Note: This post was originally published in July, 2013
Growing up as an average sized girl in a family where both my mother and sister were significantly taller and weighed significantly less than I did was exactly as awesome for my young self-esteem as you can probably imagine. Looking back on photos from my childhood, I was actually on the slimmer side of average. But, at 12, when my skinny grade school body started to bend and stretch in all these unfamiliar and uncomfortable directions, I felt abnormal, this enormous lumpy thing in comparison to the hipless frames and mile long limbs of my closest female role models.
Was I even sure that we were related?
I felt deformed. A monster, crashing through a forest of willowy stick figures. Which, at 12, is really scary.
And, when you’re 12, you do really stupid things to try combat the scaryness that growing up is wreaking on your body. Stupid things like going on crash diets, and stealing your mom’s workout tapes. Stupid things like telling people that you can’t swim so that you don’t have to wear the cruelest of garments in public, the bathing suit.
I wouldn’t own a swimsuit for almost 15 years.
Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I was able to realize that I was being crazy and started to wage a long war against those 12 year old parts of me that still ruled over the “bathing suit area.” But, shopping out in the wild for swimwear was somehow still beyond my emotional capabilities. I ordered a very skirted (like, practically a dress) suit from an old lady store online, and I was back in the ocean.
I suppose I could have left it at that, allowing myself to comfortably romp in the waves while still maintaining more than full butt coverage, but it started to feel like a cop out. Yes, I was swimming, but I was still covering myself up as if my body was something to be ashamed of. So, this summer, with a ticket to San Diego booked and ready, I decided that it was time to update my swimwear collection of one to include something not meant for the geriatric set.
It was time to go to… THE MALL.
Puffed up with premenstrual bloat, and deeply regretting that pre-shopping trip to the Pretzel Time, I convinced myself that if I could find a bathing suit that looked good at my jiggliest, then I would be in good shape for the beaches of CA. Theoretically true, but maybe not the best decision for my first time swimsuit shopping in 20 years.
RULE #1 of bathing suit shopping: Unexpected bloat is a fact of life, but maybe don’t egg it on by eating a giant paper cup full of salty bread and nacho cheese beforehand if you know you’re about to get to get mostly naked under the unforgiving fluorescents of a mall dressing room. It’s harsh in there.
You know what’s even harsher than bad dressing room lighting? The lumps and bulges caused by trying to bunch up the full seat of your laundry day panties and shove them up under the bottom of the suit you’re trying on.
RULE #2 of bathing suit shopping: You know you don’t want to rub your bare crotch up against that “hygienic liner,” so underpants are a necessity. Even if they’re not your standard flavor, fish that thong out of the back of your underwear drawer and throw it on before you hit the stores. If you’re feeling apprehensive about swimwear shopping, the wrong panties will only serve to hijack what’s left of your ego and leave it crushed on the dressing room floor.
I don’t know why I thought that H&M would be a good place to start. Their sizing notoriously runs small, and they have easily the worst fitting room lighting in the entire mall (perhaps, the entire world). But, I was captivated by a taupe suit with an underwire and neon zipper pull, and I thought maybe I could make it work. Despite the bloat and bad underpants, I was still optimistic.
RULE #3 of bathing suit shopping: When something doesn’t fit, blame it on your long torso and inaccurate European sizing.
I didn’t photograph myself in this suit because the torso was so short that it barely provided nipple coverage, and I’m pretty sure that mainetoday.com wouldn’t appreciate me turning it into a softcore porn site (assuming that there’s a porn market for girls in ill-fitting one pieces). It was bad, really really bad. But, I tried to let it roll off.
No matter what I weigh, no matter what I’d like to weigh or how much more often I feel like I should be going to the gym, I need to learn to be kind to the body that I have. Instead of telling myself that I’m not good enough to fit into the bathing suit, I decided to blame the bathing suit instead. “It’s not right” is so much better than “I’m not right.”
RULE #4 of bathing suit shopping: Just because H&M didn’t work out, doesn’t mean you need to go to Sears.
I still blame their ludicrous sizing and lack of sympathy for girls with long torsos, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that H&M left my confidence little dinged up. First suit, first disaster, first look at myself in a mirror system that shows both the front and back views simultaneously. In my momentary panic, I ran to Sears thinking I could find safety in the endless racks of grandma suits where I knew everything would be more than sufficiently covered. But, I couldn’t do it.
I mean, look at those things. I quickly realized that Hawaiian print lycra sacks were also not the answer to my problems. It was definitely time for forward progress.
I decided to hit the Old Navy next, because they have a lot of nice, inexpensive, simple swimwear and very flattering mirrors. I wasn’t feeling emotionally prepared enough for bikinis, but I did locate a couple of reasonable looking one pieces in the corner by the sweatpants. Black and basic, but in no way boring. I found my first winner here.
RULE #5 of bathing suit shopping: When in doubt, CLEAVAGE.
Or legs, or butt, or arms, or neck, or elbows or whatever part it is of your body that you love. Find a suit that makes that part look incredible, and the rest doesn’t really matter (as long as it covers enough to avoid public indecency charges). Despite being an otherwise very modest and basic bathing suit, my Old Navy score had a deep plunge neckline with a hidden underwire that made me want to “nice rack” catcall myself. SOLD.
Once I’d broken the seal on finding a bathing suit that I liked, I decided that I would try my luck at finding another. I chose Macy’s as my final destination both for its proximity to the bus stop (in case a spandex related panic attack required an emergency exit) and because I felt like it would have a good cross section of choices from ultra-modest to supertramp. I was feeling ready to tread way outside of my comfort zone and try on any suit that appealed to me, even if I didn’t think it would be flattering.
RULE #6 of bathing suit shopping: Try new things! But, don’t freak out of the outcome isn’t always the best.
I juggled a good 15 bathing suits into the dressing room where a couple was loudly arguing in French in one of the stalls. I had a little bit of everything, a few retro suits, a couple of bikinis, and some of those weird “tankinis” that my friend Tina informed me are for when you want to wear a one-piece, but you don’t want to get completely naked every time you have to pee.
The results were… as expected (except for the one that had blood in it, that was DEFINITELY unexpected). The retro palm tree print was disturbingly loud, the tankini top was too big and the bottom was too small (muffin top city!), and the mint green bikini with the gold hardware was well… a mistake on a number of levels. But, I did find an adorable red 40s style suit with just a hint of a skirt that made me feel comfortable and sexy without being matronly.
RULE #7 of bathing suit shopping: Life is to short to waste feeling bad about your body. Stop overthinking it and get your lovely lady lumps into the water.
I’m not sure you’ll ever see me rocking a string bikini, but I think I’m definitely ready to tell my inner 12-year-old to shut the hell up. A friend posted this infographic to Facebook this week while I was working on this post, and it all became very simple.
How to get a bikini body: Put a bikini on your body.
Done. (Now, let’s go to the beach!)