This is going to be controversial. Just fair warning.
A week ago Sunday, our church had its annual picnic at Mason Lake. Very unusually, it was hot, close to 90 degrees after servcies and the sun reached its zenith. We trooped out, enjoyed the sunshine, ate our fill and fellowshiped.
But there was a wrinkle.
A couple of my good fgirl friends told me excitedly, “I’m going to wear my swimsuit! You should too!” Yeah. That prospect filled me with dread. Me in a swimsuit in front of, not perfect strangers, but people I actually know. And I wouldn’t be taking my contacts out, so I wouldn’t have the advantage of seeing everyone like an Impressionist painting, either. No thanks. Potential for embarassment? One hundred percent. Shaving? Too much.
But then I got to thinking. It’s hot, I have no lake at my house, our kiddie pool got decommissioned early due to the roofing project…Maybe I should. One lovely friend mentioned she was going to wear shorts anyway. Okay, okay. I’m in.
I’ve always loved swimming. My dad used to call me a water baby. I’ve played in the water, despite not having a perfect swimsuit body, my whole life. Nobody can really see your body underwater and you move with more grace, buoyed by the density of the waves. I learned to swim at my grandparents’ summer home on Fisher’s Island, off the coast of New York. My swimming pool was a cordoned-off section of the Atlantic. I learned to dive (not well) and do very basic swimming strokes. I loved it.
So all those great memories flooded back into my heart. Of course, now I’m a mom, and swimming means watching my kids to make sure they don’t meet a watery death. However, the sense of freedom and joy, a release and recess of sorts, lifted my heart.
The sun sparkled on the lake. Many other families were there, skirting the covered picnic area, in various swimsuits, with floatation devices and jet boats and lots of sunscreen. I realized another problem. My friends were planning to cover their swimsuits with tank tops. My swimsuit…is a bikini. Before you judge me as a harlot, hear me out. My last “mom” swimsuit gave up the ghost. I’d had it since Zac was three and it made my chest look like I had egg-carton breasts. Not flattering. I searched in vain for in for a swimsuit that would look good and cover everything. I ordered a bikini I found online. Has anyone else noticed the lack of flattering swimsuits lately, in any style?! Eh. Anyway, I wore the top and shorts. But the top, bless it’s heart, didn’t cover my middle.
I started to panic. My stomach would be exposed! Everyone would see…what? What, exactly, would be seen? My less-than-flat midriff? Are belly buttons sexy? I guess I missed that memo. I thought about covering up the swimsuit top. But then I thought, Why? What’s the point? If I’m going to wear my swimsuit, then I should wear it. Period. If I cover it up, who’s going to know I’m even wearing it? So I peeled off my tank top.
And I blended right in. Oh, not with my church family, necessarily, though I did have a brave sister who wore her swimsuit, too, into the cold lake, right alongside me. But the other families on the beach looked not unlike me.
All of this made me think. The church universal has done a poor job of helping women make the transition from girl to adult. We’ve been told, time and again, not to “make our brother stumble”. We have to be modest. We have to be covered up. Don’t wear this on campus (Bethany). And the rest of the world is no better, brainwashing us into believing we should look like the size 0 model on the magazine cover, or to be buff beyond belief (I blame Jillian Michaels). But to what end? All I saw was shame. When do we get to be comfortable in our own skins, happy with what we have and who God made us to be? I’ll never be 5’8″ with legs that go on for days, like my sisters and most of my friends. But I can work with what I have and be content.
I did not wear my swimsuit top to be controversial, to be sexy or to cause any friction. It was what I had. And for a few minutes, I felt like a kid again. Maybe next time I’ll swim out to the dock.