My Not-So-Bikini Body
A Mom's Lesson In Confidence
By Samantha Dunn
Like most people who don't spend their lives at the gym, every swimsuit season causes me some measure of unease. This year, though, was set to top all. Keith Lewis, the director of the Miss California USA pageant and a friend of mine, asked me to advise him on a book project he has in the works. The Miss USA show was taping in Las Vegas, so Keith wanted me to fly out for a couple days to get a behind-the-scenes look.
“We can have our meetings by the pool,” he offered. “So much better than the office, right?”
It's obvious, isn't it, that Keith himself is a buff, beautiful male specimen? Only a person like that would think it's a good idea to sit around by a pool in a place where 20-year-olds from around the nation, engineered for optimal beauty and firmness, are certain to congregate.
I imagine walking poolside at a swanky hotel, the sun beating down on my fish-belly white skin, as I struggle to keep the towel that's tucked around me from slipping. I seek refuge in the form of a little heavily-shaded table in a far corner ... but just when I think I'm safe, a thundering herd of Glamazons in heels materializes before me, looking like moving bronze sculptures in string bikinis. Before I can get out of their way, the Glamazons barge past me and whip the towel out of my grip. Suddenly, I'm standing exposed to the world, all lumpy thighs and batwing arms. The horror, the horror ...
A point of clarification here: I'm not a person who hates my body. This body of mine once miraculously healed from a horseback riding accident that almost cost me my life and my leg. This body has borne a child, produced and nurtured my baby boy, even while doctors told me no such thing was possible. This body has known pleasure and given pleasure and allowed me to experience life through the richness of all of my senses. This body is a blessing! It is powerful! It is womanly! I live in gratitude for it!
But let's tell it like it is: Nobody is going to see me in a two-piece and immediately appreciate my body for all that it's done. My hesitation, my anxiety — nay, my total terror — of the swimsuit has to do with aesthetics. All that living has now, at age 40-something, left its souvenirs (scars, bulges, wrinkles, and these freaky little age-spot thingys, to name a few). The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” But of course what he meant was, hell is other people seeing you in a swimsuit.
And I mean, come on, I gave birth last year, and now I'm supposed to hang around a pool with 50 Miss USA contestants? Isn't that something prohibited by the Geneva Convention, under the heading “cruel and unusual”?
But the trip to Vegas was just around the corner. No time to obtain and implement the skills of a personal trainer or a nutritionist — or plastic surgeon, for that matter. Not even enough time to get one of those all black, Latex-enhanced, vacuum-suction swimsuits designed for moms, the kind where the material goes all the way up to your neck. Not going wasn't an option — Keith's book project centers around the pageant, and if I am to help him to the best of my ability, I have to educate myself on the world he's writing about. What to do ... what to do ...
Then it struck me: If I couldn't change my body, the only possible thing I could change was the way I cared about how people might judge my body. Isn't this the very nature of self-esteem? After all, we don't call it “other-people esteem.” Unshakeable self-esteem translates as a fundamental understanding and acceptance of who and what you are, irrespective of the estimations of others. Or at least I think that's what it is.
At any rate, I didn't have time for epic therapy sessions to get that, either, so the only choice available to me was to just stop caring. I mean, stop. Like flipping off a light switch. I mean, just don't go there. The other choice — to care about the way others might evaluate my body — meant being miserable and self-conscious the whole time I was trying to work with my friend on his very important project.
About the time I was telling myself all this, my toddler wandered over and crawled into my lap. He then gleefully lifted a corner of my T-shirt to expose the soft folds of my tummy, leaned in and impishly blew a slobbery raspberry against my skin. “Mama! Mama!” he yelled, laughing at his joke. Then he threw his small arms around my middle and cuddled into me. The pure, unadulterated, spontaneous outpouring of love in that moment found its mark, and I truly got that I didn't need any other validation for anything, ever. Take that Miss Oklahoma-of-the-perky-breasts! And, you too, Miss Maine-of-the-endless-cellulite-free-legs!
So the morning came when I had to get on that plane to Vegas. In my suitcase was my stretched-out, one-piece swimsuit, a new bottle of sunscreen and a belly dancing scarf a dance teacher once gave me (how's that for panache?). But when Keith pulled up to greet me at the airport, the skies were overcast and the wind blustery. Not your typical Vegas day. In fact, it was so cold during the two days I was there that we didn't get to the pool once, except for an early supper on the outdoor patio before I took off for home again.
You know, I almost feel bad I didn't get to test out my old swimsuit and belly dancing scarf, let alone my newfound not-caring about what anybody else might think of my body.
To read more from Samantha Dunn, please visit her author page on Amazon.com.
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