Bathing Suit Bash Up

Riley and I. Fun in the sun. (some of you have suit is from lime ricki!)

I am always working to help my daughters have a better body image than my own.

For me, that means responding enthusiastically when they point out my stretch marks. (Those are scars left over from when I was pregnant! Aren’t they amazing? They are proof that my body could grow big enough to hold you!  I am so proud of all the work my body did and those marks always remind me of that good work.) Never talking out loud about my body in any terms but grateful ones...even when I just really, really hate that I can’t fit into last year’s jeans. (Sometimes, I have to admit, this just means I don’t talk about it at all. Because mama don’t always have the right perspective.) And finally, it means wearing a swimsuit even when I really, really don’t feel up to it.

Like last year’s jeans, last summer’’s swimsuit is a little….ummmmm...snug. I am eating healthier and drinking enough water to fill one of the great lakes so, hopefully, this is a temporary situation. But it might not be. And that’s okay. I’ve got enough to reach for without also worrying about size 4 jeans. I get that this is all relative. That my ten pounds too heavy is someone else’s ten pounds too light. Because of that, is hard for me to get too upset about something that is so subjective and ultimately fleeting. Also, it’s summer. And the swimming is now. And I want my daughters to understand that our sometimes misguided perception of our form should not influence it’s function.

So we went bathing suit shopping.

Swimsuit shopping for women is NOT like suit shopping for men. Guys basically get to wear water proof pajamas. Us? No. We must be hooked, strapped and squeezed. I know very few women who love the process of suit selection. Even those of us with relatively healthy body images can get a little blue when squeezed into lycra in fluorescent lighting. And I mean, can you blame us? Most of our choices assume our post baby breasts don’t need the support of an industrial crane to stay in place. Also, wide leg, high cut, low cut? Who cares? As far as I am concerned all swimsuit bottoms are terrifyingly close to revealing the motherland. This isn’t a modesty thing. It is simply a matter of practicality. I would prefer to keep my, ahem, special parts free from prying eyes and invasive sand crabs.

But what is our other option? I saw a cute woman at the pool the other day in an adorable bathing suit and big, baggy basketball shorts. The damn things kept falling off when she’d hop out of the pool to chase her kids. When she was in the pool they’d fill the water around her like a life saving flotation device. They didn’t look comfortable or effective but I get where she was coming from. Being a swimming mom is a full contact sport. I literally had to dive across the deck the other day to keep Vi from throwing herself in the deep end. Forget the basketball shorts, I need a cup and face guard. (Hmmmm. What would the female equivalent of a cup be? Breast guard? Yeah, sure. I’ll take one. Maybe it will help my chest fill out the expectations of my suit.)

The girls were pretty excited that they got to help me pick out a bathing suit, although I have to admit, the running commentary that rang out from their dear little mouths made me somewhat less enthusiastic about their presence.

The time the suit was too small and I could barely get it on: Mom! Hey Mom! Look! One of your boobs is sticking out! Get it in! Get it in!!

The time the suit was too small and I could barely get it off: Your bum jiggles when you shake like that! Look Vi! Jiggle jiggle.

The time I couldn’t figure out how to get the suit on: Mom, do you need help? Hey! My mom needs help! Can someone come help her???

The time I had tried on 20 suits and still hadn’t chosen one: Are we done yet? I hate being here.

The time I finally picked a suit: You’re getting that one? I liked the one with ribbons and butterflies. But that one is fine. It just isn’t pretty. Can we go get chicken and fries?

All of this interspersed with Vi’s most passionate opera singing (her new 2 year old love) and yelling and running in circles in the dressing room.

Holy hell. Want to feel like your body image is group effort rather than a personal opinion? Have your five year old try to tuck your stray breast into your suit top while you are trying to keep your two year old from climbing out under the  dressing room door. For the millionth time since I became a mom I realized, this ain’t about me anymore.

So I bought the suit and the kids got nuggets. We’ve gone swimming several times a week since. And I know this might not make sense to more well adjusted individuals, but for me, that is a triumph of epic proportions. I think I just might leave the basketball shorts off and run with it.

Body of Work

Who needs to take an angry nap after seeing this photo? Me, too. Before picture? You look fab darling. Love it, work it, honor it.

About a year ago, Zuzu and I were at a grocery store stocking up on processed foods and unwhole goodness. I was elbow deep into the condiment shelves when I heard her yell,

"Mom! Look at that man! He is so short and so fat!"

My head whipped around and I clamped a hand over her mouth while angry whispering, SHHHHHHHHHH. It was a gut reaction and afterwards we had a more civilized conversation about the whole thing.

There is nothing wrong with being honest. There is nothing wrong with observing truth. However, sometimes we need to keep our honest observations to ourselves. We then talked about all the different kinds of people God has put onto this good green earth. Some are tall, some are short, some are bigger, some are smaller, all bodies are beautiful no matter how different they look from our own. Even more importantly, we all have the same worth. It is what is inside that really matters and we talked about how that inside goodness is what we should spend our energy trying to observe. I felt pretty damn proud of myself.

Friday we went to Trader Joe's to make our monthly donation to their rapidly filling coffers. I can't help myself. Mama loves their masala veggie patties and all those bins of peanut butter cups. While we walked down the frozen aisle I noticed that one of the employees working in it happened to be a little person. I looked at Zuzu, reflected on our conversation from last year and felt confident in her behavior. Thank goodness I've taught my daughter the beauty of the diversity of our forms, I thought. Then I self-righteously rifled through smugly packaged boxes of organic pizzas hand fired in Italy for my eating pleasure.

I felt a tug on my skirt. When I looked around Zuzu waved her hand so that I would bend down to hear her loose-toothed whisper.

"Hey, mom. Did you see that guy that is short? Don't worry. I just went up to him and told him I think he is really, really cool. Isn't that way better than what happened that other time I saw a short person? Because we are all great. I just think he is so cool! And I wanted him to know it."

Ummmmmm. Not exactly the lesson I thought  had taught her. And at first, I was mortified. And we did talk afterwards about the fact that people are cool for lots of reasons and that I am sure that man IS cool, but the best way to know about someone is to, you know, get to know them.

But I don't know. Maybe she's on to something. I think right now so much of the media and marketing against the objectification of our bodies pushes us to ignore their existence. Like who cares about my body? Care about what is inside and ignore the rest. But that seems to presuppose that not all bodies are created equally. That we must ignore our forms to be truly appreciated. I don't buy that line of thinking. We are not just bodies, true. We are more than our bodies, absolutely. But what if instead of claiming there are no beauty ideals and beauty doesn't really exist, we shouted out an appreciation of our forms and those of others. What if we decided that it is okay that our bodies are really, really part of our identity , really, really beautiful no matter how they present in form, and really, really cool?

My religion believes that body and spirit combined make a soul. One needs the other to be complete. Just that philosophy alone makes MY body, my cellulite, my stretchmarks, my breasts that well, droop a little, so effing beautiful I can hardly stand the glory of it. I'm sick of working to ignore how I look in pursuit of some higher understanding and I am not going to burden my girls with that unrealistic un-truth. Bodies are more than the meaty packaging for your heart. They are an integral part of self and if we just allowed ourselves to look outside the constraints of Door One - Bodies are all that matter and Door Two - Bodies don't matter at all, we might find a really interesting and empowering third option.

The way you were formed is really, really cool. And I just want you to know it.