“Is that what my stomach is going to look like after I have two kids?” my sister asks. If anyone else had asked me the same question, I’d probably cry, but I know she’s curious, not cruel. She’s staring at my belly, wide-eyed. I am wearing a bikini and we are about to head to the pool in her backyard. We’ve just celebrated my second child’s first birthday and my sister is very pregnant with her second. A few pounds of baby weight linger around my waist, but that’s not what my sister is referring to. My stomach has never been flat. It was softer than the rest of me even before I had kids, when I was running marathons, doing Ironmans, and cycling over mountain passes. But since having babies, the skin around my navel is wrinkly. It reminds me of an elephant’s ear. “I don’t know what your stomach will look like after you have this baby.” I tell her. “But this is how mine looks after two kids.” I’d like to tell you I was wearing a bikini that day because it was clean and it was at the top of my swimsuit pile, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth is, when I choose a bikini over a one piece, there’s a lot to it.
Kids watch what you do not what you say
I don’t think there’s a parent in the world who would argue with this. It may be one of the bleakest realities of parenthood. Our kids are watching, even (or maybe especially) when we think they’re not. They’re like little scientists wearing noise-canceling headphones so they can focus on watching what you do without being distracted by your words. When I wear a two-piece, I’m showing my daughters you can be comfortable in your body even if you don’t have washboard abs and a thigh gap.
Fake it 'til you make it is a real thing
I am comfortable with my body – most of the time. Some days I’m just not feeling so hot. It could be I’ve gained a couple pounds (which, in my mind, has propelled me from a size four to a size 44 overnight). Maybe I’ve skipped a workout or two, or I’m feeling guilty and bloated because of last night’s ice cream. Taking off my cover-up to reveal a bikini is a lot like jumping into a cold pool. It’s uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to it, it’s lovely. I’ve never been one to sit back and stay in my comfort zone. There’s a lot to be said for faking it 'til you make it. While I’m not 100 percent happy with my body every minute of every day, the more often I wear a two-piece, the easier it becomes.
I already have a bikini body
The media (e.g. people who want to sell us stuff) is trying to brainwash us into thinking our bodies aren’t good enough (so they can sell us stuff to fix our problem). I’m not buying it. The idea that your body is only ready to hit the beach in a bikini once it looks a certain way is no more grounded in reality than your toddler’s imaginary friend. My body is, by definition, ready to wear a bikini when I put a bikini on it. Period. No one decides if I deserve to wear a bikini but me.
Television, movies, and magazines aren’t the only ones selling our kids a specific, unattainable brand of beauty. Most of us can look no farther than our daughters’ bedrooms to find a stash of miniature versions of women whose real-life figures would be impossible without cosmetic surgery – and lots of it. Not only that, but according to figures from Rehabs.com they’d be physically unable to hold their heads up or walk, given the unreasonable length and girth of their necks and their absurdly tiny feet. I could ban sexualized dolls (Barbies, Bratz, and all the others) from our home, but that wouldn’t make it impossible for my kids to find them at friends’ houses. Beside, I think depriving my kids of a certain toy or doll would only enhance the allure. Thankfully, my daughters (ages three and five) still think I am the most beautiful girl in the world. For now Barbie doesn’t have anything on me – except maybe an astronaut suit.
My stomach deserves to see the sun
It stretched so hard each time I was pregnant I thought my skin would split...then it would stretch some more. Sometimes I look at my stomach and marvel that it looks as good as it does. When I see pictures of myself about to burst during each of my pregnancies, I think it would be totally reasonable if the skin of my stomach hung down to at least mid-thigh. Miraculously, it’s still closely connected to my belly. If anything were going to make me believe in God, this is it. Hiding my stomach from the sun and the breeze would be like blaming the victim. It has done so much for me. The least I can do in return is let it catch a few rays. Like most women approaching 40 who have had children, my body shows signs of wear. When you live in a culture that expects women to look perfect and in a city where having babies is no excuse for not “getting your body back,” wearing a bikini is a lot more complicated than revealing a patch of wrinkly skin around my navel.
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.