I pulled on the bikini I’d purchased two years ago, a mere month or two before learning I was pregnant. This was to be my first time finally wearing it. I looked at myself in the full-length mirror and I grabbed at my sides and I tilted my head as if that would change what I was seeing and finally I walked into Michael’s home office.
“Does this look okay, or have I gained too much weight to pull it off?” (Note: I had only gained a handful of pounds; the real issue was that my weight had shifted.)
“You look fine,” said Michael.
In my mind, “fine” was not a ringing endorsement. I assumed that what “fine” really meant was “not completely horrific / I don’t think anyone’s eyes will melt and run down their faces when they see you.” I pushed him more. “I’m serious, Michael. Be honest with me. Should I wear a one-piece instead?”
I did not want to wear a one-piece instead. It had taken me 10 minutes to get into the bikini top successfully.
“No. What you’re wearing is fine,” he re-asserted (and there was that word again). I squeezed my belly button area between my fingers. I pretended it was a hungry mouth and I made it talk.
My friend Lyz fairly recently wrote a blog post titled “Your Bikini Body Is Not Brave,” in response to the outpouring of accolades women were receiving for posting pictures of their post-pregnancy bikini bods online. “Do you know what ‘brave’ is?” wrote Lyz. “Brave is my sister standing up to her abuser. Brave is my friend leaving her drug-addict husband after 15 years and two kids. Brave is learning to walk again after a devastating car accident. Brave is many things, but it is not putting on a swimsuit.”
And I agreed with what she was saying. Bravery was many things, but it was not wearing an outfit that others may or may not consider to be flattering.
In fact, it seemed to me that calling someone “brave” for wearing a swimsuit in public could actually be construed as an insult. It insinuated that doing so was something one should perhaps think twice about, because, well… have you seen your body lately?
So I shared the heck out of Lyz’s post. If I decided to wear a bikini, it would be because I was proud of the body I had, and because I didn’t give a poop what anyone else thought.
But today I am wearing a bikini underneath my T-shirt and capris and I am waiting for my 1-year-old to wake up so we can go to a barbecue. At this barbecue, she will go into a pool for the first time in her life. And I am dreading it, because it means that I will have to take off my T-shirt and my capris and then, well… people will see.
This is ridiculous. Obviously. But I have always had a complicated relationship with my body.
For the longest time, when growing up, I had fantastic metabolism. I wasn’t full-on skinny, but I was slim, and my body was one thing I didn’t have to feel self-conscious about (which was a relief, because there were so many other things to feel self-conscious about). Then, in college, I began gaining weight, as so many of us do, and I started working out for the purpose of weight loss rather than for the purpose of overall health and awesome biceps. And then Michael came along and I gained a billion trillion pounds and, suddenly, I was about 30 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. I even did Weight Watchers in the lead-up to my wedding.
But after the wedding, I dropped Weight Watchers and I gained even more, and even after I started cooking regularly and eating healthier and working out almost every day, the weight wouldn’t come off. It seemed it was too late.
Then my body betrayed me further when we struggled with infertility for three and a half years. Or at least my body was the thing I blamed at the time. Even after I found yoga and went through a teacher training program and started to slim out again and got by-god muscles, I was still unable to get pregnant. Through yoga, I marveled at my newfound strength and flexibility. But I was still so angry because I couldn’t make that one thing happen.
But then it happened and everything changed and, though I expected to gain SO MUCH WEIGHT, yoga kept my weight gain under control and, for the first time in a long time, I actually started to like my body.
Then Emily was born and I nursed her and I became even slimmer than I was before the pregnancy. I started to like my body even more.
Em weaned herself off the boob about five months in. I stopped pumping soon after. And since then, a few pounds have crept back on, and I’ve stopped liking what I see when I look in the mirror. Even though I still practice yoga. Even though I still feel strong and flexible and appreciative of some of my curves.
Will my body image ever stop bouncing all over the place? Is there a cure for the negative self-talk I continue to engage in even though it’s a practice and a mindset I want to keep Em from learning and appropriating?
I wish I could say yes. But until then, it’s going to require just a little bit of bravery to strip down to my bikini.