Even before giving birth neither I nor any of my closest friends had the sort of body that you would immediately think to display on a beach. The closest I personally came to “Bathing Suit Confidence” was the summer I was sixteen when I dared to buy and actually wear a black bikini with the smallest top I could find. That particular summer was only possible because it was preceded by “The Spring I Gave Up Chocolate”.
At seventeen my friends agreed with me that a chocolate free life was not worth living. From then on our Beach Uniform consisted of a long tee shirt, a robe and shorts that we would not only wear on the beach but in the water as well. While the Uniform got uncomfortable once you came out of the waves and had to sit in wet fabric, it worked at hiding cellulite and the days we had spent skipping gym class. The only time any of us would dare wear a bathing suit was on vacation.
At Disneyland or Niagara Falls we pulled out the spandex secure in the knowledge that no boys we cared about would be around to spot and discuss the obvious problems with our body parts. If a few locals wanted to jump in with rude comments at least we knew they wouldn’t follow us home with memories and picture phone evidence to wave in our faces once fall started and concealing clothing could be used again without stigma.
The bathing suit free summers continued until the year five of us got pregnant at once. Getting pregnant changed our beach thinking. Suddenly we were admired when it became clear to strangers that the rounded middle we all carried wasn’t merely the result of too many Doritos. That July we all were all struck by the same thought: hey, I can look great in a bathing suit even when I look like a beach ball.
But it wasn’t until the summer after we became mothers we all began our true journey to Bathing Suit Liberation. Sarah was the first to point it out. “Did you ever notice that no one stares at you or your body anymore? All they want to see is the baby.” And with that comment we all had a collective epiphany. It was the moment we realized that a) chocolate or no chocolate there was no way our bodies would ever again look the way they did at eighteen and b) all of us were too busy to really care anymore.
After that realization we decided to take action. One spring day the five of us decided it was time to go shopping again. It was time to finally shed the Bathing Suit Uniform and go for the real thing.
Together we tried on over two dozen suits apiece. Anna started it when she jokingly pulled off the rack the leopard print bikini that she would have vetoed as a teenager when she weighed a hundred pounds. She tried it on and waited for our opinions. We shrugged and giggled and then cheered when she brought it to the cashier. Following her lead, Maggie shucked off the ruffled top suit that was said to give the wearer the illusion of a bust. She marched back into the racks and came back with an item that might have doubled as sexy lingerie. At our urging it joined the leopard print bikini. I added my own act of daring with a black monokini. It had a plunging neckline that made it clear to anyone within fifty feet I was not one bit flat-chested.
Every single suit we chose that day was a statement. No little florals for us. No old lady skirts or control top inserts or slimming stripes. No matronly suits or boy leg pants that hid the upper thigh. If we were going to wear bathing suits again they would be the ones we should have worn at eighteen.
We marched out of Macy’s and into the summer in front of us with three bathing suits each and our pride still intact. It wasn’t just about swimwear anymore. It was about taking back the self-confidence we’d somehow lost somewhere between childhood and fifteen.
If you meet us at the beach this July, don’t gawk or point because we’ll just laugh at you. And if you were one of those teenagers who went to the beach and sat beneath the umbrella and under a huge towel then come join us — once you’ve thrown the towel to the wind. The purple stretch mark you see in the corner of my belly? A badge of honor.