It was on sale. A bright pink bikini with rouching in all the right places. The promise of an enhanced bust and minimised thighs. I hadn’t worn a bikini since my eldest was born, pregnancies being the exception. When I was proud to display my burgeoning belly in all its glory.
I tried the bikini on. And judged the woman in the mirror in front of me. The slight belly. The saddlebags. The flabby bits under my arms. The dimpled thighs. The deflated breasts.
I am not sure what I was expecting. To see my 23 year old body staring back at me? All pert boobs, slender legs, smooth skin and a concave stomach? I tried to see the image in the mirror objectively. A body that had been pregnant with and birthed three children. A body that breastfed for a collective three years. A body wearied by grief when one of those children died. A 37 year old body. If I tried to see myself through someone else’s eyes, perhaps I would be kinder.
Maybe I’d look at a relatively flat stomach, free of stretch marks and say “that’s pretty good for a mother of three”. Maybe I’d be more appreciative of long legs. Maybe I’d admire someone with the body confidence to wear a bikini. Maybe I’d just see someone lucky enough to be in good health.
The thing is, even as I searched for my 23 year old body in the mirror, I knew I didn’t appreciate my body back then. I wanted slimmer thighs and a bigger bust. And I wonder, when I am 60 will I look back at my current body and wish I’d noticed the good stuff?
I bought the bikini. I shyly wore it to the beach and asked my husband if it was okay. He told me “people larger than you wear bikinis”. It wasn’t exactly the confidence booster I was looking for. But there was a lesson in his nonchalance. What was a big issue for me was a non-issue for the people surrounding me. The only person judging me harshly was me. And no-one on the beach cared a lick what I was wearing.
I asked my husband to take a photo. Knowing that in years to come I would look back on it with a different perspective. And now I’m sharing that photo here. Not as a humble brag or even an act of defiance. This is not me saying “this is what a real woman’s body looks like”, as though those blessed with different shapes are any more or less real. But rather to say: this is me and I’m not perfect but I’m okay with this body. This particularly body, my body has given me a great deal and I am thankful. I will continue to look after myself – to be mindful of exercise and what I eat. I will try not to criticise but celebrate. To look at that photo and realise I actually look pretty good (am I even allowed to say that?).