As a 13 year-old, I firmly believed that bikinis were only for supermodels, but on the day my aunt brought home a red and white polka-dotted string bikini, I became a bikini wearer. At first, of course, I decided that she must be unaware of my cellulite. I put it on to show her what I meant, and all she seemed to see was perfection. Well, getting me to wear the bikini to the pool was a struggle, because I didn’t think that the one inch of cellulite that showed at the bottom of the panty was acceptable. My 4’11” skinny little aunt was undaunted. She said, “You have long legs and curves. Do you know what some women would give for a body like that?” She made me feel so silly about my self-conscious attitude that I wore the bikini and went swimming every afternoon for hours.
Years later, I was an overweight young mom, and once again, I felt impossibly hideous. Now, my cellulite had spread, my curves were even curvier, and I had stretch marks. For years, I swam with long jean shorts and tank tops, but then our church had an outing at a state park with a strict swimming pool policy– swimsuits only. No over-shirts. No shorts. For me, that meant absolutely no swimming. Then, my best friend Lorrie showed up and decided to get into the pool.
Lorrie was prim, proper, and polite. She did the appropriate thing at all times, and this woman who outweighed me just pulled off her shorts and shirt and walked into the water wearing nothing but a swimsuit. What’s more, she seemed to have no qualms at all about who might see her. Thunderstruck, I slipped off the jean shorts and over-shirt that I’d worn, and I stepped into the pool, too.
That first day is one of my best memories. So is another time when I found myself in a pool full of people. A friend who was almost fully dressed said, “I could never swim so uncovered.” I found myself blurting out, “If other people don’t want to see my body, they don’t have to look.” She erupted in self-concious laughter. Suddenly, I could see in my mind’s eye that lovely 13 year-old girl who felt so ugly, the young mom who had put on a few pounds and felt so ugly, and the woman I was today. I was larger now than both of those young women, but suddenly, I felt beautiful.
Lorrie taught me something that day at the church picnic. Looks can get you just as far as your confidence can take you. Lack of confidence can keep a lovely person locked away. On the other hand, a beautiful lady, who had never been a slim adult, allowed what was on the inside to spill out in radiant joy, friendliness, and genuine concern for others. That day, no one’s gaze stayed on the so-called flaws that I had been so sure might attract attention. In fact, all anyone seemed to see was how much fun we were having.
A few months ago, our church had another outing. I entered the pool with a tiny lady about as big as my aunt. Where in the past, I might have concentrated on how large I must look by comparison beside her, this time I found my mind focused on our great talk, how sweet her daughters were to me, and how eagerly I will be awaiting the next outing.
Life is so much fun for me now! Oh, I imagine going back to that sad, self-conscious girl and teaching her what I know now. I’d say, “Life is good! There is so much to do. Allow no fears to limit you.” I don’t think she would listen, but as I hear myself say the words, I commit once again to live by them — for the rest of my life.