Thursday, May 27, 2010

Miami: Not About Cuban Food

I bought my first two-piece bathing suit the summer I graduated from high school. It was black and from J. Crew and made in that cottonish material that wasn't shiny. The top was a triangle and the bottom was a brief. The moment I made the decision to buy it was a big one. There's a picture of me from that summer in a pool in Massachusetts and you can see I'm still not quite comfortable without that piece of fabric covering my midsection, but I'm smiling, so at least I'm trying.

I have a picture in that same pool from two summers earlier. I am wearing a frankly ghastly royal blue one-piece with visible underwire cups for a variety of breast I still can't grok (the cups were spaced about two inches apart forcing the breasts to point out to the side, like Farrah Fawcett hair or the orange cones the guys on the ground use to direct planes).

I made the decision to go to two pieces after a long and frank (and frankly filled with self-loathing) accounting of me and my body. A diet here, a chocolate eclair binge there, I was going to have more or less the same shaped body for the rest of my life. I was never going to get any taller, nor was my waist going to get longer. And I would probably never have washboard abs. And, after thinking about those things I said, essentially: F it. I wanted a tan stomach. And I'm pretty positive I also wanted to send myself a message that two-piece bathing suits weren't only for Cindy Crawford (though I know she looks better in hers than I do in mine and that's ok too).

In the (number deleted) years since then, I have owned seven additional two-piece bathing suits and zero additional one-pieces. When I pack for the beach the only choice is what color. The tops are still triangles, but I've managed to wean myself off high waisted bottoms. Call it confidence or a deep misunderstanding of reality, the result is the same.

And do you know what I've noticed (when I am not, forgive me, noticing that women really do peak physically at about 16)? I'm not the only person on the beach or at the pool who "shouldn't" be in a bikini. Bathing suit season is the great equalizer. And people watching the parade of imperfections makes me feel a lot more generous to women whom, while dressed, I might harbor some unbecoming envy. I hope my personal parade of imperfections is cheering to others as well. The fact is very few people have perfect bodies. Choosing to walk around essentially naked while knowing we have imperfect bodies is both a courageous decision and one I know can be fraught with painful anxiety. Because we all think we're being judged.

And we are.

We point out to friends and lovers the good bodies and the bad, sizing ourselves up in their wakes. But it really comes to naught. Since while she might have cellulite, you have moles; while her ass is wide, your thighs shake too much; while her breasts are fake, your nose is too. I feel better about myself not because so many others have flaws, but because I feel part of a group of flawed people as opposed to the only flawed person looking in on perfection.

I know bathing suit season is a well-trod path of insipid Cosmopolitan magazine articles designed to traumatize and debase, and I know it's popular to jump on that bandwagon: "oh, I hate bathing suit shopping!" But I would like to suggest that this year, we ditch that cliche, buy something in a snappy color (I'm still looking for the perfect red), and simply resolve to eat ever so many fewer tortilla chips (which is good for us anyway). I've got an itsy bitsy magenta bottom I'm not quite ready for, but it sits in the drawer reminding me how much I'd like to be.

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