Standing in the middle of a swimwear shop, I stared at the one-piece options the sales rep was holding. They all looked like something the cast of Golden Girls would wear on a cruise. Lovely, but not for me. I was 29 at the time and quite a ways off from my ‘cruising with octogenarians’ phase.
Shopping for a swimsuit ranks higher for me than getting a root canal, but lower than getting waxed. Wisely, I brought reinforcements with me — or rather reinforcement — in the form of my husband. However, while he is supportive and lovingly honest, he is also a guy. Getting a new swimsuit for him consists of walking into a store, finding a pair of board shorts with a striped blue pattern, and buying his size without even needing to try them on. Lucky (handsome) bastard.
“Are you sure you don’t want to try on a bikini?” the sales rep asked.
My knee-jerk reaction was to tell her I was sure. I hadn’t owned a bikini since I was three years old. I couldn’t even bring myself to wear shorts in the summer. A bikini was out of the question.
Like most women, my relationship with my body has been tumultuous. I’ve been aware of it and wondering how other people see it for far too long. At the age of 10, I developed breasts too cumbersome for my small frame. By 14, my explosive sprint through puberty had left stretch marks on them and my ass. I flirted with eating disorders for over a decade. These periods of hating my body were speckled with occasional bouts of thinking I looked good in a certain pair of jeans or of liking the way a tighter shirt clung to my curves. If I were to categorize my relationship with my body on Facebook, oh it’d be complicated all right, and would require dozens of contradictory emojis.
The idea of trying on a bikini, even at the age of 29, seemed absurd. Especially since I was newly pregnant. My eyes glazed as the matronly one-piece swimsuits blurred together. In a fit of frustration, I conceded. One bikini. One. Preferably black, preferably with bottoms that covered my butt.
In the changing room, I peeled off my clothes, replacing them with a black halter-top and black bottoms, white piping the only added detail. I forced myself to look in the three-way mirror. My first trimester body was a bit weird. I didn’t have an adorable bump so much as blurmp that could have easily been explained away as bloating from all the dairy I’d been craving and consuming. My boobs, ample before, were basically at my chin. But as I stared at my reflection and saw this body that was growing a human inside of it before my eyes, I made a decision: If I could accept my body at its weirdest (to date — what happened postpartum is a whole other story), I could accept it at its biggest, its strongest, its worst, its sexiest, and everything in between.
I bought black bikini and wore it in Hawaii and Las Vegas. I wore it to the local wave pool. I wore it through two pregnancies and out the other side. When I put it on, I stuck to that deal I made with myself in the changing room. I wouldn’t take inventory of how each body part looked in the bikini and I wouldn’t try to ascertain what other people thought when they saw me in it. That bikini symbolized radical self-acceptance. Wearing that bikini symbolized my determination to love my body as it came.
It’s been a few years since the day I bought my first bikini. After so many vacations and milestones, it’s no wonder that the well used suit is wearing thin in places and stretched out in others. As I’m gearing up to go back to the swimwear shop, I know that when the sales rep asks me if I want to try on a bikini, this time I won’t hesitate to say yes.