My Life in (and out of) Swimsuits

I was 40 years old when I gave up two-piece swimsuits. I’m not talking bikinis; I mean any two-piece. My last public appearance in a bikini was the summer before I became a mom. For the record, I never could get behind the tankini, a combination bikini bottom and tank top swimsuit designed to be more forgiving to women with expanded midriffs. Since I never found a tankini I liked, I returned to the one- piece.

For decades I’ve been one of those people who automatically trains her eyes away from the sight of any person who doesn’t look good in a swimsuit. Growing up at the Jersey shore, I had plenty of exposure to folks who undoubtedly looked better fully clothed.

My mother, who was self-conscious in a bathing suit, was no help. “Will you look at that,” she would say in a wondering voice, casting a disapproving eye on anyone she decided spent too much time at the frozen custard stand.

It was hard not to inherit that attitude, and of course, I thought the same about myself.

I recently had the opportunity to take a long beach stroll. It was a beautiful day, and there were lots of people. Old people, middle aged people, heavyset people, people with disabilities, people with varicose veins. Very few of them were wearing bathing suits. (They must have listened to their mothers, too.)

I saw shorts. I saw rolled up pants. I saw long float-y skirts twisted up above the knee. I saw people who might have been wearing bathing suits, but they were wrapped from the waist down in towels. The only people wearing actual bathing suits were small children and the occasional teen. Teens, these days, you may have noticed, don’t go to the beach that much.

I wish I could say otherwise, but it occurred to me (I was also wearing cover-up clothes) that with so much emphasis on youth and beauty, most people are just not comfortable in swimsuits. But a day at the beach is a day at the beach, so we improvise in whatever way that feels good.

The longer I walked, the more I observed. People were wading in the water. They were building castles in the sand. Intrepid folks armed with clamming gear were attempting to catch fresh clams. Some people were collecting pretty stones and shells along the strand.

They were all having a great time – just not wearing swimsuits.

I thought back to a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of hitting the beach or the pool without a new swimsuit. For decades, I spent hours poring over catalogues in search of a flattering and affordable suit. Eventually I stopped going to my town’s wonderful public pools because I didn’t like the way I looked. I turned down invitations to use my more well-off friends’ pools. I wasted untold hours fretting about body hair. Each new dimple of flesh and pouchy bit of belly sent me into a frenzy of self-loathing.

I know I’m not alone in that.

Because I felt I no longer looked good in a swimsuit, for a long time I’ve denied myself the simple pleasures of relaxing in the sun or enjoying the water. I regret that. Thanks to my long stroll on the beach last week, I realized how I had sabotaged my own enjoyment.

It’s liberating to recognize it doesn’t matter what you wear to the beach or the pool – whether it’s a swimsuit, rolled-up pants or a floaty skirt – because nobody cares. You shouldn’t, either. I might just start thinking about getting a swimsuit.


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