girls of summer

I’ve probably spent more time in a bathing suit than most people. I didn’t grow up near the beach or anything—far from it, actually, in Kansas. But as soon as I could swim, which was early, I spent all day, every day at the local public pool, from the minute it opened Memorial Weekend until the minute it closed on Labor Day.

My sister and I famously (for our small-town, anyway) ate and slept in our bathing suits when we were little. My mom liked this program because it meant less laundry and she just encouraged us to take them off once in a while so that our you-know-whats could breathe.

We wore one-pieces. (Now I call them “tanks.” Classy people call them “maillots.”) My mom didn’t like it when young girls wore bikinis. One summer, when I was getting up there in age, elementary-school-wise, I talked her into letting me get some sort of strange contraption that was technically a one-piece, but with a hole cut out of the stomach and back. This was in the eighties. I can’t remember what those silly things were called.

The next year, I got a real “two piece.” It was a sports-bra-style top and modest-cut bottoms. Lime green and blacks stripes, I remember. By the time I was in high school, I was wearing proper bikinis. Until, that is, I became a lifeguard at 16 and went back to one-pieces for the dress-code.

I was a lifeguard for 3 years, until my certificate expired. Again, I was wearing a bathing suit night and day. I would wear the one-piece to work, and then change into a bikini to “lay out” on my break. (Maybe there is a post about sun-cancer in my future?)

Anyway, since the time I changed my mom’s mind about them in high-school, bikinis have been no-brainers for me, even when I was pregnant with twins. When it’s hot, I find the least amount of fabric the most comfortable, plain and simple. It may sound like I don’t have my share of body-image issues or lack self-consciousness. On the contrary, I have all of that and, like many women, annually reach a point in late Spring where I’m determined to look my best ever in a suit and do away with “problem areas” once and for all. But Spring is just so good for cocktails and grilling and block parties, so I eat and drink and have a blast and put on my old bikinis, stare at my thighs and tummy in the mirror and think, “It is what it is. At least I had fun.”

I might feel a bit embarrassed the first time or two out in my bikini for the season, but I easily slip into a comfortableness that must come from spending so much darn time over the years in a suit. And it dawned on me that our attitudes about swimwear may reveal something about our attitudes in general.

We were recently on the coast in Florida, where the temperature was in the 90’s and the humidity was so high that our towels were NEVER. DRY. Everyone on the island was in a bathing suit everywhere and it got me thinking about style. I know there are suits out there designed to hide or, at least, minimalize “problem areas.” (I like to think of my “problem areas” as “relatively normal areas,” though.) I’ve seen other people wear these styles and I sincerely think they are flattering and, for the most part, do what they promise to do. So, if you are one of those people who wears a suit designed to “flatter your figure,” trust me, if I saw you, I would think you look great and admire your classiness. (And I mean you, too, Andy-in-your-banana-hammock!)

However, if you read this blog, you know that my approach in life (and swimwear) is more, “I’m putting everything out there. People will see my strengths AND weaknesses and maybe they’ll dig it, maybe they won’t. But they’ll certainly know what they’re getting.” I’ve tried several figure-flattering cuts and I feel like a big phony in all of them. Here are a few examples:

  • Underwire Cups

Hello. I have to wear something up top, but please don’t look at my chest. I didn’t want you to look even when I had GREAT tits (Oh, if I had it to do over!) and I especially don’t want you to now. They have been engorged with breastmilk, to the extent that I could touch them with my chin, so many times that I now need a cold, hard, metal support spiking me in the armpit to prop up my boobs so that they don’t graze my belly. Whoops! A piece of wrinkly-loose- elephant-skin just slipped out the top! Let me just tuck that back in. What were we saying?

  • Ruching

I’d rather cover my midsection with three extra layers of synthetic fabric that feels like a girdle when it’s dry and then bunches and sags when it’s wet than let the folds of my belly show when I’m crouching over to get Cheddar Bunnies out of the pool. Oh, I’m not supposed to get this swim suit wet? What was I thinking, planning on getting wet at a pool? Never mind that it’s hot outside and the whole point of swimming is to cool off, I’d rather sit in the shade, constantly tugging and adjusting yards of material over my torso. Hey, Mr. Creepy-Swimming-Pool-Guy-with-the-Mustache. Can I borrow that knife in the back pocket of your cut-off-denim-shorts so I can slice open my bathing suit because I AM SUFFOCATING!!!!!

  • Swim Skirts

Um, hi. I have saddle-bags and cellulite. I have since puberty, so I don’t think they’re going away in my thirties. I’m trying to cover it all in a skirt that makes my hips look even wider than they are after having three babies. At least the cellulite is contained to my ass now, instead of spreading to my wrists, like it did when I was pregnant with my third. You didn’t know someone could develop cellulite on her wrists? Well, she can. And it’s not pretty. There is no bathing suit made today that covers up cellulite on your wrists. Thank God it went away after I had the baby. I’m hardly worried about dimples on my thighs at this point.

You know me by now, so you know I don’t mean to sound cheesy, old-fashioned, or goody-two-shoes with this next thing, but honestly? The one person I hope to impress with my body on a regular basis is the man who sees me naked every day, anyway. There is no tricking him with flattering styles. So that leaves….my kids I’m trying to impress? Ha. Other women? I’m not too worried about what other women think and here’s why: I have a feeling they are also busy feeling insecure. I realized this after years of getting compliments on my eyebrows. Women like my eyebrows and want to know if I pluck them, where I get them “done,” if they are “natural.” Before these compliments came in, I never even noticed I had eyebrows. Who looks at eyebrows? I would think, as I stared at the perfectly straight, uniform, white teeth of the woman complimenting me on my eyebrows. Why teeth? Because mine are flawed. And I’m self-conscious about them and think everyone must have better teeth than me. And I think we’re doing it all over again to one another in our bathing suits, no matter what the cut or style.

To the self-assured, confident woman who is judging me, thinking “doesn’t she know how she looks?” and never questions her own choices: Can I have the name of your therapist?

I got mine in Radio Red. This is what I look like in it. (In my mind.) (www.jcrew.com)

So, what do I wear? Here is the JCrew suit I ordered this year. No, this post is NOT sponsored by JCrew, but if you are a JCrew rep for Women’s Swimwear and you are interested in advertising on this blog, I can guarantee you….five…yes, FIVE readers a day. Except one of them is Katie’s dad, so I don’t know if he counts as the demographic you’re looking for.

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17 thoughts on “girls of summer

  1. This was fun to read Maria. I’ve decided to dust off my pre-twin bikini this year. My white skin may require sunglasses, but I’m pretty proud of the body that grew three babies. Two of them simultaneously to term 🙂

  2. So glad you felt comfortable wearing your bikini while pregnant! I just put mine on for the first time this summer, and it fits fine. Why would I buy a new one to cover up my big belly for three months when wearing a two-piece totally lets my tummy expand at whatever rate it sees fit?

  3. Love this!! Thanks Maria for putting the small stuff (which technically might not be small, per se) in perspective.

  4. Awk, you women and your skewed body perceptions! Let me tell you about real issues! You don’t know what it’s like to have your twig and berries shrink wrapped by a thin piece of semi-transparent nylon for the world to see. There’s no hiding that. AND cold water makes everything down there retract like a scared little turtle. Seriously, it’s like an individually packaged little weeny. Where’s the beans? Oh, it was too cold for them, so they went inside to warm up. They’re not coming out again until warmer weather. Somehow you’ve got to, in a dignified way, grab yourself and readjust down there. All of this done while hunched over to try and shield your junk from prying eyes. The whole debacle is just sad. It’s like The Notebook sad.

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading about the female perspective on different topics especially with your light touch. Nice post, it had me smiling throughout.

    • My husband just taught the boys to say “my twig and two bits.” Hysterical giggling for days. Please tell me you’ve seen the Seinfeld episode when George experiences “shrinkage.”

  5. That’s a funny episode =) I just went through this whole debacle trying to figure out what suit to buy that would most “flatter”my style. You’d think after SO many years in a suit, I wouldn’t care. I finally decided to go back to my roots: Speedo (even the push-up underwire is not helping me here after nursing two babies)

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