I 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.
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.
After 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.