Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The bikini experiment, two years later


Since the bikini experiment of summer 2011, I have only worn bikinis to swim.  Every swimsuit I have bought or worn for two years has been a bikini.  Wearing a bikini has become a few things for me:  A symbol of my continuing commitment to unconditional self-love, a touchstone for my self-image, and my own little revolutionary act.  I want to be a living example that body love, confidence, and beauty don’t have a weight limit.  Be the change and all of that.  I have a “Be the change you wish to see in the world” window cling on my driver-side minivan door as a daily reminder that we are part of making the world we live in.  I wear a bikini because I want women who worry about their bodies to see me, and worry a little bit less.  I want curvy, large-busted, and plus-size women to see that they have options (Fantasie bra-sized bikinis!)  And, more selfishly, I want to make sure I don’t slide back down into blending in and trying to hide. 

I actually thought I was done.  I thought I had climbed the self-love mountain.  I thought I had arrived somewhere.  Turns out, there’s more to this journey. 

Here’s what happened.  My kids were invited to a swim party. 

To set the scene for this story, let me tell you a little bit about the area where I live.  It’s in suburban Maryland, one of the best school districts in the country, and typically listed as the top 10 “affluent” places to live.  We chose our house because we fell in love with the openness of it and the schools were amazing.  Our immediate neighborhood is racially diverse, which was important to me, and the houses were all built at different times by different builders, carved with restraint out of the woods a plot at a time without strip-mining the place to build a development.  I saw that our income and home price fell well below the median for our school district, and my thought was, “Awesome.  Let their property taxes pay for my kids to go to a kick-ass school.” 

And now my kids go to that school.  And the school rocks.  No lie, it’s awesome. And there are some people like me there.  But there are way more people not-like-me.  Diamonds are big.  Countertops are granite.  Hair is blonde and smooth.  Sometimes brown.  Not blue.  People aren’t fat here.  It’s not allowed.  If you’re fat, you run half marathons or go to “boot camps” until you’re not fat anymore.  You post your exercise on facebook using an app on your phone, and eat lots of skinless chicken and salads. 

So into this weird world, my kids were invited to a swim party.

It was their second one actually.  After much deliberation and gnashing of teeth, I wore my bikini under a dress to the first swim party earlier this summer, but no parents swam at that party, so my jiggling, winter-white, abundant self was kept under wraps.  No other parents swam at this last party either.  Except for me. 

We arrived at the pool, and the parents were all standing around, fully dressed.  I breathed a sigh of relief, realizing I wouldn’t have to expose the bikini to them at this party either.  Or expose what the bikini doesn’t cover.  My daughter immediately started begging me to swim with them.  I showed her that none of the mommies were swimming, and encouraged her to go play.  She did.  But she kept asking.  And the only reason I said no was body shame.  Shit.

What would they think?  Would they think that I thought I looked good?  Would they gossip about me later? 

(I do know that no, of course they wouldn’t gossip about me later.  I know with my brain that this isn’t about them at all.  This is my stuff.  Social anxiety is such a narcissistic asshole.)

Anyway, a bunch of the kids moved to an indoor heated pool, one with a fairly steep drop-off with water over my kids’ heads.  My daughter can swim.  My son can’t really.  Both begged me to come in with them. 

So I did. 

I took off my skirt and seriously considered leaving my tank top on.  But I didn’t.  I took it off and I swam with my kids, while all of the other moms stood around fully dressed with their coiffed ponytails.  When I put my hair in a ponytail, it doesn’t look like that.  I think maybe you have to blow dry or hot roller your hair first to have it look like that in a ponytail, and if you’re going to go to all that trouble, why wouldn’t you just wear it down?  It’s all a mystery to me.  But my kids asked me to swim with them, and my son kind of needed me to swim with them.  So I swam.  In a black bikini.  At 220 pounds.  My son practiced his back float.  My daughter practiced her freestyle side breathing, backstroke, and flip turns. 

I didn’t die.

Not too long after, they moved the party inside to a party room.  I put on my clothes, gratefully, even though my wet bathing suit left two wet spots under my boobs and I couldn’t sit down for fear of also having a wet ass.  I said something to two of the moms about the bikini thing.  I explained about the blog and how I am a body-love advocate.  I explained because, if they gossiped about me later, I wanted at least a couple of people to be able to explain why on earth I was wearing a bikini.  At my size.  One mom nodded politely.  Kill me.  The other mom looked thoughtful and gave me a smile and a high five.  Gratitude.

Be the change be the change be the change.  Fuck.  It’s so hard sometimes.

I’ve gotten to the top of one mountain.  I look in the mirror and I’m happy most of the time.  I wear bikinis.  I am the change inside myself.  I love my body.  I think I’m beautiful. 

But there’s a new mountain.  One made of class distinction and baggage from high school and fear that a weird mom with blue hair who wears bikinis at 220 pounds will somehow stigmatize or marginalize my kids.  The change I wish for is happening in the world too, but slowly.  For that change to come, people like me need to stand up and be seen.  Even when it's hard.  Especially when it's hard. That thoughtful high five, that's the change.  I stand for something, something I believe in very deeply.  I hope that one day, that will be a good thing in my kids’ lives.  I hope that I am one voice among many working to change the world they will inherit.  I accept that one day, probably sooner than I can imagine, they will want me to blend in.

I hope I don’t cave.



13 comments:

  1. You are amazing and one of the reasons my 260lb self wanders the renaissance faire in bellydance garb without as much trepidation as before. Your body and you are beautiful and strong and good. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. xoxo Bellydance garb is the best! Shimmy on sister!

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  2. I'm actually more impressed that you successfully navigate blue hair. Compared to that, a bikini is a walk in the park (though I'm sure it didn't feel that way at the time). If you're rocking blue hair - and I'm sure you DO rock it - you're already the change you want to see. Brava!

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    1. It's just blue stripes, not a full head of blue. That would require more of a time and financial commitment than I'm willing to do. At the salon for my every 2 week re-blue-izing as we speak...

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    2. At the moment I am a blonde, myself!

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  3. You are beautiful...inside and out! And smart and funny and a great mom. Hugs to you and your awesomeness!

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    1. Thanks, Laura! And thanks for sharing the link too. :)

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  4. Is it weird or wrong that this post made me cry? I mean, god, I don't want to come off wrong, like I'm insulting you, when I say that HOLY SHIT YOU ARE BRAVE and I so admire you! I remember that bikini post, and I cried then, too, because I was like, "I want to be like her. I want to be able to love myself enough to rock a bikini because who gives a crap?" But I can't. I just can't. And I'm your weight, so I feel like I'm letting you down, and I'm letting me down, and now your message is reminding me that I'm letting all women down. It's not just personal, is it? It's not just about me, or you. It's about all of us. Why can't I do it? Why? Why is it so hard? I'm reading this at 4:30am, so maybe my emotions are out of whack from being tired. Maybe I'll wake up with some perspective and personal strength. I'm taking my daughter to the pool tomorrow, but I wear my fat lady bathing suit and I hide in it, never entering the water. I like to think that tomorrow I'll be changed and I'll be strong and brave like you and I'll rock a bikini. But I don't think I will. So I'm crying. But I'm so, so proud of you. And maybe, because of you, someday I will. I WANT to want to, if that makes any sense.

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    1. Oh no! You are not letting me or anyone (or oh my God, woman-friggin-kind) down. We all take on the battles we choose. This one is mine. I have watched you fighting yours and been in absolute awe of your bravery. There are plenty of battles for all of us. I'm glad you want to want to. I'll do my thing and talk my talk and walk my walk in defense of women wearing whatever they damn well please without being told they can't or shouldn't. I'll do my thing hoping that more women will feel beautiful in WHATEVER they want to wear. Love love love to you.

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  5. Wanted to add....today my (6-year old) daughter wore her bikini for the first time all summer...a bikini she wanted so much but never seemed to put on. We were walking behind a girl in her swim class with a wrap-around-the-bottom towel, and my daughter said she wanted one of those. "It'd be nice if you wore your bikini more, to go with it" I said. She said - I am NOT kidding you - "I am not as skinny as her." You could have picked the bottom of my mouth up off the floor. My daughter has a muscled, thick body. The girl in front of us looked much like most of the mothers who were probably at your party.

    It was a perfect opportunity to tell her about you!

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    1. Six years old?? That makes my heart weep. Nothing on earth is more beautiful than a healthy kid.

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  6. You have inspired my wife to at least love herself more and wear clothes that fit and make her feel beautiful. She is an amazing woman and incredibly attractive. Your first photo shoot let me talk her into buying a bikini to wear if only just around me. She still prefers her one piece because she is very fair skinned, but it is a one piece that fits and flatters. Thank you or sharing your journey and philosophy.

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