How My Bikini Saved Me
I traveled to Greece this past summer with my husband and two kids for a relaxing Mediterranean getaway. I couldn’t wait to see all the famous sites and to lounge on a beach and swim in turquoise blue water. The thought of resting in the sun with its rays browning my skin and warming me was dreamy and I was starry eyed over the whole thing.
Although we had plenty of “touristy” site-seeing adventures, our primary goal was to visit several beach destinations and relax and swim in the sea. Of course, going to the beach to lounge required me to wear a bathing suit. I didn’t have any particular anxiety about it but like so many women like me, I have struggled with being comfortable in my post-baby, 40-something (ok, pushing 50) body.
As I plunged into the Mediterranean, the warmth of the water cradling me, I noticed my husband was looking at me with a look I didn’t quite recognize. It seemed like a mix of confusion, love and annoyance. I asked him what he was thinking and his response was something like, “I don’t understand why such a beautiful woman hides her body as if she has something to be ashamed of. That bathing suit is way too big for you and doesn’t compliment you.” Heat rose in my belly and my jaw clenched. He’d hit a nerve. I wanted to defend and lash out at him. I wanted to argue with him that he didn’t understand, that it was none of his f*cking business, and/or that I could feel beautiful, even in this bathing suit. But I didn’t lash out. Something in what he was saying struck a chord in me. I realized in that moment how uncomfortable I actually was in my own skin. I felt hot, burning shame about what I saw as flaws in my body: stretch marks on my belly, extra skin folds here and there, some parts not in their original location. As I stared out into space my husband followed it with, “You are so beautiful and you shouldn’t hide your body.” My eyes grew moist with tears. He then said, “I think you should get a bikini.” I stared at him with a blank stare and my heart raced as I thought, “Are you insane?? WTF are you talking about?! You must be losing your eyesight!” I could see in my husband’s eyes that what he was saying was heartfelt and I could see him loving me deeply, exactly the way I was. I was astounded by my inability to do the same.
Instead negative thoughts began to circle in my head. I was too old, not sexy enough, not thin enough, not beautiful enough, not perfect enough, not anything enough to EVER wear a bikini, much less love my body as is, battle scars and all. Tears grew in my eyes and my heart ached. I realized the fire I felt in my belly wasn’t anger at my husband for what he’d said, but instead, the shame I felt about my body. Shame I didn’t even know I had. I struggled with how unkind I had been to myself, and my body, because of it. The truth was that the type of bathing suit I was wearing didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was walking around with this heavy, burdensome shame about my body, and attempting to hide myself behind a too large bathing suit. I wondered about how many other times I may have hidden myself out of shame of not being enough in some way?
These were seriously deep thoughts that I pondered over a gyro and fries. I saw more and more clearly all the ways I had been hiding myself and my body. How inadvertently I had been being unkind to myself and had shamed myself into believing that this was the right thing to do. I realized how I had bought into a ridiculous and damaging story that said that unless you have a “perfect” body, you should cover that body up, that you should hide your body and its imperfections, and that you should spare others from such a sight (of your normal, human body). What a crock.
But in Greece, the story was different. I was having a completely alternate experience. Women of all shapes and sizes and ages were wearing 2 piece bathing suits. Everywhere I looked, another woman would arrive in her bikini. And no one, most importantly not them, seemed to care or bat an eye. This gave me courage.
After gyros, we traveled through the beautiful, winding, stone walkways in the shopping village and found a bathing suit shop. As I stepped in, I saw a wonderful and voluptuously beautiful young woman who greeted me warmly and was eager to help. My heart pounding, I looked meekly at the racks of suits and asked her if she had any larger swimsuits. She responded, “Sorry, we only have bikinis.” Gulp. I could feel my body shrinking, that courage slowly leaving me, and I started to walk out the door. “Why don’t you try one on?” she yelled out after me. My heart pounded as I said, “I think I’m too old and not thin enough.” Her eyes grew wide appearing shocked, and she boldly asked, “How old are you?” in her beautiful Greek accent. “47,” I answered. She gasped and half chuckled as she exclaimed, “47!?! My mom is 49 and she wears a bikini, and so does my Yiaya! I wear a bikini too! You are a beautiful woman and you should feel proud of your body.” My heart melted instantly, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I allowed myself to take that in. I didn’t push back. I gave myself permission to see my beauty and to feel proud, and grateful, for the body that I had. And it wasn’t just what she was saying, but that I was taking it in. I allowed myself to feel beautiful and proud of the body I had. I gave myself permission to rest lovingly in my temple.
How could a perfect stranger strike such an emotional response? The genuineness with which she spoke touched my heart in the way it needed to be touched. And it’s not that my husband doesn’t constantly tell me how beautiful I am, but this old nasty story was so intrusive, it had convinced me that my husband was either blind or full of shit.
So, with my heart racing, I let her choose a couple of pieces for me. I stepped into the dressing room and slipped on this beautiful royal blue number she had picked out. I scanned my body through a different set of eyes. My old pattern wanted to look for everything that was wrong and unattractive about my body and then shame myself. But my new eyes could see that my stretch marks were a symbol of having had two amazing kids and what a blessing it all was, stretch marks and all. The extra skin folds were a symbol of my natural progression as a human woman as well as all of the fun I allowed myself to have. (Think ice cream) The stuff not being in its original place, was a symbol of my maturing and growing older and that these were not bad words. These were all symbols of all I had survived and the beautiful life that I had lived.
As I began to see my body through these loving and accepting eyes, I began to not only feel beautiful but actually see the beauty of my body, its curves, its lines, its Womannness. I felt pride in how I looked but mostly I felt proud of the love and acceptance I finally felt, and it was freeing. I could feel the shame melting away and in its place a solid self-affirmation that I was indeed enough, in fact, more than enough to stand tall in my new royal blue bikini.
Later that day, I rocked my bikini at the beach and stood tall. I blew up my pineapple shaped floatie and floated off into the Mediterranean without a single care about how I looked, only a deep connection to the freedom I felt from finally loving my body to its core.