Tankini

I’m flat on my back, soaking up the luxuriousness that is Day One of vacation. My beach towel is freshly laundered and fluffy, my skin free of sunburn, and my bag packed with iced tea, still-crunchy Cheez-Its, and some deliciously unpretentious books.

Version 2For awhile it feels good to just lie here, relearning how to do nothing, but soon I begin to contemplate rolling onto my stomach to crack open a book. To roll over or not to roll over? That is the sort of question you face on a true vacation.

It’s not like shifting from back to tummy is such an ordeal, but it does involve a certain amount of resolve and strategic sand resituating. The butt-shaped hollow I created with a horizontal booty-shake when I first stretched out on my towel will need to be filled in with some sand, while new, boob-shaped divots—much harder to get positioned just right—will be called for. But that iced tea does sound good…

I decide to go for it. One, two, three…I engage and shift muscle and bones, my loose belly coming along for the ride, lagging just a split second behind the rest of me, as it does. Settling myself face down, with a wiggle of my hips to reposition the sand, I say a silent prayer of thanks for whomever invented the tankini.

Since having babies, the tankini has been my swimsuit of choice. The concept is simple, yet genius: the ease of a two-piece in wet-swimsuit-bathroom-scenarios, with the coverage of a one-piece for stretch-mark-riddled tummies.

It’s been nearly two decades since my body underwent the enormous transformation that resulted in the birth of my first daughter, and I’m just beginning to accept that no amount of cocoa butter or yoga or time will erase the marks pregnancy left behind. Time, in fact, seems to be hurting, not helping.

I suspect I’m not alone in this predicament. What else could have inspired and sustained the existence of the sensible tankini? At least the one I’m wearing is somewhat hip—chocolate brown with a sexy halter style top and retro ruching at the hips. Most importantly, I feel comfortable in it, even while rolling from back to tummy, where I now lie, popping Cheez-Its into my mouth.

I look over at my teenage daughters with their bikini-clad, impossibly toned skin, and wonder, “Did I really look like that 30 years ago?” I’ve earned my age, of course—I don’t expect to look 16 again, and I certainly don’t want to be 16. But there is a small tug in me—part vain, part nostalgic—that wishes I was wearing a bikini rather than its modest cousin.

My enlightened daughters tell me what many of you are thinking: I can and should wear whatever I want. It’s a topic that even gets my youngest daughter a bit worked up, and my firstborn goes so far as to proclaim, “You would look so cute in a bikini!”

I love how liberated and affirming my girls are—much more so than I was at their age. I grew up in the 80s, an era of many thin models and very few voices questioning the cultural expectations being set in the pages of teen magazines. Body shaming was both everywhere and nowhere—everywhere in the air we breathed, but also nowhere because “body shaming” wasn’t a phrase anyone used. As a teen, I didn’t hear voices of opposition, calling it what it was.

Now, in my middle age, I’m as troubled by my faint desire to wear a bikini as I am by my hesitation to boldly wear whatever I damn well please. What does it all mean? I suppose it means at least two things: my desire to wear a bikini isn’t all that strong, and being a woman at the beach is a complex thing.

My daughters give me hope, though, for a new generation of women. I marvel at their comfort level, both with their bodies and in standing up for issues. As I watch them get up off their towels to go test the temperature of the lake, I muse, “Where did these amazing girls come from?”

Oh, right: from my puckered belly. It all comes full circle.

That there’s a link between my pregnancies and my stretched-out tummy is no secret, but for years I had somehow isolated the two realities in my mind. That all changed the day I casually complained about my saggy skin to a friend, who suggested plastic surgery.

My anger was immediate, and with it came a burst of clarity: The physical record of my childbearing was not a “flaw” to glibly erase!

Ironically, it was the realization that I could take surgical measures that led me to accept my belly as it is, not as culture dictates it should be. I began to see the excess skin below my belly button, and the rays of scars emanating around it, as a history—a Curriculum Vitae of my body’s experiences and job descriptions: the once-home of my babies, the still-home of my aging self.

That doesn’t mean I’m rushing out to buy a bikini. I’m just feeling a fondness for what is tucked comfortably beneath this trusty spandex: the stretchy first-home to two remarkable young women, whose bodies are on their own journeys. Toned skin and flat stomachs are just the beginning.

I look over at my daughters, reading books on their own towels, and decide to turn myself over once again, taking with me my pouchy, ribboned skin: this record of miracles.

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Kristin bio YAH

9 Thoughts.

  1. Loved this! I’m not to the parenting stage yet, but there is still so much womanly truth here for me as well, with the “butt-shaped hollow I created with a horizontal booty-shake” that we do to make ourselves comfortable in the sand. Thanks for sharing this story!

  2. I love this line: “I began to see the excess skin below my belly button, and the rays of scars emanating around it, as a history—a Curriculum Vitae of my body’s experiences and job descriptions: the once-home of my babies, the still-home of my aging self.” I feel like I am only now beginning to come home to my body. Its been a neglected abode my entire life, but I am beginning to relish the idea of making a home here…fixer upper style. Your words are such a help. Thank you.

  3. Love this, Kristin. Even body positivity can sometimes be dismissive of our bodies and how they show our histories. I think our specific skin and tummies matter. Thank you for sharing (and living) this story.

    • What you said about body positivity is exactly right! That’s what I’ve struggled with in my thoughts about my own body and as I raise teenage daughters—how to embrace that positivity while still leaving room for personal mixed feelings. I don’t know if those mixed feelings come from our culture (popular and/or religious) or from the era I was raised in or what, but they’re still feelings! Somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve felt like I can’t be a true feminist unless I do things like wear a bikini and let the world see my stretched out belly. I’m starting to get that it’s more complicated than that.

  4. This piece is beautiful and important for all women who struggle with body image, especially after illnesses, treatments for them, getting older, and babies. I, too, love these words: “record of miracles.”—a record that calls me to be thankful.

  5. Sigh, I am that same woman on the beach. I wrestle with vanity (I was a ballet dancer my whole life, hello body issues from age 4) and loving the body that carried my babies. Put so beautifully “record of miracles” – love it!

    • Thank you, Nicole! Thinking this through and writing about it made me realize that body image issues are so much more complex than we tend to think they are—they go far beyond what size you wear or what the scale tells you.

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