It’s June. Summer is upon us. Backyard BBQs and beach days galore! Time to start working on your tan. And unless it’s a farmer’s tan you’re after, you’ll need to strip down to your minimalist sportswear of choice.
If you’re a typical gal, the prospect of displaying your body in a swimsuit in front of friends, family, or the odd squirrel can be terrifying. Paralyzing. Cause for severe existential freak out. When recent Vanity Fair cover girl Amy Schumer is publicly shamed for looking like a boss in a flattering black tank, the idea of putting a bathing suit on a Regular Human Woman Body becomes positively traumatizing.
’Tis the season when we Regular Human Women walk past the newsstand or open our mailboxes to find Us Weekly and Cosmopolitan and forty-three other magazines exhorting us to “Get That Bikini Body!” or “Show Off Your Bikini Body!” or “Look At All These Celebrities With Dietitians And Personal Trainers Who Happen to Have The Ultimate Bikini Body!”
Well guess what, Summer 2016? I’ve officially stopped caring about having a “bikini body.” Do I have a body? Yes? Do I have a bikini? Yes? THEN I HAVE A BIKINI BODY.
I swear, the day I stopped giving a fuck about how I looked in a bathing suit, it was like a litter of kittens in black leotards had tumbled down from heaven to perform “All the Single Ladies” for the sole enjoyment of my thighs and belly.*
This was the year I realized I just don’t have it in me to agonize about attaining some impossible ideal with regard to my weight and size and shape. I’ve spent almost forty years at war with my perfectly normal five-foot-two-inch skin suit. At present, I probably weigh between 135–140 pounds. I don’t know; I haven’t stepped on a scale since January when I packed up my New York apartment and moved to the Caribbean, where I wear — you guessed it — a bikini pretty much every day.
The summer before my freshman year of high school, believing that losing weight would change the way my classmates viewed and talked about me (and probably also change something inside myself that I wasn’t yet able to articulate), I became anorexic. It wasn’t that hard. Willpower, man — it’s a blessing and a curse. When I boarded the bus the first day of 9th grade, all of 101 pounds, people didn’t recognize me. I got more compliments in one week about my appearance than I had in my entire life. Anorexia = feeling good! Except when it didn’t feel very good. That year, a boy that I liked finally liked me back enough to let me do naughty things to him, but then I overheard him tell a group of friends that he would “fuck [me] with a bag over [my] head” so I guess losing forty pounds only made me skinny, not pretty. Dammit.
Eventually, I got tired of starving myself. Like, literally very tired — I would get home from school at 2:30PM and nap for three hours before “eating” dinner. So I tried bulimia on for size. Now that’s a trip.
Picture it: fifteen-year-old me walks home from the bus stop, assembles and gobbles down a tuna sandwich with low-fat mayo on “light wheat” bread (still a calorie-counter at heart, now with bingeing privileges), then goes for a four-mile run during which I stop to puke up my first square meal of the day behind a parked eighteen-wheeler in a lot just off the road behind the gas station. Then run home. Ten minute miles, but still.
I kicked bulimia by junior year and swelled up again, finding solace in retrospectively poor relationship choices (He feeds me blueberry muffins every day after school! And he’s seven years older than me!), then went back on the eat-exercise-vomit cycle in time for senior year. Gotta look good in those class pictures. Soon, I was waving goodbye to high school as the valedictorian and headed off to Harvard where I would turn eighteen and battle eating disorders off and on through graduation and into my twenties, when I settled in to more of a fad-diet form of weight management (Atkins, SlimFast, cocaine).
In the last twenty-five years, I’ve bought and discarded enough fat pants and skinny pants to pair with Imelda Marcos’s famed shoe collection. But this winter, as I spent my days typing from a lounge chair in the Caribbean while wearing a bathing suit that didn’t look appreciably different on me after the bag of Doritos I consumed for lunch, all I gave my precious fucks to were sunshine, making a living off my freelance gigs, and pausing every so often to lick nacho cheese powder off of my fingers. Yum.
Sure, sometimes I see an unflattering photo of myself on Facebook and I cringe. Or I may look wistfully at my wedding pictures — seriously, that clavicle could slice a four-tier cake. And when my thighs rub together so much that I have to ask my husband to apply hydrocortisone cream to my rash, I’m not super happy about it. (Oddly, he doesn’t seem to mind.) But as Lindy West says in her most excellent book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, “I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me.”
She’s right, of course. And I’m old enough now, or experienced enough, or evolved enough — but mostly, lucky enough — to understand that the problem was never in my waistband. It was in my head, all along.
Ladies, the closer to mid-life you get, the more you’ll realize you don’t have endless summers. You have, at best, the same number of summers left that you’ve already wasted crying into your juice cleanses about your lack of “bikini body.” My twenty-year high school reunion is in two months, and I refuse to diet for it when a classmate the year behind me just died from breast cancer at age 37. There will be no more bikinis for her. Full stop.
Instead, this summer I want to be the Oprah of bikini bodies, shouting down the beach at all the self-conscious women and girls trying to avoid thigh spread and under-boob as their friends and potential romantic interests and total strangers frolic in blessed ignorance: “You there, on the blue towel. You have a bikini body! You, deep enough in the frigid water to cover your butt, YOU have a bikini body! You and you and YOU have a bikini body!”
I’ve made peace with my jiggly backside and my stretch marks (Thanks, yo-yo dieting!) and my fantastic-if-I-do-say-so-myself breasts. I love to eat, I hate to exercise (perhaps because I associate it with puking; just a thought). I’m happy with what I got.
Life is too short to stay caught up in the body image issues that plagued me — and caused great physical and psychological harm — for a quarter century. I just don’t give a fuck. Full stop.
We all have bikini bodies.
Enjoy your summer.
*The kittens-in-leotards quote is from my book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck, which I wrote in September 2015 — not coincidentally, at the tail end of last year’s bikini season. If you’re interested, you can buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, from an Indie retailer, or on Audio.
!!UPDATE!! I did a TEDx talk about not giving a fuck. You can watch it HERE.