Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bit of Self-Acceptance

I recently took my daughter to the water park, which is not so unusual, it’s something we do a lot, but this time was different, because this time, I wore a bikini for the first time in 20 years.  Here’s the proof.

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Has anyone died? Are you guys ok? Can the world handle this? There’s a reason you’re looking at this picture, and that reason is hard for me to admit. Although I am a proud, body positive, radical feminist, it took a small push for me to have some tough conversations with myself, and though I am hesitant to admit it, the push came because I told my boyfriend a story the other night and he was like, “Wait, what?”  Don’t get me wrong though, I’m grateful he did.

The last time I wore a bikini I was 14, and I thought the sky blue halter top and boy short bottoms, with their tiny white and yellow sunflowers on them (thank you 90’s!) were camera-ready af.  I brought a little disposable 35mm with me to the beach, ready to look like a model from the Delia’s catalog, oblivious to the reality that was soon to come.

When I went to the store to pick up the prints of my photos a few days later (this story happened in the past, children), I was horrified to learn that I, although mentally a young Julia Stiles, was physically a little more Darla from Finding Nemo.  I had unknowingly developed the unwelcome gift of a belly. Thank you puberty!  The little pooch popped out maybe an inch over the top of those innocent bikini bottoms.  Harsh sunlight created a grim shadow over my braces, and seemed to expose every single red pimple and blackhead on my face, as well as every dimple of fresh cellulite on my body. Also, what was I thinking with that bob haircut?

I felt embarrassed.  As a little girl growing up in the south, I grew up wearing bikinis. I was cute, tan, thin, & blonde and was thus brought up to believe and fully expect that as I became a woman, tits and all, that I would grow up to look like a playboy bunny.  There were a lot of times over the years that I’d be made aware of my failure to achieve this lofty goal, but it didn’t take much more than the shame of those pictures to never risk wearing a bikini again.  

Also, I was a naturally self-conscious teenager in the 90’s.  My role models were self-hating women who smoked cigarettes to stay thin.  There was no mainstream fat acceptance movement.  I mean, I’m not telling the women of my generation any big secrets here.  Being a woman on this planet means you’re taught that fat is bad, that it’s pretty much the worst thing you can be, and that if you’re fat, you’re getting life wrong.  Should you be one of the millions of women who have acquired fat, you should cover it up, and there is no worse fat than belly fat.  There is only one kind of belly you can have, and that’s a flat one, like Julia Stiles.

As I grew up, my braces came off, my acne got better, my bob grew out, but my belly just got bigger.  Then I committed the cardinal belly sin of having a baby and getting stretch marks.  Bikinis were a bridge I was not ready to cross.

Back in the year 2017 though, my brand new boyfriend pleaded with me, “Babe, your curves were MADE for a bikini…”

“Haha,” I shyly whimpered, “but you know, what about my belly, honey?” (translation:  Don’t you know I’m a monster?)

I don’t quite know how to convey the depth and precision of my boyfriend’s eye roll.  He is the master of making me fall out over a raised eyebrow. I could gush for pages about how this guy loves me, but it all boils down to this.  He’s made it abundantly clear how he feels about my body, and spoiler alert, he’s into it.  He’s kind, affectionate, flirtatious, and loves me inside and out. If I have body insecurity, it’s coming from me, not him.

He’s also a smart, practical dude who sees things pretty clearly and has great instincts.  Oh, and did I mention?  He’s in extremely good shape.  He works out on his lunches, goes on 30 mile bike rides, runs forest trails in the July heat, and wins all his company volleyball tournaments.  You get the idea.  He’s an athlete.  He’s like, much better than me at this body sculpting thing, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think he really relates to my irrational fear of being kicked out of a water park for public indecency.

Nope, he just wants to see me in a bikini, and also go shopping for one with me and be in the dressing room.  How much feminist credibility do I lose by admitting how much I love that about him?

Listen, I know what I sound like.  I sound like a woman, who is trying to please her man. I sound like a woman who has been hiding for a couple of decades desperately seeking some male validation, wanting to bask in the warm objectifying glow of the male gaze.  I sound like a bad feminist, like a Bruno Mars song, like a grim porno plotline. “But babe, I love your body that you hate, so you should love it,” and then magically, a big male boner cured my self-hatred.  All I needed was a nice alpha man in my life right?

I promise you, I know what it looks like.

First things first though, it’s not like I never thought about wearing a bikini for 20 years. It’s not unthinkable.  I would say the whole bikini thing, is really just the final frontier in my quest for a healthy self-concept.  I’ve been chipping away at it for a while now.  I like bikinis.  I fully support and have tried on a few of the “fatkinis” they’ve been putting out when I go swimsuit shopping, but they don’t really do me any favors.  They tend to make body parts I’m already on the fence about look weirder (to me).  

I celebrate any woman who dares to bare in whatever way they feel comfortable, bikini or not, and I will high five you and take 45 insta-ready photos for you, but in my journey, I want to wear a bikini that is uncompromising.  I want to wear one that the straight size models are wearing.  I know that may be a detail that’s not worth fixating on.  None of this is, but that’s exactly why the time is now.  I don’t want to waste any more time caring one more second what anyone thinks about me in a bikini.  I have so many bigger fish to fry in life.  That’s why this is frankly, overdue, because it really shouldn’t matter that much.

I just want to live in my real body, not a future or past body, just the one that I’m in, in any way that I damn well please.  I am not one of those girls who thinks they’re ugly but actually looks like Gigi Hadid.  I’m a 34 year old single mother, who thinks she’s beautiful, inside and out, who is fighting for body positivity, for size inclusiveness, against fat-shaming, against misogyny, and who knows what she’s putting out into the world.

If I wear a bikini, I am wearing it with stretch marks, with rolls, with a pooch, and pale white skin that hasn’t seen a sunbeam since I was 14.  I’m doing something that a lot of people still think I’m not supposed to.  I don’t want to be one of them anymore.

I’m not ashamed to say I needed that push though. I’m sure that subconsciously, that’s why I brought this whole thing up with my boyfriend in the first place. I wanted him, somebody, anybody, it might as well be the man who loves me, to hear me and tell me to go for it.  I have resisted having this conversation with myself because of all the years of pain and insecurity I’ve inflicted on myself in the name of pleasing others, of self-preservation, of having one last place to hide.  These things have controlled me, but the truth is, I am interested in my belly seeing the sun’s rays many more times before I perish from this earth.

I am presented daily with a simple choice.  Do I love myself, unconditionally, or not?  Do I hate my body or not?  Do I accept my body or not? For a few years now, I have chosen to accept and love myself, except when it comes to this.

I have made so much progress in other ways. I refuse to ever hurt myself over my weight again.  I exercise when I want to in ways that feel healthy and good to my body. I have worn all kinds of clothes that have previously caused me anxiety from shorts to evening gowns to lingerie.  I created a style blog.  I found love.  I gave birth to a baby girl who I want to teach to value herself.  I don’t want her to be afraid to wear whatever the heck she wants to.  If mommy can wear a bikini with her mommy belly, and her cellulite and all that, hopefully she won’t hesitate to do it either, if that’s what she wants. I at least want to role model for her, what I think is ok for me, and for everyone.  I have zero issue with other women wearing a bikini if they want to, so why should I exclude myself from that?

My only excuse is that I see my fear reinforced a lot.  Every time I’m in a setting where women are wearing swimsuits, the majority of the women wearing bikinis, seem to be thin only. Every time I hear women talk about swimwear at all, I know I’m not alone in my fear. Most of the women I know just dread swimsuit shopping.  When I go to the beach, I see more women doing what I’m doing, hiding their bellies, than not.  Then of course, there’s the media, the advertising, the magazines, etc…

So what did I do about it?

Well, I decided to try and live bigger than that and I let my boyfriend go swimsuit shopping with me.  Now listen, for those of you who believe in like, abundance and the timing of the universe, and all that, you’ll love this next bit.  I unknowingly took him to the biggest department store in town, on the very first day of their 65% off swimwear clearance sale, which means, they still had a HUGE selection of designer swimsuits in my size, at a huge discount.  

Not only that, but there was a SUPER nice lady working the swimwear department that day, who let me bring my boyfriend, my toddler, my stroller, and as many suits as I wanted to try on into the biggest nicest dressing room with a huge smile on her face.  Not one bit of this good fortune escaped me.

The very first one I tried on, a beautiful green floral print by one of my favorite clothing brands, Gianni Bini, looked amazing on me.  I kind of couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the mirror.  I was standing there looking at myself, and he was looking at me with so much admiration, and I felt so damn beautiful and I loved that suit so much and you guys, I want you to really take this next bit in.  It was on sale for $25.  Of course I bought it.

I had found the one, but I still had about 8 more to try on, so I did, because I was like, if I’m doing this, I’m gonna be thorough.  None of the other bikinis quite lived up to the first one, except for the last one, a beautiful blue Kenneth Cole.  We took that one home too, boyfriend’s treat.

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We finished up our day at the mall by sharing some french fries with my kiddo, and it was then that he pointed something out to me that hadn’t occurred to me until that moment.  It had been 20 years since I’d bought a bikini, and it wasn’t until today that I remembered another detail.  I bought the last one, the blue one with the sunflowers, the one from the fateful 20 year old photos of shame, in the exact same store. Excuse me, is that destiny calling?

Now all I had to do was actually wear one.

I decided I needed to do it as soon as possible so I wouldn’t chicken out.  The last thing I wanted to do was ruin the beauty and good fortune of that day by letting my new bikinis hide in a closet and fester with fear and potential humiliation.  I needed maximum exposure as fast as possible, so I took my daughter to the water park the next afternoon.

Is there a better place to risk looking like total trash than a water park in South Mississippi?  The land of unsupervised children and the easiest place to find a lower back tattoo in America?  Is there a better fit for impractically skimpy swimwear either?  It is a place made unapologetically for leisure.  Nobody except for a half a dozen obnoxious 10 year olds is in any kind of hurry here.  America asked for a cross between a pool a river and a bed, and it’s rednecks answered.  If you build it, we will float around on it until we get sunburnt af.

I won’t pretend it wasn’t scary.  It was.  I definitely had a minor anxiety attack getting ready and continued to spiral out for the first ten minutes of our drive over there, but I kept telling myself, this isn’t going to be worth it AT ALL, if you don’t enjoy yourself.  You need to find a way to calm down and let go.  You need to release this fear.

Then the simplest silliest thing occurred to me and I actually said it out loud, “This is the last 10 minutes you are ever going to be afraid to wear a bikini again.”  That was the turning point.  I finally started to feel excited.  I was at the top of a water slide instead of the top of a cliff.

The first thing I did inside was take off my cover up.  I didn’t want to give myself any time to chicken out, and I needed sunscreen.  You can’t just expose lily white stretch marked belly skin to the afternoon sun after 20 years without a little protection, ok?  

I rubbed more sunscreen on my kid and we waded out into the shallow kiddie area.  At our water park the kiddie pool is surrounded by lounge chairs and let me tell you what, I have never paid closer attention to what other people were wearing in my life.  I was desperate for solidarity.  I was looking at every belly in sight (and also closely supervising my child, mommy shamers! She’s fine. She had a great time!).

I was definitely in the extreme minority of people with my belly size letting it all hang out, but there were a couple folks. There was a girl in a larger body than me rocking a beautiful high waisted bikini.  There was a pregnant mom showing off her bump. (BTW let’s talk about how pregnancy is the only acceptable time for a woman to show off her big belly!)  The strong majority of other women there had gotten the same message as me for the last 20 years though.  Plenty of women in smaller bodies, thinner, with flatter tummies were still hiding it.

You know who wasn’t hiding their bellies though?  There was one group of people, from the super thin to the very fat who weren’t hiding their bellies at all, no exceptions… The Men.

Oh yeah guys.  I am frankly EMBARRASSED that I have never noticed this hypocrisy before.  You’re telling me only women are supposed to hide and cover up our bellies?  This double standard is SO deeply entrenched that I, the radical feminist, the women’s marcher, the liberal, educated SJW, has been going to the beach, the pool, etc… for literally my entire life and I have never, not once, batted an eye at how perfectly fine it is for dudes with bellies 3x the size of mine, who have never once given birth in their lives, to feel free to walk around shirtless all summer, bellies out, with total confidence.

Well, let me tell you, that was the final nail in this coffin.  Here lies 20 years of self-consciousness, may my self-hate rot in hell.

Guess how many people cared that I was wearing a bikini?  Zero.

Guess how many people were even paying attention to me?  Zero.

Guess how many people said something rude to me about my bikini?  Zero.

I didn’t even get kicked out of the water park.

Listen, I know it’s not always like that.  I know people can be cruel.  I know that the fact that I found an affordable bikini, that I have enough disposable income to buy a season pass to the water park, that I am a size that can fit in a brand like Gianni Bini is all pretty damn privileged.

That was probably my final takeaway and the idea that took me most by surprise.  It’s a privilege to wear a bikini.  I know I live a privileged life.  I know I’m a white girl in America, with a car and a roof over my head.  I am deeply loved, and well taken care of.  I am grateful for it all, and if I have some privilege, I’m not going to waste it.  I can finally say, I’m not going to waste one more second of my life worrying about something as harmless, as unimportant, or as frivolous, as wearing a bikini.

I did it, and I did it without going on a diet, doing thousands of sit ups, or getting any kind of plastic surgery.  I did it full out, uncompromising, stretch marks and all, and I had a great time.

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