I wore a bikini last week. The last time I did that I was younger than my daughter is now. Eleven or so. Totally unconcerned about what I looked like, or what others thought I looked like. Eleven’s not 11 any more, that’s for sure. A bikini was de rigueur. It was the ’70s after all. Hours in the sun, coconut oil, no hats, planning the next long summer day as you sat with your sister seeing who could peel the largest piece of skin from the other’s back.
But that was 35 years ago. In so many ways.
Me, now, in a bikini? Who would have thought? Not me. But let me set the scene.
I had the good fortune to be sent on a travel junket. You’re invited to a hotel, say, and given the tour, you press a bit of flesh, talk a bit of talk, and then are expected to write wonderful things about said hotel. They’re not nearly as glamorous as they sound, only this one actually was.
Four days at Cape Panwa Hotel in Phuket. Check it out at capepanwa and be extremely jealous.
There was a full itinerary of spa treatments, snorkelling, wining and dining. It was hard work.
At one point the itinerary advised us to ”pack your bikinis and meet in the lobby for a private chartered cruise to a private bay for a picnic champagne lunch”. There was that word: bikini.
It got me to thinking about why I hadn’t worn a bikini for so long. Why indeed I had even just the previous summer purchased a swimming costume with a skirt. Why I had, for 35 years, felt so ashamed about something I felt a need to cover up.
And now wholesale bikinis here I was, setting off for Lone Island, as deserted as it sounds, and I wanted to wear a bikini. I figured if I couldn’t wear one there, I would never wear one. Sure I wasn’t alone. I was travelling with four other journalists – who, in a cruel twist of fate, were mainly sprightly 20-something fashion and beauty and lifestyle writers – and a couple of marketing people and assorted staff pouring champagne. But I knew no one and no one knew me. I could be that middle-aged woman in the bikini and no one would actually be aware of what a huge thing it was for me.
So I went to the hotel gift shop and bought one. Shopping tip No.1: a Thailand XL is not an Australian XL. I didn’t try it on before I bought it but when I did I soon realised I would need a little more, well, coverage. OK, I couldn’t even pull the bottom up over my thighs.
I hoped I would be able to exchange it, given that I tried it on without underwear and there was no plastic sticker over the crotch.
In Australia I’d be done. No exchange. But in Thailand, I just used the international language of grabbing my boob and saying, ”Too small, too small” to the lady behind the counter and she grabbed the XXXL and sent me on my way.
XXXL. That should have scared me. But it didn’t. The bikini was stripey, pink and red and brown.
It made me feel happy just looking at it. And surprisingly, it made me feel happy once I put it on.
Sure, my body is in the best place it’s been for a long time. Eating less, exercising more. It’s simple. (Mind you, my post-junket body is a few kilos heavier; see note about wining and dining.)
Once on, I thought I looked pretty hot. In a delusional middle-aged sort of way. And, thank you, thank you, thank you, my beautiful social media friends – many of whom are my actual friends – all 80-odd of you who left such positive messages when I dared to post a photo on Facebook.
The whole experience was liberating. I’d forgotten how it feels to have the sun on the small of your back, have water caress your stomach as you swim, how sexy it felt to sunbake with the straps undone. Where had that part of me been for more than three decades?
I held myself differently as I walked along the beach, more confidently, more aware of my body, proud in a way. I like my boobs, I always have. Sure they’ve lost some, I think density is the right term, since I’ve lost some weight, but my bikini hoisted them pretty high and they were happy to be on show. I was happy for them to be on show.
Getting out of the pool, using the steps and the hand rails, I felt like Denise Richards in Wild Things (and she was wearing a one-piece). I felt hot. And I haven’t felt that way for a long time.
Okay, it might have been the fact that I was far, far from home, staying in a luxurious hotel in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with a daily supply of intoxicating cocktails, but I wasn’t thinking about that.
I was thinking about how often we lose sight of who we really are, how we conform, how we cover up.
Women of a certain age are expected to act a certain way, particularly if they look a certain way, or is that just how I’ve been thinking?
You only had to look around the beach at Cape Panwa to realise that plenty of women, of all shapes and sizes and nationalities, weren’t thinking like that. Bikinis everywhere, flesh everywhere, confidence everywhere.
Or maybe they were all experimenting like me.
And if they were, here’s to us.
It seems ridiculous that the simple act of buying and wearing a bikini has had such a profound effect on me. That the act of exposing myself to the world, exposed some deep-set insecurities. Insecurities I realised I need to shed myself of.
Wearing a bikini gave me the confidence to say here I am world, with all my faults. If you don’t like me for who I am then that problem is yours. I’m off to soak up the sun. To soak up life.