On Sunday, August 14th, 2016, a bathing suit was yanked up my torso, giving a slight smooth to my otherwise blatant belly bulge, yanked over my shoulders to pancake my mediocre breasts within, and waddled out with my gelatinous, thundering thighs below into a community pool. It had been five years since I’d been in a body of water, but it was my niece’s fifth birthday, dammit, and I wasn’t going to infest her precious little baby brain with self-consciousness and terms like “body positivity,” “goal weight” and “thigh gap.”
This was a big win for me.
I hated the idea of a pool party. Really – why, OH GOD WHY, did that have to be the location? My aversion to watery outings isn’t just due to the need to sport a swimsuit; it’s compounded by a host of other awful traits that recreational water activities feature: hordes of people, gaggles of children, metric tons of sand, wide open spaces, bright blazing sunlight, and a general lack of cats, video games, and pillows. To add pain to pressure, she had chosen the most obvious of themes: Frozen. How, after three complete rotations of the earth, little nuggets across the country are still holding on to Elsa and Olaf with their tiny, grabby hands, is beyond me.
Back in the day I recall many a family outing where I didn’t care how much grease slathering I had to do to get out in the water – and no amount of sand in my danger zones could stop me from burying my entire self on the shore. We used to have regular family outings at a local dam and I would get so excited I would nearly vomit before we even got to the car to leave. (I didn’t get out much as a child.) But now, every element of the pastime annoys me and I’ve actively and successfully avoided beaches, pools, lakes, and ponds. I will, from time to time, indulge in kayaking on a river. Because it is a solo activity, void of sand, and can be done in shorts and a t-shirt. If a child approaches me, I can swiftly paddle away.
Alas, when my niece looked up at me with her big, brown eyes and curls to match and asked me if I would come to her birthday party, I knew my days of comfort and curmudgeonry were at an end.
I considered just staying out of the water all day. There are pavilions and grass patches, and a variety of perimeter sections at a pool, and on the right day with only a slight amount of people, I imagined that curling up on a bench and reading a book would be kind of nice. I might even feel a little outdoorsy. But this was a birthday party for a five-year-old. There would be no reading, no sitting, and no relaxation of any kind. We had dibs on the giant, central water slide and I knew I would have two choices: go down it twenty-two times in a row, or go down in her memory as the worst of all the aunts.
Having chosen the former, I found myself in the bathing suit section of Target at 10pm the night prior, picking over the clearance section of the suits that were left behind. Mid-August is a beach-shopper’s wasteland, with mismatched and poorly-sized two-pieces, one-pieces in animal prints, and a handful of misshapen cover ups.
I had twenty dollars, a black tank top at home I wasn’t sure even fit me, and a modicum of chutzpah.
I also had the Dave, who found me picking over the beachgoers’ desert with my grumplepuss face on. I had acquired two bottoms I was sure wouldn’t fit me, and a cover-up I was secretly hoping I could pair with jean shorts for the day if it seemed my niece was suddenly lukewarm about my presence and I could cut out pool time. I knew that was unlikely.
Dave was lovely, as Daves are, and encouraged me to go try things on. It made a lot more sense than my approach, which was to stare at things and pull on them until I gleaned whether a six dollar piece of fabric would really make my ass virtually unnoticeable. The first piece was an absolute no. It had this extra band of fabric above the top line of the bottoms that was an attempt at some style, but it was made of elastic and only served to divide my singular fat roll into two distinct, smaller rolls. That was, perhaps, a bonus, as it made the second pair I tried on appear almost flattering – returning my belly bulge to its original full glory.
I stared at my too-large hind-end in the too-small bottoms and told myself that this was the year of #selflove. That lighting at department stores was less flattering than sunlight. That my tank top at home would help cover up some of what was now flailing about in the fitting room where I only had my t-shirt bra for coverage. That five-year-olds don’t see fat. Try as I might to believe the pick-me-ups, I really couldn’t fathom walking around in those bottoms. They left very little to the imagination, and I prefer people to imagine me majestic.
I must admit that a portion of my hesitation was due to the superior genetic makeup of my sister-in-law’s family. She is one of twelve, and the parents who spawned them created a unique and superior mix of genes that led to tan skin, fantastic hair, high percentages of muscle composition, and a disposition for sportiness that hatched a litter of chiseled beasts. It’s a genetic unfairness that is to blame for my five-year-old niece’s washboard abs. The niece for whom I would have to hope beyond hope that when I woke up, I would get the gumption to squeeze my pasty, puckered behind into a too-small budget bikini bottom.
It was 9am when I rolled out of bed, threw on the suit, stood in the mirror at various angles while repeating body positive mantras, and hopped in the family wagon to meet my niece’s pool posse. I told myself I would find the magic on the way. I have a theater degree, for Pete’s sake, and I was going to use it to play the part of someone who gave no damns.
We pulled into the parking lot at exactly the same time as my brother, and the excitement coming from the vehicle was palpable. It was stacked from front to back with all the trappings for a Frozen-themed birthday pool party, and somewhere smushed between were my nephew, the birthday girl, and my little baby pudding niece. I went right for Pudding Niece. We were as one this day – our thighs were glorious, we needed to be near food at all times, and we probably should have stayed out of the water.
It took all of five minutes after getting my wristband on and pushing the stroller inside before Birthday Niece requested my presence at the water slide. It was time.
I cued up some motivational 80’s pop for my own personal montage in my mind, and shut down the give-a-damns. I greased up in SPF 50, got any trace of makeup off my face, smoothed down my peach fuzz legs, and chub rubbed my way out to a terribly exciting looking slide. Birthday niece’s grandmother was poolside – one half of the dynamic gene duo that led to the long-legged hatchlings scattered about the pool. She was a wondrous gazelle. I carried on.
I could feel my butt jiggling. I feared my cheeks would shimmy their ways to each opposite side and my too-small bottoms would remain lodged in the in-between. I thought about how my top was pulled down slightly too far in order to eliminate the possibility of midriff; I wondered if my unsupported breasts would rip free of their burden at the bottom of the slide. I remembered my mantras. I climbed the slide. Birthday Niece and Smiley Nephew were in tow. They were awful thrilled that I was joining them and their little wobbly friends. I coached them through the launch procedure, as it seemed the unenthusiastic high schooler’s barely-muttered “…go…” didn’t quite to the trick. They took off, grins blazing. They reached the bottom with splashes much greater than their sizes. They were slowly brought to the top thanks to their arm floaties and life vests. They waited for Aunt Jackie to descend.
In that moment I didn’t think about how anyone else perceived me but them. It didn’t even matter what I thought. All that mattered was that I be there, and that I enjoy myself with them – and there wasn’t any room for my adult, media-contrived misgivings. I thought about my nephew’s big, bright smile and how he needed a little scoot to get down the tunnel. And Birthday Niece, who left her tiara poolside so she could have maximum funtimes. And Pudding Niece, who had big, beautiful thighs, and dimples on her shoulders, and was a glorious little creature who would grow up to be beautiful not because of her superior genes, but because every family member she has is going to affirm for her that however which way she grows, she is majestic.
And I launched and splashed.
And I launched and splashed again.
And I launched and splashed twenty more times, with Birthday Niece in tow.
Surprisingly enough, it was a big bucket of fun. As with most things I do, it was a reminder that just because I hate something at first doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. After all, I hate almost everything at first. And it reminded me that sometimes you’ve just gotta let all the stupid, silly hangups go for something bigger than yourself.
Or in my case – three smaller things. ♣