The decade before I had my first baby, I lived in Los Angeles, worked in the entertainment industry, was super shallow, and didn’t have a whole lot else going on in my life, so I took looking awesome in a bathing suit very seriously. With my long slender legs, flat abs, thin arms, pancake butt, and full C-cup breasts, I had the kind of body that string bikinis are made for. To maintain it, all I had to do was lots of cardio, quasi-starve myself, drink lots of caffeine, and chew nicotine gum all day, every day.
Unlike Gisele Bündchen, who effortlessly slipped back into her old bikini weeks after giving birth to her children, five months postpartum with my second child I am still 25 pounds heavier than before I had kids and 15 pounds heavier than I was before having my baby girl. As a non-supermodel who doesn’t make millions of dollars per year modeling swimwear, I’m getting more and more okay with the fact that I probably will never be the emaciated twig of my twenties ever again. And while I am so much happier than I ever was as a skinny bitch, I have to admit that sometimes it is a little difficult looking in the mirror and accepting the reflection staring back at me. I don’t hate my current curves, but I’m not loving them either.
And now it’s bathing suit season, which means that not only do I have to struggle to find clothes that fit, but also a flimsy piece of fabric to cover my private parts as I chase my almost-3-year-old around the crowded pool. To provide entertainment for my husband, I tried on one of my old bikinis, the barely-there triangle top barely covering one of my nipples and the high cut bottoms looked more like a thong on my more robust booty.
“You actually wore that thing in public?” he asked me.
About two years earlier, shortly after my first child was born, I purchased a simple, shimmering gold tank suit with a shelf bra from J.Crew to get me through a trip to Florida. There was nothing about that suit – which according to my husband, gave me a “uniboob” and also seemed to demand many “when I first saw you I thought you were naked” comments – that made me feel sexy, but it did the deed. It also worked the following summer when I was newly pregnant with our daughter during that awkward “is she pregnant or did she have a footlong sub for lunch?” phase.
So when my husband asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I figured that a really nice, confidence-boosting bathing suit would be the perfect gift. While I totally support women of all body types who want to rock a bikini, I felt as though a two-piece wasn’t exactly the right choice to flatter my figure (as my midsection was still sporting some loving lumps that I wasn’t ready to expose to the world), so I embarked on a daunting quest to find the perfect one-piece.
I didn’t expect it to be too hard, especially since we were heading to one of the largest malls in the world, The Mall of America, during our Memorial Day weekend trip to visit my husband’s family in Minneapolis. Over 520 stores fill its 4.3 miles of total storefront footage, after all.
I figured a department store would be a good place to start, so I dragged my husband into the swimwear department at Nordstrom, where I was shocked to find very few one-pieces in stock.
“We just don’t sell that many of them,” the salesperson explained to me. I found it hard to believe that the majority of women in a Midwest city wear bikinis, but whatever.
Of the dozen or so hanging on the racks, about eight were made for people with bodies like Gisele, with plunging necklines, dramatic cutouts, and strings for support, and the remaining three were ruched, skirted, and styled for women decades older. (I strongly urge anyone out there who has dreams of starting a bathing suit line to seriously consider tapping into the totally unsaturated market.)
I grabbed a few of the lesser evils to try on, as well as some high-waisted bikinis and matching tops that I figured might look okay. Not one of the bikini tops I grabbed fit over my size H mammary glands, which my husband found hilarious. As for the high-waisted bottoms, trust me, they appear to be made for women who want to hide their bellies but, in fact, truly are a better option for those without — they were far less flattering than a pair of thongs. And as a tall girl with big boobs, I struggled with most of the one-pieces: if they were long enough in the torso and big enough in the boobs, they sagged everywhere else.
I kid you not, I was near tears when we left that store. I asked the sales lady for suggestions of other stores that carried swimwear. She told me that there were two bathing suit stores and a few department stores that carried them, but that was about it. Also, hard to believe.
“Maybe I am just not supposed to be in a bathing suit,” I whined to my husband, who immediately reminded me to stop my pity party.
At that moment I gave myself a mental pep talk, reminding the maternal side of me how important it was to be a role model for my children. I remembered how someone recently had mentioned to me that years later, kids won’t remember how we looked in our bathing suits, but will recall if we were never there in the pool with them at all.
“Let’s try one of those stores that only sells bathing suits,” my poor husband, who rightfully had been dreading this shopping trip for days, suggested.
So we walked into Everything But Water, where I immediately was overwhelmed by the hundreds of swimsuits displayed on the walls and on racks, arranged mostly by color. Luckily, the beautiful, full-figured saleswoman saw me and ran over to help. I candidly told her my dilemma and she laughed, promising to find at least one bathing suit that I could live with.
She ushered me into a fitting room and brought me a bunch of options, the majority of which I would never have picked out myself, simply because they didn’t have the on-the-hanger appeal I usually was attracted to or I assumed wouldn’t be flattering. However, as I slipped each of the modest suits onto my not-so fit and fabulous figure, my angst seemed to diminish just slightly.
After I tried on 10 or so, I found a suit I loved – a Robin Piccone one-piece that has the look of a black halter bikini but provides belly coverage in the form of a crochet midsection. I was shocked that this style covered my boobs, didn’t accentuate any fat rolls, and concealed the features of my stomach I wasn’t ready to expose, but still managed to look super chic. Of course they didn’t have my size in stock and we had to order it, forcing me to suffer through a few swimming expeditions in my old suit. However, the look on my brother-in-law’s face when he thought I was naked was sort of worth it.
Cut to the first day at the pool in my new bathing suit: My body hadn’t changed in the week since my shopping trip, but as soon as I put my new suit on, I felt like a totally different person. I looked in the mirror and suddenly loved the reflection staring back at me. For the first time, I kinda dug this curvy, new voluptuous me and didn’t feel insecure as I chased my toddler around nearly naked.
We all need to love and accept ourselves the way we are from the inside out, which is one of those things in life that is way easier said than done. While shopping for a swimsuit postpartum had the makings of a big self-esteem disaster, in actuality, it helped me abandon my old ideals and embrace the new me — huge breastfeeding boobs and not-so-flat tummy and all.
If you have any money to spare this summer, I highly suggest finding a swimsuit that makes you feel like the best version of you — whether that’s in the form of a thong bikini, a burkini, or just a plain one-piece. And whatever you do, don’t — just don’t, try on any of your old ones!