Last summer was the first time that I truly embraced wearing a bikini on the beach, with no shame and no attempts to hide my stomach or rolls from the world. It felt freeing—but I didn’t just wake up and rush out onto the sand with pride. After years of trying to cover up and settling for swimsuits I didn’t love, I finally made it to the point where I was ready to learn to love my summer body. The journey wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely worth it to feel confident in my own skin, not to mention excited about swimwear for the first time in my life.
When I was in middle school, I spent a lot of my summers going to the public pool. Every morning I’d get up, grab my Walkman (yes, it was the mid-2000s) and hop on the bus to the pool, where I spent my days soaking in sun and chlorine with my so-called friends. Going to the pool meant wearing a swimsuit, and at age 14, I tried desperately to cover up my thighs and belly. I distinctly remember having only tankini swimsuits so as to keep me from feeling like I wasn’t the “nerd” in a one-piece, while still allowing me to remain covered, to hide my changing body—my larger body—from anyone I might encounter.
I’ll never forget the summer when a classmate told me to go to Weight Watchers. I didn’t return to the pool for the rest of the season after that.
I spent more summers than I can remember focused on covering up, whether that involved throwing on a giant T-shirt on the beach or wearing jeans and a cardigan in the city on even the hottest of days. Even when I was at my smallest, I felt terrified that someone might see my rolls or cellulite. I didn’t fit the body standards set for women by society, so in order to keep everyone else around me comfortable, I felt obligated to hide in the only ways I knew how.
Fast-forward to the retro-inspired one-piece trend. You know the look—square neckline, full coverage, likely all-black. I spent weeks in search of this particular style, knowing that it would not only contain my belly, but would also (hopefully) make me look smaller. At this point, I was still spending my pool days and family beach vacations attempting to cover my body as much as possible. While others splashed around the water in bikinis, letting their beautiful bodies be kissed by the sun, I dutifully wore my coverup so that beachgoers wouldn’t see my thighs jiggle as I walked down the shoreline.
In 2014, the OG Fat Fashion Blogger Gabi Gregg—better known as Gabi Fresh—designed her first collection with Swimsuits For All. This was the exact moment when my views on swimwear for plus-size women completely changed. Not only could I, as a fat woman, wear a bikini, but I was allowed to participate in trends, too! Seeing that campaign allowed me to embrace the idea that I should feel comfortable in any kind of swimsuit, and while I wasn’t ready to take the plunge immediately, this realization set the stage for my journey towards a two-piece.
Years later, after years of working through my body image issues and fears of being judged on my appearance, I finally got to a point where I was ready to embrace my body in a new way. I was ready to wear a bikini. There are so many incredible retailers that offer bikinis for folks of all shapes and sizes, and I loved the freedom I gave myself to try out new silhouettes and styles. I’m a huge fan of high-waisted bottoms that make my stomach feel comfortable and supported, and l love tops that offer some type of stylish detail, like grommets or crocheted accents. I’m even open to trying some of the more cheeky options that are on the market these days, and I’m most drawn to colorful sets that give me support and also show my belly.
We all deserve to enjoy the swimwear that lights us up. I love spending time by the water, I love swimming and playing in the sand, and for a long time, I let my insecurities control my experience, all because I was afraid to be seen in a swimsuit. My hope is that people of all shapes and sizes can learn to embrace their bodies and wear garments that make them feel comfortable and beautiful, so that they can do the things they love without fear.
This summer, I plan on lounging by the pool and swimming in the ocean, letting my belly be kissed by the sun and embracing the jiggle as I walk towards the water. All this while wearing a swimsuit that makes me feel like my true self—sassy and stylish and squishy.