Preparing for a day at the beach with my three girls means lots of sun screen, plenty of beach toys, hats, sunglasses and for me, my trusty black one-piece bathing suit with its adjustable straps and shirring across the boobs and through the waist. It’s the kind of suit that stays put throughout a day of sand castle building, shallow water wave jumping and all the bending, squatting and lifting that comes with playing with, looking out for and chasing after kids on the beach. In other words, it’s the classic mom bathing suit.
It’s also the swimsuit I wore for our day at the beach on the glorious Italian Riviera this summer.
We rented a cabana at one of the many beach clubs and let the kids loose. My husband was on duty first, so I laid out my towel, dug around for my book, squashed my enormous SPF 70 sunhat on my head and took in the view. That’s when I felt like a fish out of water.
Teenagers frolicked in the shallows, women walked in twos and threes along the shore, families clustered at the water’s edge, lounging in the sand or digging holes but not a single person wore a one-piece bathing suit. Skimpy, brightly colored bikinis owned that beach and women of every imaginable shape and age wore them. All kinds of bits and pieces hung out and nobody cared. Even the moms playing with their kids in the sand wore tiny triangle bikinis, strings dangling, large swaths of skin exposed for all to see.
I have never felt more self-conscious in a bathing suit as I did that day. People looked at me strangely in my prudish black one piece. Why was I so covered up? Was something awful going on under all that fabric? A terrible scar of some sort? A skin disease?
The only thing I was covering up was my own insecurities. After all this time, I am still body-obsessed, still held hostage by unrealistic standards, both cultural and personal. I am still worried that my body is not and never really will be “bikini ready.” I am still reluctant to expose my stretch-marked belly, soft from three pregnancies and pale from so many years undercover. I still have a hard time accepting the beautiful, hardworking body I have even though I often encourage other women to do just that.
The Italian women, young and old, seemed body confident in a way that meant they hardly thought about it at all. Instead, their thoughts landed elsewhere: on the moat they were digging with their kids, on the conversation bouncing back and forth between cabanas, on the midday cappuccino being delivered on a silver tray from the beach club café by a smiling server. So what if their saggy boobs were showing? So what if their thighs were dimpled and their bellies a little droopy? Some women were absolutely stunning but they too didn’t seem to notice. Obsessing about their bodies didn’t seem to be what these women did.
What a relief that must be.
I wondered if I’d ever get to that place with myself, where I could delight in the whoosh of the waves over my body without worrying about the folds of my stomach or the girth of my hips. Lying there in the sun on that beautiful Italian beach, I decided that life is too short not to try. Being “bikini ready” isn’t really about what you look like. It’s more about respecting and loving the body you have. That’s a goal worth working towards.
I sat up and shaded my eyes, scanning the water for my girls. I spotted them knee high in the ocean, the two older ones holding hands with the three-year-old, scooping her up and over the gentle waves as they rolled in. They were all wearing their bikinis.
I hope they always will.
This week’s sentence was: “Life is too short for…”