There’s been a lot of chatter in the news lately about the “dad bod.” Male celebrities, once hard-bodied studs, are now in their forties. They’re parents. They have love handles and man boobs. And guess what? They’re still confident. These not-so-perfect celebrity dads rock what they’ve got while they enjoy themselves on vacation and do normal stuff, like play with their kids at the beach and eat ice cream.
This is also the time of year when the internet is plastered with body image articles. ‘Tis the season for bathing suits…and bathing suit anxiety, right? At least it is for me. I would rather have a root canal or get a pap smear than try on suits at Target. Who’s with me?
I have seen a lot of encouraging, body-positive blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates. Plus-size women rocking their two-piece bathing suits. Moms posing for pictures on the beach with their stretch marks and cellulite proudly on display. The internet is telling us that getting in the pool and having fun with our kids is more important than being self-conscious about how we look in our bathing suit. And, of course it is.
I am not body confident. I don’t care how many times someone tells me to be proud of my mom bod, I am not proud of it. Each time summer rolls around (which in San Antonio is sometime in February), I dread the months of skin exposure. I don’t want to hear how you’re proud of your stretch marks, your “tiger stripes.” If that’s you, rock on. That is not me.
As much as I try to look after my body and mind, I know I’ll never be one of those body confident girls who looks forward to the pool opening every year. I’m a size 12–14 right now. I know in my heart that even if I woke up tomorrow as a perfect size 6, I’d probably still find something about myself to criticize.
I still go to the pool with my kids. I take them to the beach and the lake, to the water parks at SeaWorld and Six Flags. I do all the fun things a mom is supposed to do in the summer. Do I try to find ways to get out of pool duty? You bet your bippy! Do I encourage my kids to splash about with their dad while I lounge poolside with my beach towel artfully draped across my midsection? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
I can’t put on a bathing suit without mentally cringing. After I make sure that none of the important bits are hanging out and reassuring myself that yes, I really did remember to shave, I try not to look in the mirror (or any reflective surface) when I’m in swimwear. I’m never truly comfortable in any bathing suit, and if you tell me it’s impossible to suck it in for four hours, I’ll tell you that you don’t know me very well.
For the past several years, my swimwear has been modest. I was happy to see the skirted tankini come into fashion. The return of the thigh-skimming swim dress? Yes, please. I’ll take three. Covering up made bathing suit season a little less traumatic for me, but the skirt weighed me down when I got in the water and just wasn’t super fun to swim in.
But this year, I bought a bikini. A conservative one, as those things go, but a real bikini that exposes my wobbly midsection in all its glory. There is no skirt on the bottom, and although it’s a fairly modest cut, you can see my not-perfect butt cheeks. I’m not sure what possessed me to order this. I must have had a moment of confidence. Maybe I shouldn’t drink wine when I shop online…or maybe I should. I just know that the unkind, fluorescent lights in the store dressing room along with the up-close-and-personal view of my wiggly jiggly bits in those wretched mirrors (seriously who looks good in those?) would have probably convinced me to wear a burka to the pool.
When it came in the mail, I hid in the bathroom and tried it on. As I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I made a mental list of everything that was wrong with my body. I forgot to lock the door, so of course my husband came in and witnessed my contortions as I tried to get a good look at myself from every angle…I didn’t want to miss spotting one of my many problem areas.
He whistled. “That looks nice.”
Instead of saying “thanks, honey” or even “you’re only saying that because you want to stay married to me,” I proceeded to point out everything that was wrong with my body. I know…pathetic, huh?
“No, I don’t look nice. Look at my thighs. See my stomach? And this roll right here? That’s back fat. You can’t suck in back fat, honey. I look awful.”
Then, my four-year-old bounded in. I’m a mom, so I was probably delusional when I imagined having any sort of bathroom privacy. When he saw me in my new bathing suit, his face eyes lit up and he clapped his hands.
“Mommy, you look pretty! I like your blue bathing suit. Are we going swimming?”
I could have shooed him out for barging into my bathroom without knocking. I could have made some sort of comment that would have clued his little kid brain into the fact that I wasn’t happy with my appearance. But instead I said this: “Thank you. And yes, we are going swimming. Go get your suit, too.”
I’m not going to lie. I was faking a confidence I did not feel. Yanking off that cover-up that first day was scary.
I felt like all eyes were on me. They weren’t.
I felt like everyone was pointing, laughing, and criticizing. That didn’t happen, at least no so overtly that I knew about it.
Yes, I was self-consciously sucking it in. Yes, I clutched my cover-up in front of me like a shield for as long as I could. But the warm sun on my skin felt good. The freedom to move around in the water without having a bundle of lycra sticking to my thighs made splashing and playing so much more fun.
I have been wearing my bikini all summer. I am still faking a confidence I don’t feel, but I am still wearing my bikini. The world is still spinning. No one has appeared overly traumatized by the sight of so much exposed skin. Children haven’t run screaming from the pool area, and no one has asked me to put more clothes on. So I think I’m good.
Yes, I’m still self-conscious, and yes, I still bunch up that towel around my midsection when I’m not in the water. Habit. I wear my cover-up when I go to the snack bar, and I give the young, fit, skinny moms the side-eye while wishing my body looked more like theirs.
I am not in the place where I revel in the perfection of my imperfect body. I’m pretty sure I never will be in that place. I don’t love my mom bod, but I’m wearing a bikini this summer anyway. Maybe those little bits of fabric signify the first steps toward self-acceptance. And, when I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror or in the reflective glass of a window? Yes, I think stuff like “ooh, look at that fat roll,” or “stand up straight and suck it in.”
But then I mentally replay the words of my son: “Mommy, you look pretty.” And I take a deep breath. I suck it in, but I also hold my head up.
I get in the pool.