Three days before my husband and I were scheduled to go on a short jaunt to the Caribbean, I realized I had no bathing suit. Or, more accurately, I had a drawer full of swimsuits I could not wear in three days.
I had given birth to my second daughter less than a year prior—my belly button was still in recovery from being turned inside out. Twice. Also, I sustained an umbilical hernia and diastasis, or muscle separation, down my entire abdomen. Despite the fact that I was back down to my normal weight, things just hadn’t quite assumed their regular positions yet . So no, I had no swimsuits to wear when the swimsuits in consideration were all bikinis I bought on my honeymoon twelve years ago. (When I weighed eight pounds and had the energy to work out like a maniac bride on one of those reality shows.)
But I digress.
I had to go swimsuit shopping. And what’s worse than going swimsuit shopping? Going swimsuit shopping with your six year-old daughter.
It was a Sunday. There was no babysitter available. She wanted to come with. I couldn’t say no. To prepare, I skipped breakfast and put on a thong. Julia packed a few stuffed animals. Something about my daughter you should know: her stuffed animals talk. They have very rich lives, in fact, and have a lot to say. “Chicky” the gossipy little duck, and “Cotton Tail,” a more diminutive rabbit, were coming along for the ride.
God help me.
When we got to the chic little swimwear boutique, Julia and her “friends” were drawn to the basket of flip-flops and started trying them on. Charmed, the (very young) saleswoman asked if I needed help. I took a deep breath. “Yes, I think I do…” and just as I was about to continue with “you see, I’m pale and my belly is deformed and I hate my upper legs. I’d like something covered but sexy, if there is such a miracle suit.…” But Julia hobbled over in size nine metallic flip-flops and held up Chicky, who declared without a quack:
“Mommy is going on vacation and she needs a bathing suit to go swimming in the ocean.”
Censored by interruption.
In that moment, I knew for sure, as Oprah would say, that I would not be uttering a single self-deprecating word in front of my motley little stuffed crew that day. I would not talk about my thighs or my deranged navel. I would not talk about the breasts that used to be. Fragile body-image be damned, I was not going to demonstrate a self-conscious, figure-fighting woman that my girl could imitate one day.
“I’m looking for a one-piece, maybe with some nice cut-outs,” I smiled, and it was as easy as that. Why can’t it always be as easy as that? At the saleswoman’s recommendation, I even took a two-piece with a top that had long, strategic fringe.
I tried on swimsuit after swimsuit with Chicky, Cotton Tail and Julia as my jury. A few things became immediately clear: they all like hot pink and bold floral patterns and they uniformly reject anything black. Also, they don’t know a firm thigh from a jiggly one and aren’t concerned with how a spray-tan could turn a bathing suit from a six into a ten. In fact, when I asked Julia how I looked, feeling pretty good in a (black) one-piece cutout number, she (and Chicky and Cotton Tail) exclaimed “You look ready for the beach!”
Yes, sweet pea, that’s exactly right: I am so ready for the beach.
Oh, how I feigned confidence that day, waltzing out of the dressing room, all exposed. Doing a jig to the Taylor Swift on the radio to make Julia laugh. Taking Chicky for a joy ride in my fringed bosom around the store. Julia was having a blast. I think the moment might have been one of the indelible ones.
It certainly was for me.
P.S. Other musings on my daughter’s developing self-esteem.