I have recently had the unenviable task of purchasing three swimsuits - one for my teen daughter, one for my preteen and one for myself. While the definition of swimsuit is deceptively banal, I doubt there is a female over the age of sixteen that sees a swimsuit as a mere "garment worn for swimming."
Yesterday, I found myself standing in a Shopko in Sister Bay, Wisconsin trying on swimsuits. Why? Because in the marathon of packing that ensued before leaving Nashville, I forgot to pack a swimsuit for myself. If K were a couple of years older, I would have just gone without. But she's not. She can't swim at the YMCA pool without an adult in the water with her. Given that she is enrolled for swimming lessons while here, it's a good thing an adult must be present. The bad news is that meant I had to find something to wear in the pool.
To say that clothing selections are limited on this tiny peninsula is an understatement. The nearest Target? A drive that will take 45 minutes to an hour.
So yesterday I tried on two tankini tops and four tankini bottoms, finally settling on one that will do - at least for the remaining three weeks of this trip. But what I kept thinking about was how different this experience was than shopping for swimsuits with my daughters.
A few weeks ago, I took A & B to Kohl's to shop for swimsuits. I thought Kohl's would be a good place to try because their junior's section offered jeans and other clothing that fit A & B well and was appropriate. But they don't carry juniors swimsuits. Everything is in the adult section. This meant 1) a one piece was out of the question - all of their one piece suits looked too old for ME, much less two cute tweens and 2) finding a two piece to fit was going to be a challenge. They both actually liked a couple of suits in the children's section and while they weren't too small, it was immediately apparent that my daughters no longer have children's bodies. A swimsuit made for a flat chested ten year old was not going to do the trick.
A few weeks before this shopping trip, A asked me if she could get a bikini this year. She caught me off guard, so I gave her a bluntly honest answer. She asked. I said no. She asked why and I told her I didn't think she was ready to wear a bikini. "Honey, I think wearing a bikini sends the message, 'I am comfortable with my sexuality.' I don't think you could honestly say that, so I don't think you should wear something that sends that message." She looked a bit shocked at my response, but when I asked if she agreed, she did. I was much older than any of my daughters before I fully understood that the way guys interpret my clothing and appearance was vastly different than I did. I don't want my daughters to never be sexy. The exact opposite, in fact. I want them to wear a bikini when they are emotionally ready to do so and I want them to wear it proudly. I want them to know just how beautiful they are and enjoy that feeling. But for now, we were looking for a tankini, not a bikini.
At Kohl's, they tried on suit after suit - several were too big, A disliked the padded breast inserts in one, B couldn't stand the way another fell off her shoulders every time she moved. They finally ended up buying identical tankini tops with boy shorts (one black pair, one purple pair) to go with them. While I felt haggard and cracked a joke about this process needed to come with a free margarita, it was more from the running back and forth from the dressing room to the racks than because we couldn't find a suit that looked good. They all looked good, some just fit better than others.
As I shopped yesterday, I caught myself thinking about how A & B looked cute in everything they put on. There wasn't a single swimsuit that looked bad on them because of their bodies - the cut of the suit or its size just meant some of the suits weren't meant for them. At least that's what I thought. Maybe B was thinking about her butt or A was thinking about her thighs. I hope not. Because while my daughters may have felt like they didn't look good in a swimsuit or two, the fact is that they have fabulous bodies. The sadder fact is that as I shopped yesterday, I envied them.
I say this is sad because they are 11 and 13 and I am 40. I should not expect myself to have the body of someone more than two decades younger than me. But that is what I desire, if not what I expect. Why do I desire that? In part because the world tells women that no matter their age, they should have the slim, lithe body of an adolescent girl. Never mind the fact that I've given birth to and nursed three children. Or that I was too self conscious in my own adolescence to build the muscle mass I now wish I had. Or that my natural shape is neither slim nor lithe. That's still what I want. What I long for.
I don't want to envy my daughters their cute bodies, but I do - even more, I envy their comfort and familiarity with their bodies and their embodiment of who they are via their bodies. I know my daughters have had and will have moments when they do not feel swimsuit worthy, moments when they wish for different hair, different breasts, longer legs. But I hope they will make it through adolescence not with an adolescent body but with a comfort in who they are and how they look. I hope that, many years from now, when they shop for swimsuits at age 40, they can relish who they are when they look in the dressing room mirror and not long to be who they once were.