Would it be nice if I still got checked out now and then? Sure, it would be good for my ego. But so’s 30 minutes on elliptical #10. Or my latest accomplishment, riding my bike to the farmers’ market, to the supermarket, and home.
For me, this has been the summer of the bathing suit.
Of course, duh, every summer involves one, but this year, I have stopped thinking about how I look in mine – mostly. I know you know this is an astonishing achievement.
It took me until I was in my thirties to stop burying my weirdly long toes in the sand whenever I went to the beach, to wear sandals, even. Someone once said to me, comedian that he is, “Hey, you’re walking on your hands!” The same guy, when I told him I had lost 10 pounds (this was a very long time ago), stopped walking, looked behind me, and said, “I found ’em!” I have to admit, even I laughed at that one. I had a boyfriend who used to refer to my second toe as a “peanut.” This didn’t make me feel better either. Now my toenails are painted and my longest toe wears a gold ring.
But the bathing suit is no joke for a lot of us. I don’t know how the slim and muscular women I see on the beach feel when they look for one, but I bet they look in the mirror and find things not to like, too. I won’t even go to a store to try them, usually. Who wants to stand under flourescent lighting trying on things smaller than underwear? Dressing room mirrors and lighting seem designed to point out every flaw – you’d think they’d do something about that in order to sell more clothes. I order suits online, from places like Land’s End, a company that seems to understand some of us don’t really want to let it all hang out. And so for a while, I was wearing a two-piece – a tankini of sorts, only the bottom was a little skirt. They didn’t even quite match, because I bought them in a crazy blowout sale for $20, and I took what I could get. But this summer I was very unhappy in it. It took a while to realize it was too damn tight. I’m not sure why it took so long to notice this – maybe because I’ve gotten so used to my clothes being too tight. For clues about how this happened, see photo above. So one day I went into a department store and dug through their sale racks for a new one. And I found one – it’s pretty, plain, and it fits. The difference in how I feel is amazing. I don’t look any thinner, I’m sure, but I feel so much better, I’m not even sucking in my gut. Someone even took a picture of me in it, and I didn’t completely hate the picture. Is it the suit? Or have I come to accept the body rising above the long, skinny toes? When and how might this have happened?
I used to think I was the only female on the planet who had figured out that my legs look thinner when I’m lying on the beach if I put my feet down and my knees up. And then one day I looked around and saw women’s knees in every direction – shining, burnished by the sun, creating slender thighs as far as the eye could see. Or sitting on a bench, resting on the balls of their feet, women are lifting their thighs to create an illusion that the flesh of their legs doesn’t spread when they’re seated. It’s crazy. Isn’t it enough that our bathing suits are so small, that there is a societal expectation that we remove any hint of body hair, and that taking off our coverup and walking down to the water can feel like strolling the runway?
And I still have shorts I think make me look fatter, though that doesn’t come close to the experience of wearing a bathing suit when you feel shitty about the way you look. But I have conquered the bathing suit by wearing one that fits comfortably, that covers what I want it to, and by knowing that I am doing all I can to be healthy and active. Would it be nice if I still got checked out now and then? Sure, it would be good for my ego. But so’s 30 minutes on elliptical #10. Or my latest accomplishment, riding my bike to the farmers’ market, to the supermarket, and home. I was amazed the first time I did it. I thought I would have to call home to ask for a ride, but instead, tired, sweating, exhausted, I made it back.
Next week I hope to share with you the results of some interviews with other women – I gave a wide variety of women a series of questions to answer about their self-image, bathing suits, and related issues. Their answers are worth thinking about, especially as I continue to consider the ways in which women have done so much to defy and subvert the limitations placed on them, moving well past rebellion to success and accomplishment, yet continue to critique themselves through someone else’s gaze.
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