Getting My Bikini Body: A Story


I've never worn a bikini. Most of the time, it's been a one piece swimsuit and shorts - because God forbid I show leg in a swimsuit.

I remember when I went to summer church camp out in the Black Hills - we'd have one day to go to the water park and go swimming. There were often explicit rules about what the girls could wear. The guys' only rule was, basically, "make sure it can't fall off."

Girls, however, were instructed to wear only tankinis or one piece suits, and if the suit was deemed unsuitable (pun intended), they were instructed to wear a tee shirt over it. Usually, if the girl didn't have a tee shirt, she had to borrow one from someone or sit out. As a result, there were often quite a few girls swimming in shirts that were too large for them.

Have you ever tried to swim in a tee shirt? It's impossible. I'm a natural swimmer, having spent most of my childhood with a pool in the backyard. I was nicknamed "the fish" by my cousins when I was younger - I could do all sorts of different swimming techniques and was in the pool every good-weather day from May-August. But put me in an oversized tee shirt and suddenly all I know is doggy paddle.

But this is what modesty culture demands - in a situation where everyone else is concentrating on their own thing, on how to make the most of a day at the Hot Springs, women's bodies are restricted and constrained by the possibility that a man might leer.

This dictate about swimwear has seeped into my consciousness. The other day, I browsed through the swimsuit section at Target, looking for something new that I could exercise in since my old swimsuit no longer fits properly. I found myself paralyzed in the midst of rack after rack of cute bikini tops and bottoms, unable to decide what I could give myself permission to purchase. Even having rejected modesty culture and its mores, I'm at a loss.

Women face a lot of pressure in what we wear. For someone, somewhere, our clothing will be "immodest," no matter how covered we are. Even if we're modest, we still face body-shaming and body-policing if we're overweight or don't have a perfectly flat stomach. Our bodies are public property, and that's never more obvious than during swimsuit season, when the male gaze is simultaneously telling us to bare it all and cover up, to be sexy without being sexy, to be eye catching and invisible, all at once.

I haven't gone swimming since 2011. This summer, that will change. My apartment complex has an outdoor pool, and I aim to make use of it while I can. Rather than sitting in my apartment and roasting in the 90 degree heat, I'm going strip down, put on a swimsuit that fits me, and swim the laps I've enjoyed since I was five years old.

My body is mine and no one else's. I'm no longer going to let fear dictate my decisions. I'm no longer going to allow the male gaze to tell me how I can and cannot decorate my body.

My name is Dianna Anderson. I am 27 years old, five foot eight, and 164 pounds. I have "love handles." And I am going to wear a bikini this summer.