Whenever I tried to describe the beach-bum culture of my youth to my husband, I’d say, “We all wore our bathing suits under our clothes. Because you knew you’d just drive to the beach after school. The bathing suit was like a second skin.” So what I mean to say is that bathing suits meant something to me back then. They still do.
Now, we live in land-locked Ohio, where the pools don’t open until Memorial Day. Like me, my daughter is a water baby. She has a stockpile of bathing suits that she wiggles on, clamoring for any glimpse of cool water to dive into. Her delight always seeps into me too.
But this year, when I went to try on my bathing suits, I found that not a single one fit. This fraught wriggling-and-moaning routine is likely familiar to others, but it seems particularly distressing this year. The pandemic, and its accompanying anxieties, have changed my body to the point that I sometimes have difficulty recognizing myself in the mirror. I have felt shame stepping on the scale, though my more rational side understands that weight is just a number. For a time, I pretended nothing was different, squeezing into my ill-fitting clothing. But the bathing suits don’t lie. I would have to get a new one.
I knew exactly what I wanted: a green retro-style maillot suit with some ruching. Something I could wear comfortably while chasing my daughter in and out of the community pool.
I bought more bathing suits online than I can count. I tried tankinis, ruched one-pieces, and sporty-style bikinis. Each promised flattering lines, a clean silhouette. Each failed to live up to its promise. I even went into stores, braving the fluorescent lights and unflattering mirrors to try them on. But time after time, I was dissatisfied. At first, I thought it was my body. But then I realized: it’s not me. It’s the bathing suits.
These days, most bathing suits come in a limited range of sizes (XS–XL, if you’re lucky), and those sizes can’t manage to contain the variance in women’s bodies. For example, I’m pear-shaped, so the bathing suits that fit me well around my bust are not balanced on the bottom. After weeks of trying to fit myself into suits that were not made for me, I made a decision.
I was done conforming myself to fit into an industry standard that does not inherently celebrate women’s bodies. If I’m going to raise my daughter with a sense of self-love, I need to find that love for myself, and my changing body, which has carried me through a pandemic, and the stressors that have buried us all. So I turned to the sewing community.
I’ve been a sewist for a number of years, and part of the appeal, aside from the obvious one of creating your own bespoke clothing, is that this community celebrates the diversity of bodies. Sewing accounts on Instagram boast many body types, each woman looking absolutely stunning in their handmade outfits. A number of these women were creating their own swimsuits. The beauty of sewing your own swimsuit is the ability to fully customize the fit. You are not trying to fit your body into something—you create the suit to fit your body. This mental shift began the work of slowly but surely erasing my body shame.
You are not trying to fit your body into something—you create the suit to fit your body. This mental shift began the work of slowly but surely erasing my body shame.
With a spark of hope, I bought beautiful kelly-green fabric. I found a pattern with exactly my specifications, and I got to sewing. Along the way, I merged sizes, and enlarged the bottom of the suit. I tightened the halter straps to account for my smaller torso. A few days—and some pricked fingers later—I tried on my finished suit. It fit. It more than fit. It complemented my body, so that I wanted to actually preen in front of the mirror, as I used to when I was young.
I first wore it to a hotel pool, on a family trip out of town. When I came out of the bathroom in my green suit, my daughter gasped, “Mommy! Can you make me one just like it?” That day, we played Marco Polo, laughing as we splashed water into each other’s faces. We dove for those plastic rings that you throw on the floor of the pool. And afterwards, as I stretched out on one of the lounge chairs, I looked down at my suit and thought to myself, “I love this second skin of mine.”
Every body is a beach body,” right? Still, navigating the summer can be challenging. This week, Well+Good is publishing All Bodies Are Beach Bodies—A Realistic Guide to Preparing for Summer to help you hold on to your confidence, embrace joyful movement, manage sweat, make meaningful memories, and find major swimsuit inspiration all summer long.
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