Dear Woman at the Beach (in Defense of my Body);
I see you looking at me. I see the way you start at my feet and work your way over my bikini, never making it to my face. You can hide behind your dark tinted Dior shades, but it’s there. That subtle way you turn up your nose at me, the way you glance at your man to see if he’s looking at me. Guess what? He isn’t.
I see the way you lean over and whisper into your friend’s ear. Then she looks at me, and you both purse your lips and giggle.
I see you judging me, picking apart my body, looking for flaws.
When I say “hi,” I see how uncomfortable it makes you, how you can’t even manage a simple hello because you spent all afternoon scrutinizing my body.
When we see each other at dinner at the resort restaurant, no longer in our swimsuits, you manage to force a smile. Then you take your husband’s hand and lead him to a different part of the restaurant.
You hate me because I spend hours in the gym to get what society deems a “bikini body.” Because I spent thousands of dollars to inflate the empty skin sacks that were left behind after nursing my two children.
I paid for boobs, yes. Judge me for that, but I didn’t do that for you. The swimsuit isn’t for you either.
Here’s what you don’t know about me. I’m also ashamed of my body. Not because I don’t like it or because I think it’s sub-par. I’m ashamed of my body around other women.
I have cried alone in my room at the cruel things women have said to me. I have been the brunt of jokes because I’m thin. I have been the center of a tirade of questions and comments aimed at my body.
“Do you ever eat?”
“How many hours do you spend in the gym?”
“If you had a little meat on your bones.”
Before I got to the beach, I tried on several suits. I picked apart myself in the mirror trying to see myself from your superior eyes. I fussed with my cover-up so much walking to the beach that my husband said, “Jesus, Mandi. You look fine.” My breakfast threatened to reappear at least twice before I was brave enough to remove said garment. I had to have a drink to work up the nerve.
I feel for people who hit the gym and diet to no avail. I really do, and I realize I’m fortunate that when I put the effort into my body, it pays off. It doesn’t mean I have fewer feelings. It doesn’t mean hurt doesn’t hurt. The number of pounds on our bodies doesn’t determine the way we hurt.
I feel self-conscious. I wear my cover up most of the time. I sit with my feet in the pool at pool parties instead of getting in. I have consciously chosen swimsuits on numerous occasions based on what I thought you would think.
But I’m done. I’m sick of mean girl mentality. And I refuse to give into it anymore.
We are in this together. We are women, beautiful, breathtaking, powerful women. You, woman on the beach, are stunning. We might be different shapes and sizes, but I shouldn’t have to worry about what you think of me in my swimsuit. And I don’t care if you think women of a certain age should not wear bikinis anymore or that we should stop wearing shorts or skirts or shirts that show cleavage. You are aiding in a growing epidemic of body shaming whether you realize it or not.
You can shake your head at me, or wrinkle your nose if you want to. You can look at me with disgust. You can hate me. You can even talk about me with your mean girl posse. I’m a great person, a supportive friend, and funny AF, so if you don’t want to get to know me, it’s your loss. Sit there, drowning in negativity while I splash around in the pool with my children, while I go down water slides and build sand castles and take pictures. I’m going to make memories. I’m going to laugh and smile and enjoy my life while I can – in my bikini. I’m not promised tomorrow. I won’t waste my time being ashamed.
~You know who I am.