I hadn’t worn a bikini since turning 40.
It wasn’t that I considered myself to be fat, I had just kind of thought that we Brits don’t really do bikinis after turning 40. That, and the fact that I couldn’t possibly compete with all of the younger bikini-clad babes… so why try? Also, many of my holidays in the sun were still being spent with my sons who, although adults who were along just for the free ride, would have expressed horror at seeing their mother in a bikini. All of the above meant that I preferred to hide in a full coverage one-piece.
However, upon marrying my second husband when I was 46 and going to live with him in the BVI, one of my most embarrassing bikini-related moments came when “the girls” – all in the same age bracket as me and all of various shapes and sizes – invited me to a beach day of trawling Cane Garden Bay and other wonderful places on the island.
We got settled on the beach – just outside a bar, of course – and everyone stripped off their clothes, revealing their bikinis. I then stripped off mine, revealing my tame Bridget Jones one-piece swimsuit, and was met with cries of horror. One of the ladies (who was soon to become a good friend and would actually organize our wedding on the beach later that year), took me aside and kindly told me that I simply COULD NOT wear a one-piece. It just wasn’t done. I gave my reasoning, citing stretch marks and a bit of a tummy among my top concerns.
“We’ve all got that. We’ve all had children. Our tummies and our stretch marks are signs of our lives, reminders of the children we’ve given birth to and given life to. We wear them with pride. And hell no – we aren’t going to compete with the young bikini-clad babes – we’ve all done that already in our lives and thank God we’ve moved on from that kind of pressure. Now let’s get you into a bikini!”
I felt embarrassed and ashamed at my lack of a bikini, but before I could focus much on that, she led me to the shop adjacent to the bar and picked one out for me. Putting it on had me cringing, then feeling even more embarrassed and ashamed as I walked onto the beach wearing an actual bikini for the first time in years. I tried my best to relax, though when the girls started taking photographs of our happy group, underneath my smile lurked a secret hope that their cameras/phones would get lost in the waves or explode in the sun and these photos would never see the light of day. My sister, in particular, expressed horror at me wearing a bikini at my age when she saw the photographs. Though by that point, I felt strangely liberated and I had already added to my growing collection of bikinis.
I think that’s one of the many joys of island life – that feeling of liberation of everything you can do and the person you can be without all of the BS constraints and the need to conform to society’s standards. It’s also a concept that I’ve never been able to quite put into words to properly convey to all the folks back home. You’ve got to actually live on an island to be able to truly feel that joy of freedom – wouldn’t you agree?