fashion

'I'm 43 and I've only worn a bikini five times in my life. I have regrets.'

Shopping for swimwear has always been one of my least favourite jobs. 

The harsh lighting in change rooms that highlights every perceived flaw, combined with tiny swimwear and a stream of negative self talk, does not make the process a positive one. 

But as my recent family holiday to Fiji loomed, I felt the time was right to update my sunscreen stained one piece. 

I decided that in 2022, and after a life-changing pandemic, I would live and let live and buy a bikini. 

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At 43 years old, I did not want to spend another holiday hiding under a sarong, feeling ashamed of every lump, roll and spider vein. 

As a standard Aussie size 10, my body is not especially interesting or toned. I am beyond grateful that my body gets me from A to B and has carried and birthed two kids. I am lucky to have never suffered with an eating disorder, but diets and fitness regimes have peppered my life and stopped me from being able to enjoy many periods of my life, including holidays.

I have long admired members of the body positive and body neutral community on Instagram. I love how these smart and beautiful women, like Alex Light or Lacey Jade Christie, call out the problematic body shaming within tabloid culture.

How I wish women like them had been as visible during my teenage years in the 'heroin chic' obsessed 1990s. 

I started that decade as a skinny kid with ginger hair and freckles. Almost overnight, after turning 14 in April 1994, I grew boobs and a bum that led to one of my high school boyfriends starting a problematic rumour that my body was 'made for sex'. 

Aside from being grossed out by his comment, what I felt at that incredibly awkward age was that I was 'curvy', which in the Kate Moss obsessed era meant I was not 'fashionable'. 

I steered clear of the slinky satin slip dresses or midriff-exposing tops that were in every women's magazine of the time, tending to lean towards the grungier oversized tees and shirts, covering up the parts of myself I felt didn't look 'right'. 

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Bikinis were a definite 'no' because not only did I have curves and rolls and massive amounts of insecurity about my body, but I was also pale and freckled. The thought of exposing so much of my pale flesh to the masses filled me with fear. 

I recall my parents trying to take a photo of me on holiday as a teen in my swimsuit, and I literally doubled over to hide as much of myself as possible.

When I came travelling to Australia for a year, just after I turned 22, I wanted a bikini but packed two baggy 'tankinis'. I only have a couple of beach photos from that nine-month adventure. In every picture, my body is hunched over, a sarong draped over my legs. 

The one and only time I wore a bikini in my twenties was on my honeymoon at age 24. I had lost a stack of weight for the wedding and thought I 'deserved' to wear one. I made my husband take a photo from across the pool and I look little and very awkward. 

Another time I wore a bikini, I was pregnant with my second son and I loved my tight, round pregnant tummy but not enough for an exposed bump photo. 

All of this worrying, covering up and feeling like I was undeserving of a bikini for so many years, makes me feel very sad for my younger self.

Suddenly, here I am, a mum of two boys aged 43, realising I have spent decades being cruel to myself.

I don't have many regrets, but I regret all the time I wasted hating my body when I should have simply enjoyed being young, free and on holiday.

I wish I had those twenties, thirties and pregnant bikini photos to look back on, but they don't exist. 

Listen: Mia, Jessie and Holly discuss women's bodies and magazines on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.

 

So for my Fiji break this year, I decided to heed the lessons of the body positive community, ignore my internal body hating monologue (thank you The Patriarchy!) and buy some swimwear I actually liked and then... just wear it. 

I started by going to a swimwear specialty store and trying on almost every style on the rack. After a long and sweaty hour in a cubicle feeling progressively worse about my midsection, I panic purchased a mismatched overly fussy bikini.

I knew as soon as I got out of the shop I would be back for a refund. 

On my second swimwear shopping trip, I decided that a higher price did not always guarantee bikini satisfaction. I purchased another less pricey one on sale that compromised of a white top and two sets of plain black bottoms; one high waisted pair that covered my tummy and practically comes up to my nipples, and a lower cut, belly-exposing pair I grabbed last minute.

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I packed my bikini with a weird and very new sense of excitement. 

On the first day, I wore the low cut bottoms and felt mildly self-conscious about my tummy and various wobbly bits, but you know what? No one seemed to care, least of all me. So I wore it with pride, tried not to hunch over, and instead enjoyed feeling so free in the water.

I harassed my husband to take some photos (up close this time) and while I only posted a couple to social media; I felt cute. I just enjoyed my holiday in the sunshine without the constant negative self-talk that often made me feel so self-conscious and embarrassed.

While I still took along my trusty one piece and sun safe rashies, I'm glad I packed that bikini and I have the photos to prove it. 

Swimwear shopping will never be fun - but the more I live and learn, the less of a vice like grip my body hang-ups seem to have on me.

My future 80-year-old self (who I hope gives even less f**ks about what people think) will gladly recall the time my 40-something-self felt happy on holiday in her swimwear.

I only regret I didn't get to this place of acceptance sooner.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For her weekly articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and  TikTok.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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