Fat Bods and Bikinis: A Battle at the Beach

At the beginning of the summer, I penned a little piece about swimsuits - specifically about the bullshit rules that dictate swimsuit selection. I concluded that it was time to discard said rules entirely, opting instead for a swimsuit experience that was governed by our inherent right to take up space. Which means - among other things - that fat bods get to buy bikinis. 

I hit publish on that piece - lots of you reached out to me, gushing with the relief that comes when you feel set free. I even got a couple of selfies of you, flaunting your post-baby bodies in suits you had previously deemed unfit for human consumption. It was awesome, and like always, you were brave and beautiful. 

And then a few days passed and I had the most horrifying epiphany. After that gargantuan show of brave beauty, I realized that I was going to have to pony up, put my money where my mouth is, and put this fat bod in a bikini, reciprocating your openness with my own show of skin.

Well fine then. But first I had to buy a suit.

Mightily armed by bravado and buoyed by memes that reminded me that I only needed a bikini and a body to have a bikini body, I set out to order my first true two-piece swimsuit.

Like the first one IN MY WHOLE LIFE.

It took me less than five minutes to find it... this super cute, red number that looked like a wrap dress without the rest of the dress. I selected my size, added it to the cart, threw some complementary, high-waisted black bottoms in there too, and quickly clicked "Place Order" before I allowed myself even a moments pause to reconsider this act of rebellion. 

Rebellion, you might ask? Isn't that a little overstated?

It's a swimsuit, not a sword, after all.

 and you're going to the beach,

not into battle.

But for people in fat bodies - or any marginalized body that doesn't fit the "tone, taut, tan" narrative - the beach is a battlefield, marked by the wounded warriors who looked square in the eyes of belonging and thought, "Fuck it. I'm going to do it anyway. I'm going to ignore the stares, the whispers, the giggling, the pointing. I'm going to strip off my clothes, baring my body to the world and dare to exist here. I'm going to play with my kids and run into the water and lose myself in the waves. I'm going to be even when I don't belong."

And daring to be without having any place to belong....

That's a rebellion of the most noble sort.

So, there I sat, all bold and rebellious, waiting for that suit to arrive. The package came, I sliced it open, dug in the box, producing only the black bottoms and a slip of paper informing me that the rest of my order had been cancelled. Cancelled? Now I was pissed. I would NOT be cancelled, thank you very much.

I grabbed my teenage daughter and we hit the stores. She's a great shopper and sent me off to the dressing room with ten options to try on.

It did not go well. All of my blustery bravado seemed to vanish under the harsh fluorescent lights, replaced by the kind of self-loathing and shame that can set your insides on fire. I gathered all of the tops in my arms, ready to return them to the rack and find my way to the nearest Weight Watchers meeting because dear god, I clearly needed to DO SOMETHING about this body.

But I stopped, hand on the knob to the dressing room.

Do you know why?

Because my girl was sitting in the chairs, waiting for me to tell her how it went. She's a smart girl who reads my blogs religiously and can sniff out hypocrisy faster than she can snap a selfie. I realized that it would be far more horrifying to deny the space my body deserves under her gaze than to risk the ridicule of strangers on the beach. So, I picked the suit on the top of the pile, walked out of the room and declared that we had found a winner.

Now, to wear the damn thing in public.....

A couple of weeks later, we loaded up the car for our annual road trip to some place sandy and coastal. After two days of travel, we arrived and settled in, anxious to find our way to the water. 

I would love to tell you that I slipped into that suit, full of confidence, stripped off the cover up and threw myself into the Gulf with reckless abandon. 

Not. What. Happened.

Instead, I put the suit on in the privacy of the bathroom (because my wife has clearly never seen my bare belly, geesh), stared in the mirror and gave myself a literal, out-loud pep talk.

That's right, I channeled my inner Abilene, with a full-fledged "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

Didn't work.

I considered feigning illness, but then heard the excitement coming from the other room, and realized there was no way around my fear, only through it. So, gathering every ounce of resilience I could muster, I hit the beach.

Anyone want to guess what happened?

Any idea how the world received my big thighs and fat tummy when I peeled off the cover-up?

Ya, it turns out the world wasn't watching.

In fact, no one was watching. The boys were headed to the water. My wife and daughter were applying sunscreen. The people around us didn't seem to notice the large woman in the bikini. And I was just standing there, awkwardly holding my cover-up in my hands.

So, I thought "Fuck it. I'm going to do it anyway. I'm going to swim and play and forget that I ever believed I didn't belong."

And that's what I did.

All. Day. Long.

And the best part of this story is that this is not even the best part. There is more.

On our way back to the condo, we all decided on a dip in the hot tub. While I did find myself momentarily snagged on the fact that I would have to descend into the water in front of an audience, "fuck it" seemed to work in this circumstance as well, so I sank into the bubbles. Not five minutes later, we were joined by two women in their early twenties, one of whom was sporting a fat bod and a bad ass bikini. 

"Well, what is this," I thought, "Some sort of fat-bodied bikini takeover?"

I couldn't get over her age. I floated in the water, considering what kind of courage it must take for a woman in her early twenties to risk being without belonging. It felt like sending a child into war without armor. But she didn't seem to mind one bit. 

As I exited the water, she peeked through partially closed eyelids and said softly, "I like your swimsuit top. It's really cute on you."

To which I had the privilege of replying, "I like yours too. It looks great."

And just like that, there was no battle.

Only belonging.

To each other.

And that was all either of us needed.

We spent a week on that beach and I became acutely aware of the bodies around me. I saw so much fat and thin and black and brown and red (so much red... seriously, white people, put on some sunscreen.. you are just an absolute mess). I saw old and young and lover and friend. I saw an empty wheelchair at the end of the boardwalk, it's owner carried closer to the water by a loved one. Talk about a battle at the beach. I saw women tugging at fabric to cover fat and men doing the same. I saw many, many fellow members of the "fuck it" club.

Know what else I saw when I really looked?

No one seems to have it figured out.

Everyone seems to be hovering somewhere between being and belonging... a fact that had previously escaped my attention because, well... It's pretty hard to notice your surroundings when you're swimming in self-loathing.

It turns out I'm actually swimming in a sea of people just like me, people waiting to see what the world will do when they bare themselves to it. In this exact moment, I hope that for each of these people, there is a wounded warrior, offering a soft spot to land with a gentle smile and a quiet compliment.

Better yet, I'd like to be that warrior.

After all, this fat tummy and these thick thighs.. they know a thing or two about being soft.

So, softness, yes, That's what I think I'll be. How about if you come along with me?  Softness can always use a little company.








Sarah Stevens