Every year, without fail, I'm caught off-guard. Spring rolls around, I walk into Target, and what do I immediately see? Bathing suits. There may still be snow on the ground but there they are, reminding me that soon the sun will be blazing forth in all its splendid glory, coaxing me to the pool or the beach, and I'll have to ladle my pasty, winterized body into a bathing suit. I know that so-called "bathing suits for moms" are a thing, but omg there are so many misconceptions about what "buying a bathing suit as a mother" means.
Both clothing and motherhood can be socially tricky, and there's no denying that there's a lot of baggage that goes with both of them. So combine the two and you're potentially dealing with something extremely ungainly and unpleasant. There are so many rules, only they're not really rules, are they? They're just pressures. Pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way, feel a certain way, and the truth of the matter is they're all bullsh*t. Then there are practical considerations — is this the right bathing suit for the things I plan to do in it? Is this going to hold up for the summer? Will I enjoy wearing this on any level?
So I want to break down the nuts and bolts aspects of swimwear we might not always think about when we're frantically observing our spandex-covered tushes in a dressing room. As moms we're constantly being told what's "appropriate" for us and what we should gravitate towards. In the end, however, when it comes to a bathing suit you should really only care about the following:
Do You Like It?
This list can begin and end with this, to be honest. Because whether or not you like a swimsuit is all that matters. Don't worry about what other people think or what you should be wearing. What do you think of the bathing suit? How do you feel in it, physically and overall? Do you find it aesthetically pleasing? Do you find yourself aesthetically pleasing in it?
Pretend you are the only person on the planet and for some reason you still chose to wear a bathing suit in the first place (I'd definitely swim naked if I were the only person on the planet). Would you enjoy wearing this bathing suit? If yes, then you should be wearing it on a populated planet as well.
Is It Comfortable?
For moms, comfort counts, and by that I mean physical comfort. Because whereas a lot of child-free people can go to a beach or pool and just sort of lounge about, parents are going to be chasing after little ones, playing in the water, crouching down in sand, and, in general, being more active than most adult beach-goers. So maybe the thong bikini is good for a kid-free getaway where you can focus on your tan, but the fact that it's digging into your butt isn't going to be ideal for lots of movement.
Is It Well Durable?
This thing is going to have to hold up against a lot more movement than you're probably used to, not to mention those little hands that will constantly be tugging at it. My kids are 4 and 7 and I'm still getting manhandled on the regular. When they were infants and toddlers it was a 24/7 paw-fest. All that tugging and friction is going to take a toll on any article of clothing, but especially something as potentially flimsy as a bathing suit.
Check the material, stitching, online reviews, and washing instructions of any potential bathing suit, for I've seen the greatest suits of my generation destroyed by normal wash when it clearly said "hand wash only."
Can You Get It On & Off Easily?
Easy on and off is going to be clutch as you're managing a swim situation with any number of children. When you're at the beach and several of them have to schlep up to the bathroom for the fourth time that hour, you're going to want something that can slide up and down (even wet) as quickly and efficiently as possible. So I'd recommend looking for separates as well as suits that don't have too many fiddly bits, like lots of straps or whatever.
Does It "Move Well"?
When you're trying on a bathing suit, do yourself a favor: go in the biggest changing room you can find and really move around. Do squats, run in place, try a couple of lunges: seriously, go wild. Because it's one thing for a suit to fit well and it's another for it to move well.
Can You Breastfeed In It?
Obviously this isn't applicable to everyone, but if you are going to have to whip a boob out every now and then you're going to want to make sure you can do that pretty easily. Speaking personally, I'd recommend something with straps that tie together (as opposed to straps you're just going to have to move out of the way), like a halter top.
(There are also bathing suits out there specifically designed for breastfeeding parents, but I have no experience with them. I've also found a number of ordinary suits over the years that have done the trick just fine.)
Will It Hide Stains?
You're a mom now, friend, so you always have to think about how your kids various body fluids and messes are going to wind up ruining your outfit. It's just a fact of life.
Black is a good color. Just saying.
Here's What Doesn't Matter When You're Looking For A Bathing Suit...
Is It "Appropriate For A Mother"?
Are you concerned a bathing suit is too "revealing" or "sexy" or "slutty"? If the answer is yes, then I must ask why you (read: we) are still buying into the idea that once you become a mom you have to stop being sexual? Or showing any hint that you might be? Or even the idea that our bodies are in and of themselves sexual?!
If mama wants to wear a bikini, mama should wear a bikini. There is no rule that says you need to start covering up once you have kids and I'm hereby abolishing it as an unofficial one.
Does It Hide Your Stretch Marks?
If you are more comfortable covering stretch marks (or any other signs of motherhood) then you go ahead. Remember, comfort is key. But remember: you earned those stripes and you should feel free to display them with pride.
Is It "Flattering"?
We here at Romper have banned "flattering," because it's a low-key and subtly dangerous word. The insidiousness of "flattering/unflattering" is described in Lesley Kinzel's 2012 book, Two Whole Cakes:
"When we say something is unflattering, we're often trying to deliver bad news in a polite way, by deflecting blame from the body to the garment, in spite of the fact that most of us are going to secretly blame the body anyway."
And, basically, when we say something is "flattering" it means the person is somewhat successfully aping an idealized body shape. In other words, they look thinner than usual and probably at least a little hourglass-shaped. Basically, that they're conforming in a way that makes other people comfortable.
Honestly? F*ck that.
And it can be easy to fall into the "flattering" trap, especially if you're a mom and your body has changed with childbirth and motherhood and you long to "get back" a body that looked more like a societal ideal. Whatever you want to do with your body is fine or how you want to present it is fine, but I want to assure you that you are under absolutely no requirement to look a particular way.
It's Not For Women
Ummm... no. Stop. Rash guard and board shorts make for an excellent mom-at-the-beach ensemble. You can move around in them, they're sturdy, and they offer tons of sun protection. If that's what you're most comfortable in then you simply cannot let someone else's weird gender hang-ups get in the way of your best summer ever.
Is It "Fashionable"?
This is so subjective it's laughable and should be ignored. Look, if you want to be on-trend that's just fine, but you shouldn't feel like you have to forgo anything you like simply because it's "out of style."