We swim a lot in my family. My parents have a pool that we spend a lot of time in, and we love day trips to lakes, ponds, rivers, and the ocean. We often meet friends and family members, and this means seeing a lot of people in a lot of different bathing suits.
As I'm sure you've noticed, the last several years of fashion has seen a rise in the social acceptability of two-piece swimsuits for all body types. This means that often the female friends and family members we meet, as well as many of the strangers next to us at the beach, are wearing bikinis. To all of these women, I have something to say: thank you!
I personally don't wear bikinis. I wouldn't necessarily say it's because I lack confidence, rather that I'm confident about being more comfortable without my belly exposed, and feel like there are more flattering options for me. Some days it's all I can do to put on a simple one piece with a pair of shorts over it and just get in the water.
I don't ever want my kids to see me avoid participating in something because I'm worried about how I look, but I also want to feel comfortable and relaxed, which I find difficult in any kind of bathing suit. This fact is truer now than it's ever been after having four kids in less than six years.
I want my kids to have many female role models so they can see for themselves that being a woman may mean many things.
But even if I wear a muumuu to the pool, my children are going to be exposed to many, many scantily clad women in their young lives. Every grocery store aisle is full of magazines with photoshopped and professionally groomed models and celebrities, and I can't guard what they see on television 100 per cent of the time for the rest of their lives. So they will see women in bikinis (or less!) and they will at some point compare their own beautiful bodies to those of other people.
The way I see it, there are two very important differences between the women on the magazines covers and the women who join us at Grandma's pool, even though both groups of women may be wearing exactly the same thing.
First, my bikini-clad friends do not look fake. You can't Photoshop reality, and no one I know has a completely flawless body. In my experience, the women at the beach have not had plastic surgery, botox, or even fake tans, and they usually don't spend hours a day in the gym, and therefore they look very different than most women on TV.
Some of my female friends are fit and thin and muscled, some are softer and curvy, some have tan lines all over the place, some are frightfully pale, some possess that so-called "thigh gap," some have more tummy rolls than they probably like, but all of them are very real.
Thank you for being comfortable in whatever you're wearing and for showing my girls that confident, bathing-suit-wearing women come in all shapes and sizes.
Secondly, my friends are participating. They show up at the beach or the pool in their skimpy suits, and then they get in the water. Where models pose, still and airbrushed, dry hair artfully placed around them, my friends are playing and talking and tanning and changing diapers and reading and racing and cannon-balling and eating chips and kayaking.
I want my kids to have many female role models so they can see for themselves that being a woman may mean many things, but it should not mean trying to look a certain way in order to please other people. Some women, like me, will show them this by wearing a t-shirt and board shorts into the water because that's how we're most comfortable, but I need other women in their lives to show them that it's OK to be comfortable in a bikini, too.
As a parent, I do feel the weight of responsibility to teach my daughters modesty and safety and to dress appropriately wherever they are. It is up to me (and my husband, even if he does prefer to stay out of this one) to decide if and when our daughters are old enough to choose their own bathing suits, what those suits should look like, and to teach them that certain items of clothing may be fine for the beach but are not appropriate to wear other places.
But my daughters are going to be told by the world around them that they need to look a certain way and dress a certain way, regardless of what I say to them or allow them to wear when they are young. I'm so grateful that their exposure to bikini-clad women and the "normal" female body is not only going to come from Sports Illustrated or pop-up ads on the computer. It may not be me who will show them what a "real" woman looks like when she wears a two-piece bathing suit in public, but I'm grateful to all my friends who will.
So to all my friends and family members -- the moms, aunties, grandmas, cousins, single ladies, babysitters -- who wear bikinis in front of my daughters, and to the ones who don't, thank you for being comfortable in whatever you're wearing and for showing my girls that confident, bathing-suit-wearing women come in all shapes and sizes.
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