“After I put on my bathing suit, you must not look at me until I get into the water.”
“Why not?” asked Frog.
“Because I look funny in my bathing suit. That is why,” said Toad.
(Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel)
Last year, I successfully avoided wearing a swim suit. With a clever bit of inception, I convinced my husband and daughter that swimming was a special father/daughter activity and they went to the pool without me once or twice a week, coming home chemical-scented and hungry. I fed them, hugely pregnant, and was thankful. Then, my son was born at the beginning of July and swimming was forbidden for six weeks because of my cervix or something. I rode that excuse all the way to fall.
This year, with a nearly one-year-old and a three-year-old, pool time has to be a family outing. Two kids at the pool is a bit much for one adult. So I pulled out my swim suits and tried them on.
First was the tankini I bought to wear rafting before I knew I was pregnant with my daughter. I wore it exactly once and back in the drawer it went. The top is a medium and the bottom is a large because…pears. Still fits, though my nursing boobs are kinda smushed in and my stretch marks are showing. I decide it’s not going to work and move on to option number two.
Maternity swimsuit. Worn only during the first pregnancy to water aerobics. That’s a whole other post…but it fits. It looks like a maternity suit, though. It has that ruching on the sides. But my boobs are contained. The bottom is super pilly…but who can tell? Who’s looking? I decide it’s not going to work and move on to option number three.
Post-partum suit. Purchased the summer after my daughter was born. It’s from Old Navy and has that “vintage-inspired” one-piece look: strapless except for a shoestring holster. A piece of fabric over the whole thing that can be bunched up to hide fat rolls and/or pulled down to turn the one-piece into a tube-dress suit. It is doing nothing for my boobs. They are seconds from popping out. I remember that they often did the summer I wore it. My husband is called in for a consult and declares it “not the worst thing” if my boobs pop out at the community pool. I decide it’s the worst one yet and take to the internet.
When it comes in the mail I’m initially happy with the fit. It’s a high waisted, pin-up style. It has significant coverage but is purposefully stylish. I stash it in my swim suit drawer. Cut to today. It’s the first hot day in forever and we decide it’s the day we will go to the pool, which has just opened for the season this week. I pull out my suit a couple hours early, just to make sure. I plop the baby in the pack-n-play in our room and he amuses himself with his own reflection and a pretend piano while I don the fancy new suit.
It’s terrible. Maybe my boobs shrank but the cups sit perched atop my wobbly “there used to be a person in there” abdomen and there’s a sizable gap on all sides. The halter pulls at the back of my neck and the back strap keeps rolling around. The swim bottom is fine but it is perhaps TOO high-waisted, making me look short and stubby…TOADLIKE even. Husband is pulled in for a consult. He declares it “Fine. Sexy. Good.” And he’s gone, his two cargo-short suits folded neatly next to his actual cargo-shorts. Life is easy for him. I decide the new suit is the worst yet and go back through each of the above.
I finish where I started: tankini. It’s fine, I tell myself. By this time, the baby is getting bored of this activity and wants up. I pick him up and glance at the mirror. Now that I’m holding a baby, the suit takes on a ghoulish fun-house mirror shape. The twenty-something pound baby can’t be held while I’m standing upright and pushing out my chest, sucking in my gut. The giant baby, who doesn’t hold on at all by the way but rather leans away, trying to see the world, must be held on a hip. And when I do that, there’s my “there used to be person in there” abdomen, jutting out for all to see. My boobs are in great danger of exposing themselves and my posture is not runway-appropriate.
And he’s laughing at me. The baby. Just like in the story—all of Toad’s friends laugh at him because he DOES look funny in his bathing suit. To which Toad says, “Of course I do” and picks up his clothes and goes home! The baby is laughing at me and so will everyone else. Or worse, they’ll look at me with pity and disgust.
Wait. No, he’s not. The baby is laughing at himself in the mirror. And I smile at him and he goos enthusiastically, wrapping his chubby little arms around my neck and giving me a slobbery, open-mouthed kiss. He could give two shits about me in my bathing suit. He just wants to be near me. Duh.
At the pool, I notice the other mom-bods. Don’t try to tell me you don’t scope them out, too. Obviously, mostly, I was watching my children, but as it turns out, the baby is terrified of the pool and just wanted to sit in the shallow end, holding onto me for dear life. So I had a moment to scan the crowd. There were mom-bods just like mine—pale and untoned and doing their best in tankinis, one-pieces, skirt-bottoms, t-shirts, some full-blown bikinis, and all other variations of swimwear. I saw them pulling down their tops, pulling their bottoms around their bottoms. I saw them trying to adjust their posture while holding a baby and realizing that would result in back injury. I saw them too focused on the safety of their kids to worry that their love-handle had made an appearance. I saw them yank up their tops to avoid a near nip slip. And I saw the dads, carefree and heartless in their man-uniform. And I saw the inexplicably fit moms and the naturally petite moms and the nannies who don’t have kids and the friends who still have shape and the teenagers who look perfect. And all the cute kids in their colorful swimwear and hats and floaties, not caring at all about stomach flab. And everyone was fine. It was fine. They saw me and I saw them and, sure, I’m probably gonna go buy a suit so I have something that fits a little better, but then I’m just going to wear it. Because, believe it or not, it’s not about me. Or my stomach.
In the end, my boob did come out. The baby’s hydrophobia was so great I decided to nurse him to ease his panic. So I sat on a bench, giant baby on my lap, and popped my boob out of my tankini. And no one cared. Except the baby…he was pacified.