The Unapologetic Bikini - A Call to Action
As a 43-year-old mother of five, I had fallen into a trap I never thought I would: I had become a one-piece swimsuit wearer – don’t get me wrong, it’s cleverly designed as a two piece, I think they call it a “tankini,” because who has time to take off their entire swimsuit to go potty? Not THIS mom. But you see, as a child, I loved the water, I loved my bikinis, not because I thought I was all that, but because they made me feel fearless and like a mermaid. My slow crawl away from beloved bikinis may not seem like much to you, but to me, it represented something bigger and more subversive than a mere fashion choice.
At some point in time, I became apologetic about my body, and I hated it. You see, the extra fabric over my belly made the water feel colder and harder. Yes, “harder.” I remembered how “soft
” the water can feel, when you float the palms of your hands right on the surface of the water a
nd feel the surface tension, it is water, but it’s like silk, that used to be my favorite part of swimming, and I used to feel it all over my skin. That sensation is gone since I began publicly apologizing for my body. It was recent, in the past two years or so.
I went to Target to try on bikinis, and there, under the unforgiving florescent lights, I realized that I have a body unlike the women who grace the magazine covers. I felt ashamed. How dare I, with my white, pasty, cellulite riddled thighs that rub against one another constantly, and my jiggly mommy belly and side rolls, and - gasp! – back fat! How dare I show off that much skin! How dare I give my daughters and other little girls at the pool a less than photoshopped view of what real women’s bodies look like! So, I broke down and bought a tankini, with a skirted bottom. I tricked myself into thinking it was “modest” and at the same time, somehow “sexy,” because of the short skirt (which, by the way, I hate – it ends at the absolute widest part of my thighs). The first time I went into the pool, I realized I had made a mistake, but swimsuits are neither cheap nor returnable.
The skirt felt like I had fallen off the Titanic in a Victorian era gown, it slowed my progress through the water, pulling against me as I moved, like an angry toddler tugging on my leg as I try to escape daycare without tears, like trying to think under anesthesia, like trying to run, waist deep in molasses, in the winter (which I’ve never tried, but my depression has helped me visualize). The top wicked the cold water onto my belly so that I could no longer feel its softness, only its cold hardness. The entire experience of trying to swim in this tank top and skirt wase aversive to me, it ruined everything I loved about swimming. I longed for a bikini, but like so many moms, I struggled to spend money on myself, especially if I have something that is “good enough.” Especially when I didn’t deem my own body “good enough.” I looked around and notice most other moms had bought into the tankini, most also had skirted bottoms, they apologized too. We were sorry our bodies are not photoshopped perfection we have been sold so much that we live with a small seed of self-loathing blooming in our chests. We were sorry our breasts aren’t buoyant like the saline filled shells starlets wear up against their emaciated breastbones. We were sorry our thighs are so hot they can’t stop touching each other. We were sorry our bellies are smooshy, if we covered them with too much fabric, maybe we could be deemed fit to be in public.
Recently, I complained about photoshop. Not even Beyoncé looks like Beyoncé. How (the hell) are we supposed to assess our own bodies if we never see real women? And then, at the pool, as I was covered with too much fabric, publicly apologizing for my imperfect body, it happened.
There she was, shining like a beacon of hope, a young woman, large and curvy, with belly rolls and side rolls, and (gasp!) back fat and thighs that rub together, cellulite and pale skin, breasts too large that roll around in her bikini top.
Kids in the pool asked her to come in (she was their sitter), and she stood up, walked across the cool deck like a runway model on errands, and jumped into the pool. As she walked, everything jiggled, her squishy belly wiggled with each step, her thighs showed their weight. A little girl, staring at her, eyes wide with admiration, said, “I like your bikini!” Yes, she was wearing a bikini. She was showing all that skin. She was owning her perfectly imperfect REAL body, and she was no ashamed of it. She refused to apologize. And she was beautiful!
It hit me, like a rogue wave – I have been looking for real bodies so that I can have a role model. I have been longing to see what real female bodies look like after child birth, after aging, after walking the floor all night to sooth a sick child, after carrying groceries, after eating too many carbs, after living a big, full, juicy life.
All this time, I have apologized for my own body, in front of my own daughters, who think I am beautiful and perfect. I have covered it up and edited the lighting, I have covered my unwanted parts in fabric and glitter, used smoke and mirrors and refused to own the skin I’m in. I have apologized for my body.
In that moment, seeing that young warrior goddess at the pool, refusing to apologize for a perfectly imperfect and very real woman’s body, I realized I, too, was done. I will apologize no longer. My body is a real woman’s body, it is aged, it is squishy, it has dimples and veins that stick out too far, and jiggles when I move. I am soft, built for comfort, not for speed. My body is a favorite place for my children to snuggle when they need reassurance, comfort, or just a hug. I refuse to apologize for a body that made five whole human beings and nourished them for a total of 12 years. I refuse to apologize for my very real, perfectly imperfect body. No longer. From that point forward, I will be their role model. I will be a real body, an example of what aging well actually looks like. I will own my curves, my cellulite, my jiggly belly. If you see me at the pool, I’ll be walking the cool deck with everything jiggling every step, skin so pale you need eye protection to gaze upon me in direct sunlight, as if I am Kim K. arriving at the Met Gala. I am fierce, I am formidable. My body is amazing and I will own it.
We owe it to our daughters and to every other little girl out there to give them examples of how different women’s bodies are and how every one of them is beautiful and strong. We owe it to ourselves to take back our skin, our space, our self-esteem. Women, I call you to action (unless you really LOVE tankinis) WEAR A BIKINI – a really cute one. Wear a tankini, wear swim leggings, wear whatever the hell you want, but please do not apologize. You won’t look like Kate Upton. I’m sure not even Kate Upton looks like Kate Upton. You will look like you, and you will teach other little girls that it’s ok to look like them. More importantly, and most beautifully, you can enjoy swimming again – love the water, it is soft and playful. Love your skin, you are beautiful!