I went swimsuit shopping today. Why, you might wonder, would any sane woman who is already going through a tough situation subject herself to the trauma that is swimsuit shopping? Well, yeah, there’s that… “sane.” But mostly, I blame Facebook. If you’re on Facebook, I’m sure you’ve seen this post at least once.  It’s a spoof on women’s magazines, and the punchline is more or less: “Want a bikini body? Step one: put a bikini on your body.” It’s a great post, and its point is well-made, but it left me wondering: Have I (and every other woman) been sold a false bill of goods? I have made no attempt to put on a two-piece bathing suit (forget a true bikini – I know my limits) since before I got married. And after kids, forget it. Still, I see men on the beach all the time who certainly wouldn’t pass the “bikini body” standard that the magazines seem to believe is necessary for women. Why is it just us?

When I was looking at swimsuits online and went to the J. Crew site, I was taken aback by the models, most of whom seemed to be 15. Don’t get me wrong, J. Crew has a fair amount of suits with decent coverage… things normal, adult women can pull off as well. But the models… Jesus. They make it impossible for me to visualize myself in any of the suits. I look at them and think, “Is that what I am supposed to look like? Really?” It makes the idea of trying on any of the suits that much more daunting. Anyway, I couldn’t seem to get the “put a bikini on your body” concept out of my head, so I headed to Target.

I started with one important rule in mind:  Whatever a particular bathing suit looked like, I was not going to critique my body. It’s been through a lot. It’s successfully carried two children, both well over eight pounds, and one after the age of 40, no c-section required. It doesn’t deserve to be attacked for not looking its best in a particular suit. And naturally, not every suit looked great. Some of them were clearly designed with other women – or girls – in mind, but I stuck to the rule. I did not criticize my body at any point during the process. And you know what? I found a suit I liked. The top is a tankini, made by Converse, red with little stars all over it (I’ve been obsessed with star-prints lately). The bottom is basically a black lycra boy short, but very high rise… it comes almost up to my navel. It has a very retro look. I’ve always liked my body in a boy short. It always looks kind of 40’s pin-up girl to me… turns the extra curves I’m usually less fond of into more of a va-va-voom thing. At least that’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it. I did try on several bikini tops, but I just didn’t happen to like them. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying. In fact, J. Crew has a suit that’s very retro-looking that I’m tempted to try on. They have a cute one-piece too. But the Target suit is cheap, and will certainly do for the moment. I am pleased with myself for going through the process and coming out emotionally unscathed. Even the suits I didn’t like so much weren’t causing me to fall apart, and that’s a good thing. This is the body I have, right now. I can decide to make changes and improve on it if I wish, but for the moment, it’s mine. I can’t let how I feel about it be subject to its current state… or the state of someone else’s body, more to the point.

So I’m happy. I hadn’t bought a swimsuit in a really long time. Partly because of lack of funds, and partly because I hate the process… the full-length mirror, the fluorescent lights. None of it lends itself to feeling confident. But somehow I emerged victorious. I have a new suit, and while it isn’t a bikini, it looks great on me. Hooray!

P.S. There is something to be said for expensive suits. In my (admittedly limited) experience, they just hold up better. Several years ago, I bought a very expensive suit. I was going on my first cruise, the Rock Boat, and for reasons I will refrain from explaining (reasons that now seem pretty much crazy), I was very, very concerned about the swimsuit for that particular trip. I ended up spending a whole lot of money, way more than I normally would, on the swimsuit. Did the expensive suit make me feel more confident? Well, no. But It’s been something like seven years, and of all the suits I own, that one has held up best.