Strange Self-Love: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Loving My Bikini Body
Photo Credit: Suesig/Shutterstock
We live in a world where every day happens to be National Something or Other Day, so it should come as no surprise that July 5th is National Bikini Day. If the word bikini sends you into a panic, you are not alone. How many of us are inundated with articles and ads promising to help get us into our “bikini body” by summer? How many of us have struggled the entire year to fit into our bikini of choice? Well, not anymore.
When I was growing up, body positivity didn’t exist. Society either considered you thin or fat, with pretty much no inbetween. I haven’t had a slender body since I was around the age of 8, when my breasts appeared almost overnight. Age 8 was probably the last time I felt comfortable trying on a bikini, as all I cared about was that it was Pocohauntas-themed and pink. Then, puberty hit and with it came a whole host of body insecurities. Even though my 5’4” frame has typically hovered in the realm of 140lbs - 150lbs, a perfectly healthy size for my frame, everyone around me, including myself, considered me to be unacceptably, embarrassingly fat.
By the time I was in middle school, I hated swimsuit shopping. But, I loved swimming, so I faced a dilemma. With 1950s era swim dresses decidedly out of fashion, I would find the next best thing to cover as much skin as possible. Typically, this meant finding a one piece that I could then cover with a pair of shorts, just to make sure no one saw my stomach, thighs, or butt. Of course, this made using the bathroom exceptionally hard, but it felt like a small price to pay for being able to go to the beach and not be as self conscious. Instead of being supportive and encouraging, family and friends would often reaffirm my need to cover my body. My swimsuit changing room montages would just be filled with critical calls of “Are you sure you want to wear that?” and judgemental glares paired with “Is there something that can cover more?” So, when I found a bathing suit that worked for me, that singular one would be worn until it was nearly in tatters to postpone having to go through that torture again for as long as possible.
When I was in high school, I witnessed the rise of the tankini. Finally, I was able to wear a two-piece without having to reveal more than I was comfortable with
Then, when I was in high school, I witnessed the rise of the tankini. Finally, I was able to wear a two-piece without having to reveal more than I was comfortable with. And, I was able to use the bathroom without having to become completely nude in the disgusting bathroom stall that accompanies any beach or pool. More styles of bathing suits were open to me, but I wasn’t over my body issues. I can remember having insults about my body hurled at me from strangers and people I knew, male and female, any time I dared to show more skin than they thought I should. Forget wearing a bikini. Even if I had wanted to, they didn’t make bikinis in sizes big enough to accommodate a curvier body. If society didn’t think you had a bikini body, there wasn’t going to be a bikini for you.
Once I moved away to college, I gained more self esteem. I no longer had to be the “Fat Allie” I had been labeled in my old, small-minded town. I could decide who I wanted to be — a more authentic version of my true self. My body and my size didn’t have to define me. Granted, the straight males at my college were pretty much just as small-minded when it came to the beauty standards they thought women should adhere to, I just cared less. After years of apologizing for my body, apologizing for taking up more space with my existence than people wanted me to, I was too tired to care anymore. For the first time in my life, I wanted to dress for myself and no one else.
I began slowly, this time by buying a bikini top. My bottoms were still large, complete with a skirt to cover my thighs, but at least I was experimenting with showing my stomach — something I never would have dared to do years before. My stomach has never been flat and I don’t remember the last time it was free from stretch marks, but I wasn’t trying to adhere to some sick, outdated beauty standard. I just wanted to be more comfortable at the boiling hot beach.
With the body positive movement in full swing, we’ve gotten the chance to see people of all shapes and sizes showcased for their beauty — not shamed for daring to be anything other than stick thin.
An eating disorder that I’ve battled my whole life intensified by my Junior year, and I managed to starve and purge my way down to what I thought was an acceptable bikini body. It still wasn’t perfect in my twisted mind, my body dysmorphia wouldn't have allowed me to think it was perfect at any weight at that time, but I had spent my whole life trying to work toward this goal: looking good in a bikini. Of course, this “victory” was short lived as it was impossible to maintain an unhealthy physique that was earned through unhealthy means. But, the only good part of that experience was that after I’d had a taste of finally wearing a bikini, I wasn’t planning to go back.
Now, I’m heavier than I ever was back when I considered myself to be the human equivalent of a beached whale. But I appreciate the beauty of my bigger body. I actually feel attractive. I KNOW I am attractive. With the body positive movement in full swing, we’ve gotten the chance to see people of all shapes and sizes showcased for their beauty — not shamed for daring to be anything other than stick thin. From Lizzo to J.Lo to Kim Kardashian and Ashley Graham, we are finally seeing a variety of women with a variety of bodies being showcased for their beauty the same way that women with waif figures have been my whole life. And, equally as important, we finally have companies that are making bikinis to flatter ALL body types. The same bikini that will look good on a slender-bodied woman just isn’t going to be flattering on me and that’s ok. Neither of us is better than the other. But, we do have differing needs. Finally, my bikini body needs are being addressed.
Today, I own multiple plus size bikinis and I rock every single one of them. The only worry I have when I go to the beach is protecting all of that glorious bare skin from a sunburn. So, I slather on the SPF and then I’m all set. As I run into the water, thighs jiggling, stomach sagging and exposed, I feel free. I finally have my bikini body. It turns out, I’d had my bikini body all along. It was the world that needed to shape up, not me.