Naturally, since we are in the first flushes of summer (or the first flushes of official summer), magazines have been clogged full of articles discussing various exercises and diets you can do to get a bikini body for the summer.
I’m a total beach-a-holic and pool junkie. I grew up body-surfing and rolling around in the sand until my mom had to drag me, kicking and screaming, off the beach or out of our country club. I wore bathing suits designed for Olympic swimmers – usually the crossed Speedo suit favored by Summer Sanders – because that’s the only thing that would stay glued to my body and my freakishly large shoulders while I tore up the surf and got thrown around by my parents. That’s the only thing that would stay on while I threw clothes on over my soaked suit and ran to the boardwalk for a water ice or biked to the video store. I have pictures my Dad took of me running back into the water to try and dig all of the sand out that got stuck in my suit, lest it look like I had a MAJOR accident. What can I say? I can blame my great skin on all the sand and salt it took when I was little.
Despite all of the perks of a one-piece suit – you can run like a banshee through the water without fear of a boob popping out, and then pound down some killer gelati at Kelly’s Custard – I still found myself looking at the girls wearing skimpy two-pieces lazily sipping iced drinks and feeling pangs of jealousy, staring down at my own stocky frame, pulling at the pudgy areas around my lower stomach. The workout videos I crunched to regularly told me that the lower stomach area was ‘a really hard spot to tone’.
Bear in mind I was 12 at the time and my favorite food was fries.
Against my mother’s wishes I bought a two-piece. It was pink and did not fit very well. But I thought it would be a really good investment, and that I would look cute in it.
I sat on the beach, afraid to move for fear one of my boobs would pop out of the ties, watching my friends run around in their securely strapped one-pieces, and that’s the first time I had the inclination that the bikini was meant to be gazed at, not played in. It’s no fun to be in a bikini, really, unless you like getting a tan on your stomach or you don’t like to participate in beach sports like I do.
Note: That bikini has now become a punch line in my family. The other day I walked in on my mom and sister and boyfriend laughing in the kitchen and my mom looked at me and said “We were just telling him about that bikini you made me buy you when you were 12, the one you kept falling out of!” I immediately crashed my head into the countertop.
Over the years, I still wanted to be in that damn bikini. Four years ago I finally was able to be in those skimpy bikinis, but at the cost of avoiding the beach activities I loved – partially because I didn’t want my string suits to fall apart while bodysurfing, but also because I lacked any energy to partake due to an incredibly wimpy diet consisting of lettuce and protein bars.
But I looked good! I looked thin! I looked like every other girl on the beach! I looked like the chicks in magazines!
But I was being looked at. I wasn’t actually doing anything in those suits.
Three years ago, I was on my way to getting better but I still insisted on wearing the bikinis. I remember playing beach football with my friends and watching my best friend zoom around the beach in her adorable one-piece, as I constantly had to yank my bathing suit bottoms back up, and thinking why do I insist on wearing this if I can’t do anything in it?
The John Berger axiom explored in his famous essay and book “Ways of Seeing” asserts that “women appear, and men act.” The bikini is designed for women to appear cute in. It’s meant to be worn while reading magazines on the beach, casually, with perfect hair and washboard abs. It’s meant, on some level, to domesticate, to calcify. It is meant for as little movement as possible so women can be looked upon, not engaged with.
Last year, I was out shopping at Target for some beach cover-ups and saw an absolutely adorable scarlet tank bathing suit with a ruched front and bow details. It wasn’t the same as those Speedo suits my mom stuffed me into as a child. It was more adult but it would stay put if I wanted to play with my nephew in the pool, or throw something on over it to run errands.
I put it on in the dressing room and looked at myself. It showed off my shoulders and legs and the ruched front covered up the stomach pooch that no amount of crunches will ever get rid of; a pooch that I was still trying to get rid of at my lowest ever weight. The stomach pooch that says Hey, I live LIFE, dammit. Gimme some fries!
That bathing suit would stay in place whether reading on a deck chair, running in the sand, or playing with my nephew.
My point to this rambling entry?
I was unwilling to realize I had a perfectly good bathing suit body before all of this mess happened.
Don’t let anybody tell you what you should or should not wear. As long as it covers up your unmentionables, wear whatever the hell you want either at the beach or somewhere else.
I still have my bikinis, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I like to have a tan on my stomach so it doesn’t, you know, reflect sunlight and blind people.
But they’re not nearly as fun as actually being active at the beach. And I don’t plan on killing myself to ‘look good’ in them anymore. ‘Looking good’ is a subjective position to be in. I’d rather feel good.
Also, one more quick thing.
If you want a bikini body, put your body in a bikini. No crunches necessary.