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May 15, 2008

Learning to Love My Non-Bikini Body

Why wear a tiny python-print suit if you’re not having any fun in it?

looking good in a bikini body image

Photo Credit: N. Muray/Getty Images

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I flipped through the racks of swimsuits, my fingers sliding past the size zeros. After not exercising all year, I’d put on nearly 15 pounds since last swimsuit season. Now I was an 8, just a few Krispy Kremes away from double digits. Finding my new size felt like a trip down Obesity Lane: After zero, there was size 2, which I wore in college when I was a bike-riding vegetarian; 4, my size in grad school, despite all those appetizer samplers at Eat N’ Park; and just a year later, an 8. Trying to squeeze into anything smaller might well violate several states’ obscenity laws. Time to supersize my swimwear.

Then I saw it: a Kenneth Cole gray-and-black python-print bikini. The sexy suit to end all sexy suits. It broadcast the kind of confidence I used to have, the thing you’d wear for a romp in the surf, à la From Here to Eternity.

I found one in my size and headed to the dressing room. I stripped down without looking in the mirror. Then I pulled the suit bottom up over my underwear, latched the plastic bra hook in back, and tied the strings tight behind my neck, lifting each breast into place, a little extra up top being the only bonus of my weight gain. Then I looked at myself.

Now, at the tail end of winter, I was pale beyond white — almost a translucent blue. I hadn’t waxed, and the brutal fluorescent lights revealed lumps and hairs and veins and bulges. I looked like a python, all right — a python that had just swallowed an entire family of rabbits.

So, then, why did I plunk down $86 on the bikini? Staring at myself, I decided that it would be my motivation, chanting the “If you buy it, you will diet” mantra of so many dumbly optimistic women before me. I had to be on the beach in three months, and this suit, if anything, would remind me how I wanted to look.

With it strung across the top of my mirror, I hit the gym after work nearly every day and sulked over salads in the cafeteria while my officemates gorged themselves on sandwiches and barbecue Kettle Chips and cupcakes. When I went on an ice-skating date in the park, I mumbled something about not wanting to waste 200 calories on the hot chocolate my companion offered. I may be rigid, dull, and controlling company, I reasoned, but damn it, I’d look good in my underwear. Not that we ever got that far.

Those three months of deprivation dragged on, every day making me a little thinner, a little firmer, and a lot whinier. Then I debuted the suit.

Lying on a Long Beach Island novelty towel in my python-print bikini, I sipped water while my friends passed beers from a cooler and pulled slices from a pizza box in the center of our blanket. I wanted a piece more than anything in the world, but even on this proof-of-heaven blue-sky day, I was too stuck inside my own head to have any fun.

On the trip home, I seethed about the stupid swimsuit that had whipped me into such a vain panic, ultimately ruining a shopping trip, a date, countless lunches, and the vacation I’d looked forward to all winter. That’s when I had my forehead-smacking moment: Basically, I’d sold out who I was to look like someone I wasn’t.

Recently I found myself digging through my underwear drawer when I spotted the bikini that gave me so much angst. With another swimsuit season upon us, would I wear it again? Sure, extra pounds and all. But, more important, would I go back to being the girl who orders soft-serve ice cream and fries on the boardwalk, who plays Frisbee without needing to first check for a stomach roll or reach for a cover-up? Hell, yes.

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