into the deep blue.
We were talking about fatness and bathing suits and bodies today. We tend to have long, complicated conversations in the midst of everything else going on in our lives and sometimes I find myself saying things that I don't recall ever thinking in the forefront of my mind before...or yet. We all have baggage, neatly packed or ridiculously messy, that we carry with us from summer to summer. If you don't have baggage, you aren't human. And in many cases, you aren't a woman. The intricate and complicated experience of wearing next-to-nothing in the glaring sun, water covering our bodies and exposing every curve and detail of what we keep hidden throughout the course of the year.
The first trip to the pool every year used to be filled with angst. Last year was no exception. I took my t-shirt off first, sat under the umbrella with Em and said that I would slowly consider the water. All around us were 20-somethings, blond and tan, in bikinis with perfectly sculpted breasts and what I perceived to be flawless skin. I felt ashamed and scared. I took my yoga pants off. I sat with my towel on my lap. I flipped through the magazine I brought, chatted with Em, my eyes darting around from one end of the pool to the other. Every single shitty thing that anyone had ever said about me and my body, especially things my family said, ran through my mind. In the end, I didn't get in. The next time we went to the pool, I quickly removed my clothes and ran in. I stayed in the water until my shoulders were hot and tender. Then I ran out of the water, covered myself with a towel and walked back to the apartment. As the summer wore on, I was braver. When I was in Arizona at the end of July, I made my aunts and mom come to the pool with me often. I swam in circles, jumped, dove, did handstands, walked around with nothing but my suit on, and relished in the feeling of sun on every inch of my body. It was so unusual. Not caring at all.
When I received the Lands End box in the mail, I was excited. It was the first time in my life that I purchased a swimsuit with my real body in mind. I took time to think about what I like covered, what I don't mind revealed, how and where my shoulders ache after a day in the sun, what sort of support my breasts need, and how far up the curve of my hips the bottom of the suit should go. I remember being at the beach one summer with my family, at the local suit shop, and trying on a lifeguard-cut Speedo in bright blue. I remember feeling terrified to open the door and show my mom. I remember feeling like there was nothing out there designed to fit me. I felt inferior and disgusted. In the summers since, I've bought my swimsuits on a whim. At Target, last minute. They were too short or too long, too low cut or too demure. The process of finding the suit that seemed right for me was tough, but I was honest and found something attractive and well suited to my body. When I pulled it on it fell in all the right places. It felt right. Finally.
I felt the weight of every summer from puberty until yesterday lift off my shoulders.
Armed with a new bathing suit, a yellow polka dot towel (because, deep confident breath, a yellow polka dot bikini will never happen and that's a total relief), a comfy green cover up, sunglasses, sunscreen and a romance novel, I went to the pool with friends two weeks ago for the first time this year. I casually took my cover up off, slid off my flip flops and got into the water. When I felt like it, I got up and sat in a lounge chair without covering up. I got into the hot tub, I jumped gleefully into the deep end, I did handstands and floated and had an amazing time. It was the first summer in my life that I didn't have a panic attack about what the world might think of me the moment my terrifyingly white, cellulite-ridden thighs were exposed poolside. I recalled all the conversations I have with friends and acquaintances about bodies, skin, summer and self-image. I thought about them finding out the truth about my insecurities - about thinking me a fraud. Poolside, I feel most transparent. There was an incredibly physically fit woman lying a few lounge chairs over from us, tanning in the sun in her bikini. I smiled at her while I stood with nothing on but my slate gray bathing suit. She smiled back. Then I turned, walked slowly down the stairs and slid into the cool, refreshing water.