines, or how quickly they air-dry after swimming. I never considered one a measure of health or beauty until becoming a new mom, when I made fitting into one my fitness goal.
Four years later, part of me still hopes I’ll be able to wear it in a couple weeks when we take our family vacation. I know I’m essentially healthy, and that I look great, but when I look in a mirror I’m not always convinced.
The smaller the suit, the bigger the baggage
We pack so much emotional baggage into a bathing suit as if the less clothing we wear the more we’re required to carry. Instead of simply asking, “does it fit?” or “do I look good in it?” we ask, “am I tan enough, is my skin clear enough? Am I too old to wear this? Can I find a coordinating cover-up?”
The baggage increases as we head to the beach. At every glance, there are beautiful bodies in beautiful bathing suits (hopefully never in the same one we’re wearing) and the temptation to compare can be hard to overcome. How difficult it is to see another mother rocking the bikini in a way I never could. How difficult it is not to judge her, not to judge myself, not to care if anyone is judging me. Worse is judging the woman heavier than me, who is rocking the bikini simply by having the guts to put it on.
Embracing a fearlessly bared summer body
A few weeks ago I saw a beautiful Polynesian woman in a brightly colored two-piece. She was certainly not skinny, yet while I stood on the shore with my arms crossed over my belly, she swam in the waves more comfortable in her skin and in her clothes than I have ever been.
Which makes me wonder—what exactly gets stuffed into a bathing suit? Certainly more than our bodies. Without a doubt, self-esteem and confidence. Often visions of bathing suits past. Sometimes even the ability to see others as beautiful. Definitely the ability to see ourselves as beautiful. A determination not to judge or be judged ourselves.
And I wonder if by shedding the preconceived notions of what we “should” look like, we lose more than we ever could in pounds.
I bet that beautiful Polynesian woman slid into her bikini much more easily than I wiggle into mine. Not because of a number (on the scale, or on the tag) but because she obviously didn’t carry the baggage I do. Instead, she exuded the confidence and comfort in her own skin that made me smile and honestly say, “I love your suit.”