Yesterday I ordered a bikini. Obviously I am aware that the current heatwave won’t last forever, and that the last few years of Cornish seaside holidays have been more likely to require welly boots and a fleece for beachwear so this really is a triumph of optimism, but nonetheless I have ordered it, and I can’t tell you what a big deal that is for me. You see, I am thirty-seven, and the last time I wore a bikini I was about 6 years old and in the paddling pool in our back garden. A couple of times I’ve ventured into tankini territory, but by and large I’m a one-piece girl all the way.
Why? Well, even in my early twenties, before two full-term pregnancies and two c-sections and two extra stone of weight, I was self-conscious about my tummy. It wasn’t flat, it wasn’t toned, it wasn’t tanned, I wasn’t a size 10 and therefore a bikini was out of bounds to me. It breaks my heart that I had so little self-confidence, that I had been so brainwashed by unrealistic expectations of what a woman’s body should look like, that I honestly believed that exposing a curved stomach to public gaze was offensive to others and embarrassing to me. And then this week I had a lightbulb moment. I was looking back and regretting that I didn’t appreciate that slimmer, younger, fitter self and why I didn’t enjoy wearing a bikini when I ‘could’, when I suddenly realised I was doing the same thing now. Yes, my tummy is very far from flat or toned, I am a size 14 mother-of-two with scars and stretch marks galore, but doesn’t my poor beleaguered tummy deserve a bit of sunshine? It’s carried my two amazing daughters, and the precious babies I never got to meet, it’s been sliced open to deliver them, and it’s been poked and prodded within an inch of its life through pregnancy, miscarriage, delivery and all the rest of it, and I’m going to stop being ashamed of it. Or try, at least.
Where has all this body confidence come from? In a word, Instagram? It’s funny, because social media in general, and Instagram in particular, come under a lot of criticism for making people miserable through their unrealistic portrayal of perfect lives, but nothing could be further from my experience. It was mainstream media, particularly women’s magazines, which fed my neuroses and insecurity. Headlines of ‘get bikini body ready’ which were inevitably attached to an article which advised giving up pretty much everything I enjoy made me feel miserable and inadequate, whereas now I am exposed to quotes like “How do you get a bikini body? Choose a bikini and put it on your body” or “How do you get beach body ready? Have a body and go to the beach” and this drip feed of body positivity is slowly but surely having an effect.
It’s not just the bikini thing, either. It’s fashion in general. I’ve blogged before about how I lost my fashion mojo in the throes of being pregnant or breastfeeding or running around after small messy children and never getting a chance to go shopping. How ‘fashion’ meant seizing an hour when somehow the children were either asleep in their buggy or temporarily being cared for elsewhere, diving into the nearest shop, grabbing an armful of clothes in an approximation of my size, and going home. Sometimes they fitted and looked nice…to be honest, more often they didn’t. But the chasm between my life being splattered with carrot puree or poster paint whilst crawling round the floor pretending to be a donkey, and the images portrayed in fashion mags was so great that it didn’t seem worth even aspiring to. I was a thirty-something mum, and my time for fashionable dressing had passed.
Now, though, I get my fashion inspiration from an array of fabulous and very real women I follow on Instagram. People like Alison Perry (@iamalisonperry), Clemmie Hooper (@motherofdaughters), Molly Forbes (@mollyjforbes), Helen Thorn (@helenwearsasize18), and Candice Brathwaite (@candicebrathwaite) post a lot about body confidence and body positivity (amongst other things!), and also just about the clothes they like and look incredible in. Many of the women who inspire me on Instagram have young children to crawl round after, a lot of them have bodies that differ from a fashion model size 8, a lot of them have a limited budget and/or time for shopping, but they look amazing. One by one I have been galvanised to drop self-imposed rules on the inadvisability of wearing things like bright colours, prints, skinny jeans, red lipstick, slogan t-shirts, or dungarees and have embraced the lot. I’ve discovered non high street brands like MonkiMonki, Joanie Clothing, and of course a passion for charity shops, following my buy nothing new year.
I’ve stopped telling myself I’ll buy things when I’ve lost weight, or that I’m too old for certain looks. I’ve stopped worrying about what the size label says – if it fits well, and feels comfortable and looks good then it doesn’t matter, and I’ve started buying bikinis. Whether I actually start wearing it, well, that depends on the vagaries of the Cornish weather.