I have a killer sunburn on my belly, despite wearing SPF 50 sunblock. Why, then? Well, besides being painfully white, naturally, I have not shown my belly to the world in 15 years (aside from one occasion of drunken topless tanning with my sorority sisters in college...but it was Western New York and definitely wasn't sunny). So this sunburn, as painful as it is, really says a lot.
It's not that I had an eating disorder for 15 years. I did not, in fact. But I guess my body image issues may have started at that time, when I was about eight or nine, and was just "too big to look cute in a bikini" anymore. I remember crying over it. When I was 12, I remember making my weight loss goal to be that I could wear a halter bathing suit (not a real bikini, just one that showed a little belly). I never reached that goal. I don't know if I was never skinny enough or if my eating disorder started around that time and I was never able to acknowledge that it would really be okay if I wanted to wear that bathing suit. But I stuck myself in sticky, peely, one-pieces, usually a racing bathing suit like Speedo as opposed to an ugly old lady suit, for many years, until Old Navy launched the Tankinis and everyone else followed. I was probably 16 or so? Tankinis became my summer bathing suit of choice - no, of necessity - as I refused to ever wear a one-piece to the beach again. So uncomfortable and really just miserable. The sand gets in it, fills up the crotch and everywhere else, and it's so difficult when you have to go to the bathroom, and so on. Tankinis were it. I had lots of friends who I KNEW had bigger bellies than I did, and they wore bikinis, and I admired them for their ability to do it, but part of my mind said, "Why would you do that!? Someone would look at you. You don't have the kind of confidence to do that. You would obviously attract attention. They hold their weight better than you." So I stuck with my tankinis. Two years ago, I did lounge in a pool in my back yard in my sister's bikini top, because it was strapless and I needed to tan over my strap lines for my cousin's wedding. I kept my hands over my belly the whole time, of course, but I mean, at least I wore the top.
I had gone to the beach two or three times this summer so far. I don't know if it's really true, but I felt like I was the only woman under 40, or at least the only woman who had not given birth to a child yet, who was not wearing a bikini. Is this true? Probably not. But it felt like it. I felt the sun beating on my black bathing suit, burning me up. I felt like everyone was looking at me, thinking about how much it would suck to be 23 and so fat that I couldn't even wear a bikini at the beach among strangers.
My black tankini was a great find. It supported my boobs perfectly, and had really cute stones on it, and a high-cut bottom so that my belly never hung out. It served me well for two summers, but swimming in the ocean really takes a toll on bathing suits, and it was not in good shape at all. My boobs were all over the place, the body was stretched out and wider than it was long, and the bottom had been scratched up by the sand a few too many times. Not to mention I was built differently when I bought it, as it was before my days of yoga and weight training. My body has changed a lot even if I weigh about the same.
I was talking to a few friends about how difficult it is to find the right tankini, and how I need to go buy a new one. One friend in particular really upset me when she told me to just wear a bikini, because it's easier, there are more, and it won't lose its shape as much. I freaked out. She doesn't know what it's like to be fat! And so on. And maybe she doesn't. But even if I'm not skinny, I'm really not at a point where it's inappropriate to wear a bikini, or so people began to tell me when I told them about my dilemma.
So, I went to KMart, where I could make a small investment in a bikini top (I wasn't going to spend more than $10, because what if I went to the beach and people laughed at me, the obese girl in a bikini!?!) and a new pair of bottoms as well. I sent about 10 pictures to two of my friends, to make sure that I looked okay in it. They reassured me, and then reassured me that they were not "just saying it."
I bought the top on Wednesday, and by Sunday, it was beach day. The weather report called for thunderstorms, but somehow it was sunny from 11am when we got to the beach, until well after 3:30 when we left! I wore my bikini to the beach, although taking off my tank top was scary at first. But feeling the cold water on my belly, and feeling the sunshine and breeze across me when I laid out, it was far more liberating than I could ever have imagined. And I don't even think I got any rude stares.
I don't know if I'll ALWAYS wear a bikini to the beach. But I do know now that it's an option. My sunburned belly may hurt right now, but it's a reminder to me that I am actually okay, and that even I have come to terms with the fact that I am just fine.