Beach, bikini, body.

The lifeguard stands at Long Island's Jones Beach are ten feet high, but at the age of five or six I would have told you they stretched as tall as skyscrapers. I can remember sitting in one during a particularly sweltering summer day when I became separated from my family and was waited to be rescued. I can still remember the panic that lodged in my chest, the stomach-lurching view of the sand beneath me, the relief I felt when I was found.

I grew up about twenty minutes from the beach, in a modest apartment in Queens, and spent many summers building sandcastles and jumping waves and collecting shells and eating tuna salad sandwiches on tattered beach blankets. I got peeling sunburns and so many freckles that my camp counselor nicknamed me Spot. I also wore one-piece swimsuits that always rode up my butt, but I didn't care. I was just too busy, you see, chasing my cousins and looking for my shovel and ducking greasy applications of sunscreen to worry about silly things like swimsuits. I adored those afternoons at the beach. I adored them in a way I adored a Happy Meal or a new Barbie doll. That's what beaches are when you're young and innocent and free: places of total happiness.

But as I got older, Jones Beach became something different. Once I entered puberty, and my body filled out with curves that were as unwelcome as a splotchy birthmark on your face, I was seized with the terror of removing my cover-up and exposing my body to the beach goers around me - specifically, other girls my age. They wore string bikinis and Ray Bans and the glossy sheen of Ban De Soleil. They were confident, and chic, and splayed their long limbs on beach towels their moms bought at Benetton. Where I once splashed and played, I began to cower and flinch. I spent a lot of time in those days trying to apologize for my body. My legs were too squat. My stomach was too round. My butt was too defiantly a butt, a round thing that protruded where I wanted it to lie flat. I remember the agonizing dilemma of whether I would keep my tee shirt on once I dove into the ocean. Doing so was as good as admitting that my body deserved to be covered up, as if even I knew it was too flawed to be exposed to the public.

And so I hid as best as I could. I stopped going to the beach altogether. I made excuses when my mom planned outings. There were no sand castles for me, no sunscreen to apply, no tuna salad sandwiches to eat. And no swimsuits to wear.

I don't live near Jones Beach anymore. Actually, there isn't a beach anywhere near my house. But there are neighborhood pools, where I accompany my kids for long afternoons of swimming. It is at these pools where I sit, fixated on the women around me, wondering how my body compares to theirs. Could I wear a bikini like the woman next to me has on? Do I dare expose my thighs, my stomach?  What about a skirted tankini, meant to conceal that fleshy upper thigh area all women seem to despise? It seems that donning one is the same as hiding in my tee shirt - an admission that I have something worth hiding.

I wish I could go to the pool and just swim. I wish I could relax, and enjoy the breeze rustling my hair, and the sweet summertime scent of coconut SPF. But I just don't know how. I don't know how to enjoy being in my skin without those nagging voices in my head berating me. I don't know how to exorcise that screech that my body is just not good enough. Perhaps I never will. It's a tough thing, this learning to accept my body just as it is, and to stop comparing it to those around me.


  1. Boy, does this sound familiar. I think my distaste for swimsuits (and shorts) began later in life because my tiny waist "made up" for the big butt. Today you could not make me wear either a swim suit or shorts in public, and I only weigh 119 pounds. But the blue white skin, cellulite, the wear and tear of childbirth, etc. just make me too self conscious to have any fun. I wish I did not hear the voices, but they are definitely there.

  2. I wish I had the answer you are looking for sweetie! Somehow I managed to exorcise that demon while going through the loss of my first pregnancy/terror of a precarious second (and subsequent joy of baby) with the growth of my middle (and bottom and top and limbs and well, everything!!). The following summer at the beach in North Carolina I was walking from our cottage to the sand and it dawned on me-I don't feel the least bit self-concious. As though somehow while growing this little person, I shed the fear of showing off bare skin. This does not mean I don't have days where I feel as though I could lose a bit of weight, or that when I shop I feel perfect (nope...still feeling the pudge!) But I do feel much more body confident. I also decided I was done wasting my summer covered up. I was going to enjoy each day at the beach and each moment I got to don a sundress. Ohio doesn't offer me many of those chances!! If there were anything I could say, it is that when I'm out and about I've never once looked at another woman and said "ew!" but instead thought "damn, she looks awesome!!" I'm sure those Dallas pool moms think the same of you:)

  3. My thought on the beach is that the whole place isn't going to be looking at me...sure, people might glance in my direction, but there are plenty of other people to look at too. No one is analyzing me endlessly except myself. I'm not that important to everyone else!

  4. Sigh, your going to hate me for saying this. But its within your power to just stop. You go enough you'll forget the fears. You'll notice most people just don't care. They are so self absorbed you are but a passing glimpse. Why do you give something that is so irrelevant such power? And this is coming from a woman who had to accept she either changed in a locker room or was regulated to a nasty bathroom two to three times a day. I lost 80 pds, you know what that does to your boobs? You think cellulite is bad try a ill fitted skin suit. But screw em if they can't take a joke and they should stop being pervs and looking anyway. Oh and one of those changes is into a bathing suit where I proceed to go to a pool that has windows into the main gym. It blew at first and then it hit me. No one was really looking, they got better things to do than play into my self absorbed fears.

  5. One of my current nicknames is Spot! (for all my freckles, moles, and age spots) I can relate to your self-consciousness in a bathing suit. I haven't worn one in years. I stopped wearing pants and shorts, too, because of my "strong, muscular" thighs. I feel more confident wearing skirts and dresses because they skim past those areas. My advice to you: wear what makes you feel good and feel confident. It works for me!

  6. You are brave for posting what so many women are thinking. Yesterday I went to a spa. For 2 hours we went back and forth between pools of delight. I realised that at the end of the day I hadn't thought about if my body was too jiggly (which, in the spa jet pool, it certainly was). I was amazed. I have never had this happen before. Maybe it was that I didn't know anyone, or that there were a lot of older people there, or that it was a spa, or that I was wearing a suit that I love, or that I'm maybe succeeding just a little in seeing my body the way my gentleman see it. I don't know. And I don't know if it will be that way next time. But I feel that for a few hours in a bathing suit, that is a pretty big victory.

  7. Why are we so critical of ourselves? I, too, wish all women can go to the beach and just swim!

  8. I cried at this. Cried. This is wonderfully written and I adore it.

    Every summer my mom and I take my kids to the beach for a week. We stay in the same condo development we stayed in when I was a kid. Every year, without fail, it takes me until Wednesday (we arrive on Saturday) to get over the self consciousness and actually enjoy my trip. I don't know what it is about Wednesday--maybe that is when I am finally relaxed enough--but everyday until then, I am pulling at my bathing suit constantly and trying to get away with wearing shorts and a t-shirt down to the beach. I tell myself every year that I won't do it, but then I find myself sweating it out in my cover up.

    And forget the public pool. I am thankful that my daughter is at an age now where she wants me to drop her off so she can stay with friends by herself.

    Anyway, I wish you lots of relaxing and lots of coconut body oil.

  9. Being a young girl with a speedy metabolism, I've been happy with my body for most of the time. But, after & during being with a particularly shitty ex boyfriend, I found myself feeling the same way. What helped me, and what I would recommend is getting yourself really healthy and exercising. Thats not saying you have to be skinny, or lose weight to feel good about your body - for me it was about being able to say "I'm fit and healthy".


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