Summer fun, body image, and ‘just wearing the suit’
Body image is such a THING now…whether you have a good one, a bad one, or couldn’t care less about it one way or another, you can’t avoid the topic (unless you avoid social media altogether, which might not be a bad thing). I completely, wholeheartedly believe in positive body image and detest any form of haters or shamers, having been ‘fat shamed’ for most of my formative years by bullies. (PS…Bullies, I hope you all have dead-end jobs, endless bad hair days, unruly children, and unreliable cars. Yes, I mean YOU Stacy and Debby). I love it when I read articles about just wearing the suit and especially love when people overcome their body image concerns and DO wear the suit. And you know what? I think you all look beautiful! I want to be you.
This is such a complicated, emotionally charged issue that’s been front and center for me since having a daughter. I first remember being ashamed of my body around sixth grade. That’s when I tried to be on the volleyball team, and the team shorts didn’t fit me. The humiliation of the teacher trying to find a bigger pair makes my face heat up until this day. I remember very clearly looking down at my thighs, wishing there was a magic knife that could just cut all the fat off. I definitely felt inferior.
Because I’m nearly ancient, we’re talking about the early eighties when I was young so there wasn’t ANYBODY telling young girls it was okay to just be healthy, and fit, and that not everyone was going to be a ‘perfect size 6’ like Elizabeth and Jessica from Sweet Valley High (who incidentally would probably now be thought of as ‘brave’ to show up at SVH pool parties in their suits. Or have they re-written the series so now the wonder twins are ‘perfect size 2s’?) Quite the opposite. The only time non-skinny people were pictured in the books I read was when they heroically deprived themselves of food they liked, ran around the school track (when no one was watching of course) and finally gained the love and acceptance that had (rightfully) been denied them previously. I knew, not thought but knew, that I would only be allowed to be happy once I got down to a media-approved size and weight (which was 105-120 pounds, a weight I haven’t been since I was about 11).
For most of my life I’ve experienced the approach of summer with impending dread. Not only would I have to wear shorts, exposing my wobbly (or woggly, as #noBen says) thighs for all to see, but possibly even bathing suits. One time, pre-Dreamy, I remember having a first date with Stalker Gary, whom I’d met on match dot com, and because he was an inappropriate weirdo he wanted to know what I liked and disliked most about myself. I forget what I said I liked, but clearly remember that the feature I disliked most was my body. ‘Your whole body?’ he asked in a bewildered tone, but underlying that was a quiet glee…probably because he was sure he’d found the perfect victim. Fortunately for me, despite thinking my body was my worst feature, I had enough self-worth to ignore Stalker Gary’s (many) calls until he finally went away.
I’ve noticed through the years that how I feel in my body has a very low correlation to how it actually looks. At my most socially acceptable ‘thin’ weight, I ‘felt huge’ most of the time. I’d turn sideways to get through spaces that had more than enough clearance for my relatively narrow hips. Conversely, after having the twins, there have been times when I’ve felt fan-dam-tastic until I stepped on the scale and realized that according to that, I was mistaken. I couldn’t look good, and certainly had no right to feel okay about myself. But that’s old thinking that on a non-hormonal day I can override and be happy anyway; not needing to deprive myself of fun, love, or food because of how I think I look that’s probably inaccurate anyway. The key to serenity is to stay off the stupid scale in the first place!
Today I have a much better perspective about my body, but probably what helped the most was having one baby and then twins. That, more than anything, gave me a whole new appreciation for everything about my body. When Bisky was born, I was determined not to pass on the fat-phobia and self-loathing that had ruined the first half of my life. From birth, I’d tell her that her body was the perfect container for her. I’ve been diligent about not calling myself fat, and we avoid using it as a negative term. This has had unintended consequences, since she doesn’t understand that describing someone as fat is possibly hurtful to them. This has been a bit confusing to try to explain, so if she’s ever done it to you, rest assured there’s no judgment attached and that she is only five and not right about everything no matter what she tells you.
Because Dreamy and I own a gym, to help people get fit and appreciate themselves exactly the way they are (one of our mottoes is Real People, Real Bodies), because of my own issues, and most of all because I have a daughter, I have more than a passing interest in how the media talks about women. I am thrilled beyond measure that the unrealistic expectations of women are being called out for the bullying they are. Women are taking their power back and wearing whatever the heck they want, whatever the heck the scale says. Our culture as a whole is being forced to acknowledge that women (and men) come in all shapes and sizes, that there are different ways of being beautiful, and that it’s flat out ridiculous to expect everyone to look the same.
I love reading articles about wearing the bathing suit, because what it means is not letting your insecurities deny you the simple right to enjoy your life. There have been way too many things I’ve not done because I’ve worried about how I might look doing them. I do have to admit though, that when I see a ‘plus-size’ model being celebrated for having the audacity to be out of the house in public in a bathing suit, and she’s a size 10 at most, that it still causes me a tinge of angst.
I recently took a drastic step in my own body image recovery when I bought some summer clothes. For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t buy the smallest size I could squeeze into. Instead, I bought the size that fit properly and was most comfortable. I felt so liberated, and love being able to move freely, with no uncomfortable marks pressed into my flesh at the end of the day.
I get the just wear the suit movement. I get that it’s a shame to miss out on summer fun because you don’t like how you look, and I KNOW my kids don’t care what I look like, they just want me to play with them (at least for now). But I don’t know that just wearing the suit is a one size fits all solution (so to speak). I don’t know that I would ever like strangers seeing my butt cheeks even if they were the size and firmness of apples. I can run and play and swim equally well in shorts, and they are the perfect summer solution for me.
But now, ironically and perversely, I feel like I’m letting the movement down by NOT wearing the suit. Like I have a duty as a non-perfect forty-something to WEAR the suit, even if I don’t WANT to wear the suit. Like I’m somehow judging you for wearing the suit by not wearing the suit. So if you see me wearing the shorts and not the suit, please don’t shame me. Don’t tell me I look great and ‘should’ wear the suit, or that I should poke a finger in the eye of the haters by wearing it no matter what they say. To quote my offspring…I don’t wanna!
So there you have it. Much, MUCH love to you suit wearers! I’m with you sisters…in my shorts.
What’s YOUR go-to summer fun wear?