It's a hot, sticky summer day on Long Island. My husband and I are lugging beach chairs, towels, snacks and a baby who's in desperate need of a nap. It took a little bit of guts, but I'm wearing a bikini. I glance down at my "mom bod" for a moment, once we've established our spot on the sand.
My arms are strong these days, thanks to my 17-pound sidekick who always likes to be held. But I can't help feeling a pang of sadness at the pouf of extra skin and fat that is exposed between the two halves of my bikini. There's no denying my legs are a tad thicker than they were before, too. My grace period is decidedly over. I didn't "just" have a baby -- my daughter is 8 months old. I guess there's an easy fix; I could wear a more flattering suit, like a one-piece. And I do own a few. But, honestly? I like my bikinis. And more importantly, I like wearing one in front of my daughter.
The truth is, I've never been a big fan of my body. Even as a super-skinny college kid, there were plenty of dark days when I prattled on in a journal about how much better life would be if I could lose just 10 pounds, make that 15, 20. I restricted my eating. Cried. For years, I went up, I went down. Everyone had an opinion. There were friends who told me I looked great; a boyfriend who told me to work out more; my parents who always praised me; and a (male) business associate who told me over cocktails that to ever work in any meaningful way in New York, I'd have to shave off at least 15 pounds. I was 25 and a size two.
I do not want my daughter on the body roller coaster her mother has ridden for 30 years. I can't control it, but I can contribute positively. Part of that contribution is to wear what I love in front of her, and I've always loved bikinis.
For one thing, I find bikinis more comfortable than their heavily constructed counterparts. The hotter it is outside, the less fabric I want on my body. For years, I wore my beloved bikinis with trepidation -- fighting an inner monologue of shame that told me I had no business wearing one, or covering them up in gauzy sundresses to save myself the stress.
But in my first summer as a mom, I'm trying something new. I'm pushing the anxiety -- and the sundresses -- to the side. I've never looked "worse" in a bikini, that's for sure. The tight body of my 20s is gone, and despite all that prenatal yoga, I've got a gut and some legs on me now.
But I feel freer than ever in my bikini, and I'm wearing it for her.
I wear a bikini in front of my daughter because I want her to know that life is about a hell of a lot more than being a size two. Because I want her to learn by my example that curves are not only OK, but part of being a woman. A healthy lifestyle is important to our family; I work out and eat carefully. But in addition to using those tools, I wear a bikini to teach my daughter. I don't want to talk to her about her body; I want her to know that she is good the way she is by showing her that I am good the way I am.
I wear a bikini in front of my daughter because I like to have fun at the beach and pool. Because summer is my favorite time of the year and I think we should feel free and relaxed when we can. Because wearing a bikini makes me feel this way, and I want her to see her mama in chill mode, even if that means an extra roll poking out here or there.
I want my daughter to know that bikinis are not about sex. That revealing "too much" skin is not a trigger for inappropriate attention. I want her to own her body and wear what she likes because it's what she likes. I want her to know that I think tank top and short-skirt rules, prom dress regulations and yes, bikini bashing, are part of a misogynistic, unfair system and need to be stamped out.
I want my daughter to know that her self-worth and her right to safety should have nothing to do with how her body looks or how she chooses to dress it. That fashion is an extension of our creative minds, a means of self-expression. And if she wants a bikini, she'll have one. Bikinis are not about sex; they're about fashion. And empowerment.
I wear a bikini in front of my daughter because I want to show her that I'm proud of the way I look after having a baby. I do it not because I'm perfect, but because I'm not perfect. I wear a bikini to help myself remember that I worked damn hard for the body I have now, and part of that work, that story, is having grown and birthed a human. I don't feel great about my body every minute of every day, and that's OK. But I want my daughter to see that I can rise above those thoughts to wear what I want and what makes me happy.
I wear a bikini in front of my daughter because I want her to know she can "pull off" whatever she puts on. The last thing I ever want to hear her say is that she "can't" wear something. If she's not into fashion, cool. But she should wear what she likes without worrying about what others think. If I am trying to teach her this without doing it, then I am teaching her wrong.
I wear a bikini in front of my daughter because I love bikinis. They're cute, comfortable, and they make me feel free. I don't look the way I used to look in a bikini, and I didn't appreciate my body then. Now, I realize its worth and I want to celebrate it even on the days when I look down and see too much, or not enough, of something.
Sure, I pick two-piece styles that best flatter my figure, but more important to me is to wear something I love. I wear a bikini for my daughter and I wear it for me. Because being comfortable and feeling free are important to me, and because she deserves a role model who proves that life isn't about being perfect.
It's much more valuable to figure out how to love your whole, real self -- and to celebrate that person, and her body, in whatever way makes you feel good.