Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Learning to Love My Non Paris Hilton Bikini Body

I flipped through the racks of swimsuits, my fingers sliding past the size zeros. After not consistently exercising most of this year and last, I’d put on nearly 20 pounds since last swimsuit season. Now I was an 8, just a few Whoppers away from double digits, even though some parts of my body are already there. Finding my new size felt like a trip down Memory Lane: After zero, there was size 2, which I wore in the senior year of high school when I was Tae-Bo loving vegetarian; 4-6, my size before I started dating my college sweetheart, despite all those appetizer samplers at Uno's ; and just a few years later, an 8, closer to a 10, but for all intents and purposes, I'll stick with the 8. Trying to squeeze into anything smaller might well violate several states’ obscenity laws. Time to super size my swim wear.

Then I saw it: one of those amazing fake one pieces that have the holes in strategic places to make it look like a two-piece. The sexy suit to end all sexy suits. It broadcast the kind of confidence I used to have, the thing you’d wear as a top to a club with a pair of jeans.

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 high point of summer, I was all kinds of shades of chocolaty brown — I needed to shave, 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 was I tempted 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 hit the beach at least a few more times before the summer was over, 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 Pringles. When I went on weekend events, I mumbled something about not wanting to waste 200 calories on anything that wouldn't be burned off withing the next hour. I might have been rigid, dull, and controlling company, I reasoned, but damn it, I’d look good in my underwear, I vowed.

After a few months of yo-yo dieting, gym dedications that weren't any longer then 10 days consecutively. I had lost a few pounds, not nearly as much as I had anticipated, but something was accomplished.

Soon I was lying on Jones Beach, novelty beach towel coming between me and the sand, in my two-piece bikini, deciding the python print would still have yet to make its debut appearance. I sipped on water while my friends passed drinks and snacks. 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 acknowledge that I actually looked damn good in a bikini.

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, and countless lunches. That’s when I had my forehead-smacking moment: Basically, I’d sold out who I was to look like someone I used to be. Unfortunately, I was no longer a speedy Gonzalez type metabolism burning 18 year old and I was okay with it. I'm 23 years old, I sit at a desk for 8 hours and I have learned to accept the curves of my body, my Beyonce-esque derrière, and seemingly I don't have to be rail thin to look good in a bikini.

Soon after my beach trip, I found myself digging through my underwear drawer when I spotted the bikini that started it all. With about a month and half left of the swimsuit season, would I make a real attempt to wear it out? Sure. But, more importantly, would I go back to being the girl who orders soft-serve ice cream and fries with cheese and bacon, who plays beach volleyball without needing to first check for a riding swimsuit bottom or reach for a cover-up? Hell, yes.

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