One of my least favorite things to do is parade around in a swimsuit in public. Why would I intentionally put myself in harm’s way, knowing that my body is being judged by every other woman on the beach? It’s so much easier to sarong or skirt the truth. At least that gets me from my car to my beach chair fairly inconspicuously. Or better yet, I can just stay home where I have a perfectly decent (and private) deck. Thus, I don’t go usually to the beach unless someone drags me.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter was in town, and she dragged me. To the beach. While she reclined, elegantly tall and slender, cat-like, on her striped towel, I, feeling rather fat-cowish, hidden in the shade of my umbrella, peeled off my cover-up, and settled back in my chair for an afternoon of reading and people-watching...
Now I don’t judge. I just observe. I think all bodies are wonderful. Fat, thin, and everything in between. I am much more accepting of others’ deviations from Hollywood’s wraith-like norm than I am of my own.
But I have not always been so accepting. In my teens, when I was an uber-thin dancer with an eating disorder and a major superiority complex, anyone fatter than itty-bitty me merited scorn. I was raised by a mother who scorned fat, as did her mother before her. My dance teachers were always pinching and slapping us dancers to check for even the smallest jiggle of adiposity.
But now that I am a lot older and somewhat wiser, I know what a trap the famine/feast cycle of dieting can be. (95% of folks that lose weight regain it within 5 years.) I’ve learned that every body has a “natural weight,” a weight that’s easy to maintain without starving or stuffing, a weight I’ve happily maintained for nearly 3 years. Yes, I’m overweight according to the charts, but I’m at a healthy weight for me.
I also learned the hard way how easy it is to slip into disordered eating in an effort to attain a weight that’s too low.
I no longer gauge a person’s worth by how close their body matches unrealistic media stereotypes or the BMI chart. I have fought the battle back to “normal” and it was hard won. I don’t diet. I never will. I am a pleasantly plump 50-something, and except for the rare public baring of almost all in a swimsuit, I’m comfortable in my skin.
Tucked safely under the cover of my umbrella, perusing my New Yorker while hoping no one was noticing the fat roll around my middle, I caught a flash of hot pink off to my left. I looked up from my reading and there she was, a glorious fat* lady in a hot pink swimsuit... proceeding sarong-less down the sloped sand, flagrantly defying the cover-up rule, walking proudly and conspicuously down the beach. She paused briefly, looked around, drinking in the beautiful sunny day, oblivious...
She’s got guts. Doesn’t she know that she’s being critically eyed by every woman on the beach, clandestinely, from behind their sunglasses. Doesn’t she feel the searing judgment... the clicking disapproval... the stares? Apparently not.
Were I her size, I would have probably stayed home, cringing in my hot apartment.
Then I got all indignant and I thought, what right has anyone to judge her?
No one knows her story and it’s really nobody’s business. Maybe she’s dieted so many times that she’s lost count. Maybe she’s just gained 50 lbs... the same 50 she lost 5 years ago. Maybe she started Weight Watchers again, with hopes of conquering her “weight problem” once and for all. Maybe she skipped breakfast and lunch and is stark-raving ravenous and will eat an entire pizza tonight. Maybe that bag she’s carrying is full of potato chips and cookies. Maybe she’s given up trying...
Or maybe, just maybe... she’s perfectly happy just the way she is: a beautiful fat lady on the beach in a hot pink swimsuit in all her I don’t care what people think glory.
I stand up. Leave my cover-up in the chair. Walk to the edge of the lake. Linger there a while. If she can do it, I can too.
So can you. Happy summer, whatever your size.
*I use the word “fat” purely as a descriptive adjective. Many in the fat acceptance movement prefer this term when referring to larger people.