Confessions of a 40-Something Bikini Convert

bbae948eb5408d4a79632b14ad97f272I suppose I wore a bikini when I was a little bit of a thing, frolicking among the sand castles and mud pies of childhood, back before my sandy beach memories begin. All of my salt water and chlorine recollections, however, involve a one piece suit. The first time I remember wearing a bikini was on my honeymoon, a time when I had dieted and exercised and stressed myself into a itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, not quite polka dot bikini. Like many others, after love and marriage came baby with a baby carriage—-along with a muffin top, love handles, breastfeeding weight and just general comfort eating poundage. As an American woman of a certain age and weight, my go to swimwear choice was an unflattering one piece that either pulled me down too much at the top or rode too high on my hips.

Then I moved to Europe.

No one wears a one piece in Europe. No one. Not the young and toned, not the old and saggy. Young women, old women, pregnant women, nursing women, pale, tan, freckled, augmented and au natural: all of them wear bikinis. I can only assume this is because going to the beach in Europe is about feeling the sun on your skin, frolicking in the waves, and reading a book more than it is about looking a certain way. It’s about quality time with the sun and sea rather than judging whether or not someone has too much cellulite, too much booty, not enough cleavage or too much wobble and wiggle to wear a two piece. Seems like a no brainer, right?

Yet it’s not.

How many times have you heard this in the US: “She’s got no business wearing a bikini”? In reality, there are only a handful of women whose business it is to wear a bikini and most of them are supermodels from the Ukraine. No one else is making or losing money based on my decision to wear a bikini. Or yours.

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How about “you’re lucky you can still wear a bikini”? If we are talking lucky that I can still move my legs enough to get them into the little holes, well then sure. But ‘lucky’ that I am still thin enough, toned enough, young enough or confident enough? Eh. At the moment the only one of those boxes I can tick is confident enough and that confidence comes from a place of peace with myself and the understanding that the only people who really care if I wear a bikini are me and the manufacturers of my size L bikini bottoms.

How about “No one over 40 should be seen in a bikini?” Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Do I offend you with my middle-aged body? Does the mileage that shows on my skin, the stretch marks and the sun spots, the crow’s feet and the beginning to crepe at the knee skin, do those things negate my right to sunbathe, to swim or enjoy a paperback in the sand? For the most part, only teenagers are at the beach to attract others. The rest of us want to sun our jiggle, watch our kids make mud pies, or feel the sand between our toes. It’s that simple.

Yet it’s not.

For a long time I wouldn’t wear a bikini unless I was fighting fit. Unless my stomach was flat, unless my thighs weren’t touching, unless nothing folded over or wiggled like a bowl of jello. The older I get, the more my thighs rub together and the closer fab gets to flab. Ironically, the more that happens, the less I care about what anyone thinks.

Living in Europe has taught me that bodies are meant for living. They are meant for running and biking and walking and playing. Bodies are meant for giving life, for nurturing, for loving. They are meant for housing those unique characteristics that make us ourselves, whether you call that a soul or a personality or something else entirely. They are meant to get us from point A (birth) to point B (death). They aren’t simply for parading up and down the shoreline and flexing your muscles. Unless perhaps you’re a super model from the Ukraine who makes her money that way.

In my experience this extreme body shaming, this lashing out at others over a swimsuit, this judgmental tendency to place age and weight limits on a swimsuit tends to be a uniquely American trait.  One of the things I appreciate most about living in northern Europe is the lack of shaming. Of ourselves and others. Though I normally don’t risk getting sunburned nipples by bathing topless, it is refreshing to walk my not quite so perky ass down to the sea-side and brave the chill of the North Atlantic without a care in the world. Living there has taught me that time spent at the beach, with my family, in the sun, is what it’s about. Not about whether someone I don’t know is silently judging whether or not I’m fit enough, young enough, perky enough or have any business wearing a bikini.

bikiniAfter six years of living in Europe, I’m a bikini convert. For practicality, for the warmth of the fleeting summer sun on my bare skin, hell, even for ease of peeing. All those years I wore unflattering one piece suits, struggling to use the toilet, feeling the sliminess of wet lycra against my belly button, halter straps pulling me down—generally being uncomfortable because I didn’t think I was thin enough or toned enough, or indeed, had any business wearing a bikini.

I’m a 43-year-old wife and mother of two. My body has been through half of its life. It has endured 18 months of pregnancy, born two children. My body has provided a safe haven for those babies: a lap to snuggle into, arms to hug, legs to carry me through. My body has comforted a dying parent, and has supported the grieving body of the other. It has provided love and comfort to my spouse. My body has served me well these four plus decades. No amount of judging or inane rules or whispers is going to make me think that I shouldn’t wear a bikini.

To my fellow Americans who hide their beach bodies under yards of gauzy fabric in an attempt not to offend others, in an attempt to hide from their own fears and insecurities, to hide from the judgement of others, I recommend this: buy a bikini. Wear it. Rock it. Look out toward that horizon and never look back.

 

**This was a natural follow up to the previous 10 Thing I Miss About U (SA) post recently. Being comfortable in a bikini was high up on my list of things I like about Europe. It seemed too important to be relegated to a number on a list, however. So it got it’s very own post.

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35 thoughts on “Confessions of a 40-Something Bikini Convert

  1. Ali July 8, 2014 / 12:40 am

    What a difference in cultural perceptions. If only the European view would catch on here in the states…

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 4:15 am

      That is it in a nut shell, different cultural perceptions. There are a lot of things about Europe I wish would catch on in the US, but vice versa too. But the attitude towards bodies and sexuality seems to be far more healthy than the puritanical faux morality that dominates the media these days.

      Like

  2. Deirdre Gallagher July 8, 2014 / 1:08 am

    JUST PLAIN AWESOME!! Thank you for this!!!

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 1:51 am

      You are most welcome. Now go and rock your bikini!

      Like

  3. Stephanie G. July 8, 2014 / 1:16 am

    That’s it. I’m packing my family’s bags and moving to Europe. I’m a 42 year old mother of two who regularly dons my Speedo one-piece to play at the beach with my boys. But your lovely essay tugs at a little room in my heart-that room where we American women were once free to be 100% ourselves, without fearing the judgment of our peers. I’m mostly over it (cellulite and all), but it would be so freeing to live in a world where the bikini judgment simply didn’t exist. Kudos to you for moving and embracing your adopted homeland, cultural mores and all.

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 4:13 am

      Brava! In the end we must all wear what makes us happy and comfortable. But no one else has the right to make us feel uncomfortable for those choices. Come to Europe. And bring sunscreen for all that bared skin.

      Like

  4. South of the Strait July 8, 2014 / 1:27 am

    After reading your piece I’m thinking about getting a Speedo for myself. On second thought, maybe I’ll just ride the John Deere with my shirt off. Great post

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 4:10 am

      Thanks. There is a growing movement regarding the inequality of nipple baring, perhaps you could lead the call to arms? In any event, wear your Speedo with pride.

      Like

  5. Anonymous July 8, 2014 / 4:08 am

    Love it and once again, so true! Having only bikinis ( I’m French) I was wondering if it was time for a one piece. I guess I can still wait a few more years… Maybe 🙂

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 4:19 am

      Don’t give in to the one piece. They’re horribly unflattering on most people. The only one who gets to make a choice about your swimwear is you! 😉

      Like

  6. Elyse July 8, 2014 / 4:22 am

    Good for you. I am delighted for you and impressed.

    Me, my stint in Europe found me next to Size Zero French women. They all sunbathed topless. I hid under a tent.

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 2:19 pm

      Size 0 or not, I have found that European women are less judgmental about bathing fashions. In fact, I bet they were more likely to judge you for wearing a one piece rather than a bikini more that what you looked like in a bikini! In the end of course, the most important thing is that we are comfortable in and with ourselves. As long as the opinion of others, bases on inconsequential tidbits doesn’t come into play, we’re all good.

      Like

  7. cherryreads July 8, 2014 / 5:13 am

    This is a fantastic post and a lovely sentiment! What I noticed during my brief time in Denmark in June was that everyone wanted to feel the sunlight: eating and drinking outdoors whenever possible. Surely the bikini part is a corollary. As for fashion, I would rather see people try and fail than not to bother at all out of self-consciousness.

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 2:22 pm

      The Danes certainly know how to appreciate the sun. Everything changes in Denmark when it is sunny, most of all the Danes, who actually smile for a few months a year ;-). I don’t think it would even occur to a Dane NOT to wear a bikini. In fact, when I return I shall have to see if they even sell one piece swimsuits ;-). Seriously though, the older population are given to swimming nude, so to them even a bikini seems unnecessary, let alone a one piece, a cover up and a sarong.

      Like

  8. anntogether.com July 8, 2014 / 5:41 am

    Wonderful post. You’ve convinced me!
    AnnMarie 🙂
    I guess if I wear a bikini a won’t wear a coverup over the bikini because that would be cheating 😉

    Like

      • anntogether.com July 8, 2014 / 2:51 pm

        It may look like rocks are what’s inside my bikini but I’m doing laps in my pool today and I will opt for the thing with skin in between. If there is a stampede of neighbors exiting, I won’t take it personally 😉
        AnnMarie 🙂
        It is sad how the US has taken something as beautiful as the human form and reduced it to surface only and nothing beyond… I jest in my initial response above, but your post was truly enlightening and uplifting. It’s a shame we here in America can’t take our cue from mature nations around us and appreciate the body in all its permutations and stop being so snarky, judgmental and vain…

        Like

  9. Avril Schofield July 8, 2014 / 8:46 am

    Oh no, this could be a contender for my favourite blog post of yours yet – it made me cry! Thanks Dina!

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 2:24 pm

      Some of the comments and responses have made me cry, Avril. What we do to ourselves and each other, huh? All that negative energy over what? A swimsuit? Jeez.

      Like

  10. Renee July 8, 2014 / 10:11 am

    Dina,
    You have no idea how this touched me. My first son was born when I was 22 and I had no problem dropping the weight and getting back into a bikini.Twelve long years passed until I had my second son and two years after that, my third son. Mid thirties wasn’t as kind. Metabolism was turtle slow, the extra weight hung on, and on… It’s been a constant battle since.

    Americans are very judgmental about what others wear, or in this case, don’t wear. I allowed what others thought to dictate what I wore and went from bikini to tankini with a skirt to “hide” the junk in the trunk. I didn’t want to offend or blind anyone…

    In 10 days, I will be 50 years old. Half my life is over and I can’t get back the hours and days I fretted and worried about whether I looked to too fat or too dumpy in my clothing. It’s time to hold my head up and start living….be damned what others think.

    I think I will shop for a birthday bikini…<3

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 2:17 pm

      That made me tear up, Renee. Seriously. NO ONE should dictate how we feel about our something so silly as swim wear choice, yet so many of us fall into the trap of letting it define us. I stood at the beach the other day, letting it all hang out, not caring and it felt good. Everything about it felt good. Be yourself and be unafraid.

      Like

  11. NotAPunkRocker July 8, 2014 / 4:18 pm

    Ease of peeing makes it all worth while.

    Now, seriously…I do wonder if I were to gave been raised in a different culture how that would have effected my body image issues. Too late to figure out now, but it’s nice to know that there’s one factor removed from that equation in some places.

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 4:55 pm

      I don’t think it’s too late, Sheena. I mean you can’t go back in time but you can surely mourn the loss of a more accepting culture, as long as you keep moving forward. No culture is perfect, but in this instance, I do think that Europeans make it a little easier on women. I also see the same with non-white American women. It’s an interesting contrast.

      Like

  12. El Guapo July 8, 2014 / 8:21 pm

    Hmm…I wonder if there’s a market for a line of burial bikinis, for those who want to be comfortable for all eternity…

    Like

    • dhonour July 8, 2014 / 9:59 pm

      I’ve seen Burkinins, but that’s pretty much the polar opposite. Frankly, I think my family should stuff me and mount me above the fireplace, but they’re welcome to put me in anything they see fit. 😉

      Like

      • El Guapo July 8, 2014 / 10:02 pm

        My wife patently refuses to do that for me.
        Hmph.

        Like

  13. doublewhirler July 9, 2014 / 4:36 pm

    I had the same revelation when we moved to Cyprus! Although it took a few visits to the beach before I was able to put my finger on exactly why (aside from my glowing white skin) I just didn’t quite fit in….kinda like a slo-mo “Hey, wait a minute…” You captured the experience beautifully. It was LIBERATING! In the States I never felt “bikini ready” it is great to be rid of that anxiety. Except I burn so easily (even w copious amounts of sunblock) that I end up in a beach burka under an umbrella. But mentally I’m rocking it. Mentally.

    Now, how about them budgie smugglers (Kiwi for banana hammocks)?

    Like

    • dhonour July 9, 2014 / 10:17 pm

      Yes, it happened for me in Cyprus too. But I was a lot fitter then so it didn’t register as much ;-). The idea of NOT CARING is a gorgeous thing, isn’t it?. You definitely get credit for mental bikini wearing, in spirit if not fact. Now, the old banana hammock? That’s another story entirely. Possibly a post about 10 things I DON”T appreciate in Europe….

      Like

      • doublewhirler July 11, 2014 / 1:53 pm

        I know, right? But then goose/gander, pot/kettle/black… 🙂

        Like

  14. lonebonekaffekone July 27, 2014 / 11:51 pm

    Thanks for this post. This is exactly one of the cultural differences I wrote about this week – you have expresseed it so beautifully
    “Living in Europe has taught me that bodies are meant for living. They are meant for running and biking and walking and playing. Bodies are meant for giving life, for nurturing, for loving. They are meant for housing those unique characteristics that make us ourselves, whether you call that a soul or a personality or something else entirely.”
    Keep writing!

    Like

    • dhonour July 28, 2014 / 7:47 am

      Thank you, what a lovely comment! Despite my own feelings, it is something I still struggle with when I feel ‘not my best’, which is a fair amount as I age. But I still wear my bikini, holding my head (and stomach) high.

      Like

  15. InfiniteZip August 2, 2014 / 2:23 pm

    We went camping as a kid and our neighbors were from Europe, my grandmother threw a fit at 17 year old young men sunning naked…not good for her ten year old granddaughters to see. I thought it was cool and even do it myself at 47 in my yard at the pond praying google maps is not filming that day;) great piece;) two piece or otherwise;)

    Like

    • dhonour August 3, 2014 / 10:37 am

      Ha! Naked sunning! The Danes like a bit of naked sunning on their balconies (not that I’m looking….). Again, the American ethic never ceases to amaze me. It’s ok to carry a loaded gun into Target but not ok to get naked. Or the latest I read about, all these people up in arms because a baby doll had a penis–little girls shouldn’t be exposed to that! (Let alone the millions of little girls who have little brothers who get it out at any opportunity!) Keep sunning. Just make sure you used sun cream. Especially on the sensitive bits. 😉

      Like

  16. Anonymous January 18, 2016 / 7:09 am

    I have learned for myself long ago that a body should not be flaunted.

    If one believes she must wear a bikini to prove her worth, that comes off to me as a lack of self-respect.

    I commend those who don’t fall for such schemes.

    Like

    • Dina Honour January 18, 2016 / 1:55 pm

      That’s an interesting statement.

      I agree with you 100% that no woman should base her value as an individual or a woman on the shape of her body. But that’s exactly what European women don’t do. They wear a bikini because they are at the beach and it makes sense, which is what I am drawn to. The 65 year old women on the beaches aren’t flaunting. They’re sunbathing. They’re enjoying the sunshine. Flaunting as you call it, and wearing a bikini are not mutually exclusive actions. Displaying your body in a overtly sexual way in order to self-validate–well, there’s a long history of that and no wonder with the way we Americans approach sexuality and bodies–but you are right that there is a self-esteem issue there. I wouldn’t call it a scheme, because I think it’s a much deeper issue and embedded in the American psyche. But this article wasn’t about that as much as it was the opposite–how no woman should be shamed into NOT wearing a bikini because someone else’s ideals are forced on her.

      Like

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