As I packed for a fun summer day at the beach with my kids and girlfriends, I was faced with a decision: to bikini or not to bikini? I was only eight weeks postpartum, and although I was feeling good about how my body was healing, my newly minted purple stretch marks had me instinctively reaching for my full-coverage one-piece.
I wasn’t ashamed of my body, but to be honest, I wasn’t fully comfortable with it yet. After my third child, there was a lot more of me leftover than with previous pregnancies, and the stretch marks that appeared for the first time during my third pregnancy left a different kind of mark; one that could be seen by everyone, not just me. While I advocated for women wearing bikinis and flaunting their postpartum bods, I wasn’t sure I was ready to join the ranks of the brave women who bare their postpartum bellies without shame.
I wasn’t so much concerned with what strangers thought (though the idea of stares and whispered words made me a little sick to my stomach). I was going to the beach with a group of friends I had known since my pre-baby days. Friends with few or no kids. Friends whose first memories of me were of a svelte, smooth-skinned college student.
I knew there were no delusions — both my own and for others — that my body was still in that same shape after three kids, but part of me still wanted to cling to that image. I still wanted them to think of me as that fit girl who could run six miles without peeing a little and could still buy clothes in the junior’s aisle if I so desired. I still wanted to think of myself that way. I thought maybe if I just covered up now, and worked out really hard, I could bare my beach body some other time.
Then I realized that covering myself up until I felt “ready” would probably mean covering myself out of insecurity for the rest of my life. The stretch marks may fade with time, but they will always be there. I may lose the baby weight, but my body will always be softer. I will never be in the sort of shape I was at 19. I am a woman now, not a teenager. There should be no shame in that.
So I put on the bikini, fitting my lopsided breasts into a black triangle top, adjusting and readjusting my bottoms until I realized that’s just how it’s going to look. I felt like an awkward 12 year old again, but instead of having too little to fill out my bikini, I had a little too much. I thought, for a moment, about changing into the one-piece, but then my kids came into the room.
I stopped scrutinizing myself in the mirror as soon as they were in my presence. I looked at them, ready and excited for a day of water and sand and play. I decided that it was more important for them to see me confident in my body and excited to have fun than it was for me to feel 100 percent ready. The example I was setting was worth more than the fear of judgment I felt. I closed the drawer with the one-piece in it, and we left for the beach.
How I Felt
Once we were there, I took off my cover and walked out into the sunshine feeling more exposed than ever. I waded into the water with my babies, letting them splash and play and laugh. I was happy to be there, glad to step out of my comfort zone for their sake. I let my stretch marks show. I stopped worrying about sucking it in. I was there with them, and that was all that mattered.
I was wearing a bikini, eight weeks postpartum, and it felt great. The longer I allowed myself to be exposed — to my children, to my friends, to the world — the more comfortable I felt. I quickly realized how unfounded my fears were. Strangers didn’t care what I looked like, and neither did my friends. The only judgment I had felt all day had been my own.
What My Postpartum Bikini Experience Taught Me
I had one of my friends take a photograph of my baby and me, right in the center of the crowded beach. Though I could have easily positioned him over my stomach, hiding my stretch marks, I held him close to my face, breathing in his sweet baby scent. I didn’t care anymore if the world saw my stretch marks. I wanted to remember that moment. I wanted to see my body and love it, because it is worthy of love. It has brought my three children into the world, and that makes it more beautiful than ever.
Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley