Skirting the Issue

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Orange/Maplewood chapter dives into the mental, physical and emotional challenges moms face when it comes to summer and swimsuit season.

How I learned to quit worrying and love the swim skirt.

Two months after giving birth to her second child, supermodel Gisele Bundchen was photographed for the cover of Vogue Brazil wearing nothing but a microscopic bikini and a black leather vest. Two months after the birth of my first child, I was still wearing maternity pants and showering roughly once every other week.

More than a year passed before I put on a bathing suit again. My son had been born in the spring, and that first summer we had neither the time nor the energy to make it to the beach or a pool.

The following summer, my number was up: there would be a trip to southern California to visit family and a vacation in the Hamptons with friends. Plus, we had moved from the city to a suburban town with a beautiful community pool. It was time to suit up.

So I did something I swore I would never, ever do. I bought a bathing suit with a skirt.

“That looks adorable on you,” purred the young, yoga-toned salesgirl at Athleta. And there certainly was nothing hideous about the swingy little skirt, which resembled something Maria Sharapova might wear on the court. But I couldn’t help feeling, just a little bit, like I had given up. Like I might as well buy a bunch of sweatpants, quit waxing my upper lip, and call it a day.

But now I prefer to think of my modest mommy swimsuit as a practical, empowered choice rather than a hopeless surrender to dowdiness.

Even when wearing a swimsuit in my younger, firmer days, I never felt entirely confident unless I was in a supine position, strategically stretched out and carefully arranged on a beach blanket or lounge chair so that my abs looked as flat as possible and there was nary a flesh roll in sight.

But these days, that kind of artful staging is just no longer an option.

Just for fun, let’s compare the kinds of activities in which one can expect to engage at the beach/pool if one is:  A) a person without children and B) a parent of one or more young children.

People in the first category might lie around and do some tanning, sip a drink, read a pulpy summer novel, or have a snooze. When it’s time to cool off, they’ll stroll down to the water for a nice, relaxing swim.

People in the second category, on the other hand, will likely make several round trips to the snack bar, change a few diapers, sprint after wandering toddlers, and crouch down repeatedly—to apply sunscreen, examine fresh boo-boos, etc.; not to mention all the bending over: to fish a pacifier out of the wading pool, pick up errant French fries, sun hats and Crocs, mop up melted ice cream, and, finally, to pack up all the beach towels, floats, swim diapers, squeeze pouches, and five million other necessities that accompany any family with children who dare to venture out for a day of “fun” in the sun.

Ladies, that level of activity requires some high-performance gear. I, for one, need a guarantee that whatever I have on is going to stay in place and keep all critical areas covered. Unlike the glorious, suntan oil–soaked days of yore, my top priority nowadays is to keep my child alive, and preferably meltdown-free, while at the beach or pool. And I’d just as soon not have to worry about whether I’m flashing half the town in the process.

The good news is that, fashion-wise, it’s a great time to be in the market for modest swimsuits. These days, we don’t call high-waisted briefs and skirted one-pieces matronly; we call them retro. And those cute little flouncy skirts and shorts? Those are sporty.

Although this post is meant to be lighthearted, it’s impossible to write on this subject without acknowledging the more serious issues that lie at the heart of our swimsuit angst. These days, we are being hit by conflicting yet equally anxiety-inducing messages: “Be perfect!” and “Embrace your imperfections!” Indeed, for every airbrushed magazine cover and underweight runway model, we have responses like Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign and photographer Jade Beall’s A Beautiful Body Project, the first volume of which illustrates what regular moms’ post-baby bodies really look like.

The latter are inarguably wonderful, positive contributions to the cause of promoting healthy body image by celebrating all kinds of body types. But along with all the positive stuff comes this pressure for women to hurry up and feel GREAT! about their bodies—stretch marks, saggy breasts, cellulite and all. And that’s easier said than done. As a good friend recently said to me: “Of course I love my child, of course I wouldn’t trade her for anything. But do I want to run around saying I love my stretch marks? Give me a break.”

In no way do I mean to suggest that anyone with a less-than-perfect body should hide themselves away in shame. But neither should we beat ourselves up if we don’t feel totally comfortable flaunting our flaws.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time and a place where we have the freedom to wear whatever we choose. We may fret about what our legs look like, but we don’t have to worry about getting arrested for revealing too much of them. How lucky we are that the only thing dictating what we put on is our own sense of comfort and style.

Total, unfettered love and acceptance of our imperfect bodies, a feeling of being completely at ease in our skin: these are worthy goals. But for those of us who aren’t quite there yet (and may never be), for those of us who would like to avoid a wardrobe malfunction while chasing after a dripping-wet toddler, and for anyone who didn’t have time to get a proper waxing before dashing over to the town pool—it’s nice to have the option of a little extra coverage.

Michelle Vellucci Vames is the mother of one little boy, with another on the way. She is a freelance writer and editor who lives in South Orange, New Jersey, with the aforementioned little boy and her wonderful husband. Visit her blog, www.suburbianrhapsody.com, to read more about her attempts to maintain her sanity while trying not to screw up her child (too much).

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