Go ahead, ask me about my bikini
This summer, I will be wearing a bikini. Not because I lost a lot of weight.
Not because I have a burning desire to wear a bikini again.
The reason is because I have two daughters, and I want to show them that bikinis are ok, no matter who wears them. Short, tall, skinny, fat, no matter the skin tone or the cellulite.
Let me tell you how hard this is for me. I haven’t worn a bikini since I was in high school. I’m not a small woman. I don’t especially like to be looked at, especially when I’m in a bathing suit. I couldn’t find a single picture of myself in a bathing suit, even though I lived across the street from the ocean for all of my childhood and went to the beach almost every single day.
Like most women, I am very conscious of my weight, and am a product of a lifetime assault by the media about what my body should be. I was on my first diet when I was in the third grade. I read all those teen magazines trying to determine my shape and size. I’m a pear, by the way. I went through the low-fat phase, I’ve joined Weight Watchers and LA Weight Loss. Until this last house purchase, I didn’t own a full-length mirror because I never especially liked what I saw, so I chose not to look. Like our President who gives women a number, I graded myself with letters. I was an A-B-C: A intellect, B face, C body.
My parents have also always been on a perpetual diet, trying to lose weight for the next event: reunions or cruises or the next beach season. My mother went through the SlimFast phase, the cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet, the magical drops diet. You name it. They also were especially helpful monitoring my diet as a kid, limiting my portions, especially of sweets.
Since I’ve had daughters, I have tried mightily to not transfer my weight issues to my girls. Our goal as a family is to eat healthy foods, make good choices, and stay active. I’ve been in road races and triathlons. I swim at least once a week. The girls are active in team sports and individual competitions. We don’t have women’s magazine in the house. We don’t even have a scale in the house because I didn’t want the girls to see me worry about my weight.
So it came as a surprise to me when my daughter, Wendy, didn’t want to wear a bikini. She’s thirteen, very active, and pretty self-assured. She also swims competitively. The thing is, a bikini would be so much easier for her because she has two medical devices on her body because of her diabetes: an insulin pump called an OmniPod and a continuous glucose monitor. A one-piece bathing suit is harder to get on and off and has a much better chance of knocking off the devices, causing lots of trouble (our insurance only covers so many applications per month).
Because she’s thirteen, I thought maybe it was a body image thing, as in, she’s got all these new curves now, so maybe she’s not exactly sure what to do about them. So I talked to her about it, saying I really wanted her to try a bikini, that I’m sure we could find one she was comfortable in.
She replied no, over and over again. It turns out that she doesn’t want people to see her scars.
Wendy has a constellation of scars on her abdomen. The right-hand side is from some intestinal surgeries. The left-hand side is from her kidney transplant, and the star shaped scar on the top is from a peritoneal dialysis catheter. The truth is, you don’t really notice them, at least I don’t. They’re not ugly or red or jagged. When she’s examined by surgical residents at the hospital, they look at them in wonder, like they’re kids looking at the window of a candy store. Those scars, to me, show me that she is a warrior, and they’re something to be proud of.
But she was afraid that people would see them and ask her about them, and she would be forced to give her whole medical history at the pool or the beach. I get it: that’s a lot for a 13-year-old.
So we made a deal. If she was willing to try on some bikinis, and found one she liked, that I would wear a bikini too. I told her, “Don’t worry, kid, If I’m wearing a bikini next to you, nobody is going to be looking at your scars.”
Well guess what? She didn’t just find one bikini she liked, she found two.
So…I’m not going to lie…..I panicked a little.
I am ashamed to admit that my first instinct was to go on some radical diet, but what exactly would that showcase to my daughters? That only perfect bodies wear bikinis? Wrong.
I told some of my best friends, who had myriad reactions. Some sent me suggestions that were over the top, ridiculous. Star Wars themed, gold mesh, or string bikinis that were smaller than a tissue. I wouldn’t be able to blow my nose on a triangle that small. Some friends asked me if I could take it back, go back on my word, or wear a tankini. That would reduce Wendy’s trust in me, so I couldn’t do that. Some friends shared their own insecurities or their negative body image. Some friends applauded me.
Buying a bikini wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I found a lovely size 12 black bikini with white polka dots. I bought a lovely cover-up to go with it. I’ve got a hat.
One thing is certain: I’m going to need a lot more sunblock.
I’m not going to say that I’m going to love every minute of wearing this bikini in public. But I am going to “fake it until I make it” with confidence. That is the very least I can do for my daughters.
I want them to know that their bodies are beautiful and powerful and theirs alone to love.
So this summer, if you see me, and I’m in my bikini, please ask me about it.