Back when I was newly pregnant with Margaret my #1 fear for myself was stretch marks, not preeclampsia, not gestational diabetes, but stretch marks. I know it’s vain, but I don’t care (says the woman who hasn’t washed her hair in 3 days). I, of course, had fears for Margaret, but for me, I was terrified that I would get stretch marks on my belly. I started applying belly butters before there was even an outward hint that I was pregnant. If stretch marks were going to happen, it wasn’t going to be because I slacked on slathering on the belly butter and Bio Oil. In the mornings, I would rub my belly down in belly butter right after showering and then get myself ready for the day, dressing at the last possible moment to make sure I didn’t rub off any of the magical cream that would keep my belly looking good as new. At night, I would get into bed with my belly exposed, lay on my back, and squeeze Bio Oil onto my belly making sure to rub it in and not transfer any of the precious oil from my belly to the sheets. One day nearing the end of my pregnancy, I noticed a red line on my belly. My heart nearly stopped. “So it begins,“ I thought. I ran to the bathroom throughout the day to check on the red mark in the mirror to see if maybe it was just a mark from my pregnancy pants. For hours I observed the characteristics of the red line, noting any changes in its appearance. ‘”It’s becoming fainter, right?” I thought. “It doesn’t seem as red, right?” I said aloud to myself, hopefully. Eventually it started to fade, and I can’t begin to explain the relief I felt. I realized that it wasn’t my pants that made the heart-stopping mark, but my shirt. I retired the malicious shirt after that day and vowed to burn it later (when I had more energy) since it had caused me such grief.
Two weeks before Margaret was born, I got stretch marks on my hips. For some reason, these didn’t bother me as much as the thought of stretch marks on my stomach. It’s probably because these stretch marks were close enough to joining the stretch marks on my ass, which I’ve had since puberty when my ass got the puberty memo in triplicate (and my boobs seemed to miss the memo entirely). I felt like it was a miracle that I was coming out the other side of pregnancy with a clear belly, especially since my belly button had stretched to the point of being completely flat. I’m not going to lie, when I went into labor, there was a small part of me that thought, “I did it. I got through pregnancy without stretch marks on my belly.” However, 21 months later, although my belly is stretch mark free, it’s not the belly I started with and my belly button is a stretched-out shell of its former self, like a rubber band that’s been used one too many times. And I definitely wasn’t someone who just bounced back from being pregnant. I was a 9 months on at least 9-months-off-type person. I’m completely fine with this outcome.
But why did I fear stretch marks with the intensity reserved for a phobia, you ask? Those stretch marks are a proud badge of motherhood, of course, but my vanity runs deep. I didn’t want to get stretch marks because I thought I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing a bikini. Now you know the awful truth: stretch marks would put the hammer down on my bikini-wearing days. I should explain further—I don’t like wearing bikinis; I’m really not comfortable wearing what’s essentially my undergarments in public. I wear bikinis because I look like a rectangular, flat-chested person in a one piece, and not in an athletic, isn’t she svelte-type way. No it’s more like a “how is it possible to be pear shaped and not really curvy and have an overall lack of muscle tone.” I secretly hoped that Margaret would go the distance and breastfeed through a second summer so I could enjoy the breastfeeding boobies a little while longer. She stopped breastfeeding 2 months before our beach vacation. That girl. In short, the two-piece option is the lesser of two evils.
A few weekends ago, it was time to dive into bathing suit shopping for the first time since I had Margaret. It was exactly how you might imagine it—terrible. What is there to enjoy about stripping down to your undies in a harshly lit dressing room where you attempt to make your body conform to a garment that is designed to cover as little as possible no matter what style you choose? Is there any woman out there who likes going bathing suit shopping? I imagine swimsuit models like it, but maybe they’re like, “does this bikini make my thigh gap look too big?”
To begin my shopping endeavor, I entered Macy’s feeling a little timid. Prior to having Margaret, I had two criteria for finding a bikini: (1) it had to provide full coverage of my ass, and (2) it had to provide the illusion of having boobs without a ton of padding. After having Margaret, I didn’t know what the criteria should be. I felt like it should still be the same, but my body is different in a way that’s probably only evident to me, but that’s enough to leave me doubting that I am in any way able to pull off even the most forgiving of swimsuits (if anyone knows what that is, please let me know). There are clothes that still fit after having Margaret, but they don’t look the same on me.
I was pretty sure that I could skip the skirted swimsuits. I see women wearing these, and I actually think if you’re wearing one, you look cute. You’ve decided that that’s your style. Kudos to you. But that’s not me. I knew that I couldn’t pull off a string bikini because I’ve never felt comfortable in that type of bikini. And also, when did fringe become so popular? Unfortunately my phone was full and I couldn’t take pictures of some of the these so-called bikinis.
I headed to the sensible bikini section. These bikinis were similar cuts to their skimpy counterparts, but with more fabric to cover the things that should be covered, like my ass. However, when you move into this section, it’s seems that there’s an assumption that you’ve arrived in the cleavage department. This simply isn’t true for me. Fate dealt me a cruel hand in the chestal area. Even when I was pregnant, I felt like I didn’t have the boobs of a pregnant lady—I had the boobs I should have in real life.
I started pulling bikinis off the racks from the slim pickins’ that I had to choose from because, if you haven’t guessed already, I waited past February to go swimsuit shopping. I also picked a few cute one pieces, just in case. Maybe the one piece was what I should wear now.
When I tried on the first batch, I found one bikini that worked pretty well. It covered my ass and didn’t make me look like I have a flat, ribby bird chest. However, this bikini was over $100, and, I’m sorry, ain’t no way I’m buying a bikini over $100 unless it also makes my boobs bigger while I’m wearing it and they stay bigger once I take it off. Or it has some other kind of magical powers, like the ability to do laundry. The one pieces were terrible. I’m not sure how something can look so cute on the hanger and look like a train wreck on my body. The chest area gaped open and the whole lower portion was just wrong, wrong, wrong.
After deciding that this pricey bikini was a no-go, I left the dressing room on a mission. The sales person noticed my determination and asked if she could help. I told her that I was going to the beach with a toddler and that this was the first time shopping for a swimsuit after having a baby and breastfeeding for 19 months. I told her that I was looking for a modest two piece. Do you know what that translates to when you’ve also let on that you’re a mom? A tankini. The sales person went crazy pulling tankinis for me. At first I thought, “OK, maybe this is the two piece that I should be embracing now. I’m a mom, and this is what moms wear. My mom wears them. I’m going to be crouching in the sand. I should be covering up the fact that my stomach muscles are a loose and poorly structured version of their former selves.” Then I put on the two piece known as the tankini. I realized that that isn’t me at all. I felt like the bottoms made my bottom look 10 times bigger than it actually is and the top sagged around the remains of my post-breastfeeding boobs. Like I said about the skirted swimsuit—if you wear one, then it’s cute because that’s what works for you, but for me, what works is not a tankini. I don’t want a two piece simply because I’d like the illusion of a one piece with the ease of peeing that a two piece affords. No, I decided that I’m still a bikini lady. It’s not that I like exposing my midriff or think that I look great in that style, but it’s just the style that works for me. I have a confidence in it that you might not think a woman with my figure would have. I feel the most comfortable in a bikini and that’s that.
I left Macy’s empty handed and headed to two other department stores. I ended up getting two black bikini bottoms that provide ample ass coverage without making my hips look overly wide. I also did some squats and other contortions in the dressing room to make sure it was safe to move in the ways a toddler demands. I bought five different coordinating tops—two black tops, one white, one hot pink, and one royal blue. Four of the tops are of the bandeau variety and one is a modest triangle top. Do I look like a swimsuit model? No, of course not, but I’ve never looked that way. I’ll never ask if something makes my thigh gap look too big (because I don’t have a thigh gap!). (By the way, that picture of Margaret and me in the sand? My sister took that photo and she managed to get the most flattering angle. She’s the best.) However, just because I’m a mother doesn’t mean that I need to cover my belly. I realized the other day when I was wearing one of my bikinis that I can still see the pregnancy stretch marks on my hips. I don’t care and they don’t bother me. I have a wonderful daughter who gave me the stretch marks and she’s worth every one of them. (Although if she asks me one day what they are and how I got them, I’ll say stretch marks and you.) I didn’t even use stretch mark cream after giving birth, mostly because I had no energy, but also because what’s done is done. Even if she’d given me belly stretch marks, I realize now that I’d probably still be OK with them, and I’d probably still be wearing a bikini. That’s my style.