Paul and I dropped in an exhausted heap today at the beach. We grabbed a couple of chairs under a palapa and ordered a bucket of Pacifico beer from a beachfront restaurant called Irma’s. The waves were pounding a few yards away, but I was restless. I hate just laying on a chair. I was ready to walk. Someone had to save the chairs and keep track of our things, so I nominated Paul. Eyes closed, he nodded.
“Is there anyone around?” I asked Paul. He nodded again. I yanked my dress over my head. I stepped out of my shoes. “I’ll be back.” Looking over my shoulder behind me, I slipped down to the waves and started walking.
I alternated between the sand and the waves looking for shells and sea glass. I wasn’t thinking—I was just cruising along. I peered into the tide pools looking for crabs or small lobster. Looking up, I saw Paul jogging along the sand directly towards me.
“I couldn’t see you,” he panted.
“I’m fine,” I smiled. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He huffed and caught his breath.
“There’s rocks and an undertow, and…’ he gulped. “You’re wearing a bikini.”
“This is not a bikini,” I corrected him. “This is a two-piece.”
“It’s a bikini.”
To me, a bikini is a tiny swim suit worn in 1979 by self-confident teenage girls on vacation. I remember their skin shimmering in the sun by the side of the pool with a sheen of Tropicana coconut oil coating their bodies. They laughed and tossed their Farrah Fawcet hair, leaning back on their elbows. That wasn’t me back then. I was too fat to wear a two-piece.
When I was in 4th grade, I went through puberty abruptly. I grew nine inches in a year and gained 30 pounds. Overnight I had stretch marks on my stomach and hair under my arm pits. I went from being a confident girl who could turn cartwheels across a velvety-green lawn to an uncomfortable young woman who sat on the door step and watched other girls twirl across my yard.
There was only time I wore a two-piece bathing suit between 1979 and 2012. In 1987 my parents took us to Hawaii, and I pranced about in my blue and white Hawaiian two-piece. I had worked hard to get into that two-piece—Jane Fonda aerobics, the grapefruit diet…my dad didn’t tell me once I looked nice.
When my mom bought me new school clothes she had me put on a fashion show for my dad. I would traipse into the family room and pirouette in front of him. I remember him tilting his head just past me to look at the television.
I don’t mean to rag on my dad. He was proud of my sports ability, my grades, and my determination to accomplish my goals. I just wasn’t tiny enough for him.
He passed away in 2011. I started the year wearing a size 14 and weighing a 170 pounds. At the end of the year I wore a size 2 and weighed 125 pounds. Yes, it’s because my dad died and no, it’s not. Everything came together—sometimes a perfect storm can mean everything you’ve always wanted happens at once. As amazing as I felt, I was also uncomfortable. The scent of the coconut oil lingered in the air. I didn’t think I’d ever wear it.
In 2012, Paul and I went to Hawaii. I was strong from weightlifting and graceful from Zumba, and I ate healthy food. I was doing everything right. But, I couldn’t wear a two-piece. I felt naked, fat, and scared.
“Okay, you can take my picture,” I called to Paul when I put it on the two-piece on for the first time.
“Well, you are going to have to come out from behind the bush,” Paul said exasperated.
I was literally hiding behind a bush just above the beach. My white tummy showed the stretch marks of my childhood. They were silver-colored, and I was likely the only one who knew exactly where they were. My thighs were strong and muscular. My trainer just days before had sighed and said, “I would give anything for your calves.” Really? When I was younger I couldn’t fit them in boots.
So, when Paul ran down the beach towards me today, because I was wearing a “bikini” and he feared for my safety, I had to laugh. I am not as small as I was in 2012, but I am strong and confident. I could beat the crap out of any guy who tried to grab me while I was on the beach.
“Okay,” I told Paul. “I won’t hide behind a bush. I won’t wait until sunset. I won’t cover up with a towel. I’ll let you take my picture in my two-piece.”
“Bikini,” he said automatically.
So he did. He took the picture and I promised myself I would put it on my blog and not worry about what others would think of it.
Then the true test came. There was a party of 40 people in Irma’s restaurant. They were toasting a guy’s 65th birthday. I marched right through them all, wearing my BIKINI, and ordered two margaritas. Although it was thirty years ago when I last wore a bikini in a restaurant, I rocked it today. There was more than one frowning wife and quite a few men sneaking a quick look. After all, I am just fifty—a babe in a bikini in their eyes.