I have a confession to make. And it might sound silly, but go with me for a moment.
In my entire life, I never wore a bikini bathing suit. The closest I got was a tankini in high school but even then, you'd most often find me in a one piece. And usually there would be a cover up over top of it. And some of that came from being raised in a conservative family, one where modesty was taught. But even as an adult, one who has pushed back on a lot of the things I was taught, this one seemed to hold. I shouldn't wear a bikini, and that was that.
I bought the only bikini I've ever owned back in March for a photoshoot I did with The STRONG Philly. The whole session can be viewed here but in short, I needed something to wear that people would be able to write words on me, calling to light the mean things I heard my whole life. It was an emotional experience, being that bare in front of people I knew, people I barely knew and knowing that these images would be online. I cried, A LOT, worried what people would think of me, if they would judge how I looked, forgetting to see the message behind the images. But this message of no more bullying was one I felt so strongly about. The day of the shoot, I was all nerves, but as I peeled off the layers of clothes, there was this strange sense of calm. There I was, about as vulnerable as one can be in public, and it was terrifying. But more than the terror. it was freeing.
We got home though, and I buried that bathing suit away. I was so proud of the shoot, but I figured if there was a time where I would need a swim suit, I'd go out and buy a modest one-piece, one that hid my belly better, one that covered as much of me as possible. Because despite the freedom I felt for that shoot, I believed that it was a once in a life kind of moment. That beyond then, this body, my body, should be hidden away.
My whole life I have struggled with that - hiding - never knowing how much of me was wanted in any given context. In high school I was this tiny 105lbs version of myself, that believed that my worth was found in how much I was involved in youth group, how many friends I had and where I would go beyond high school. When I was younger, I believed my worth was found in light of the fact that I was adopted, figuring that if I could know who my birth parents were, maybe who I was would make sense. In college, I was taught that my worth was found in God but being as I went to a Biblical University, I was also told over and over that the person I knew I was, a lesbian, was something that I should hide and run from. I was also retaught the message that my body was for my one day husband and that if I wanted a good marriage, I should cover it up now, never understand it, as it wasn't mine in the first place.
And then I got bigger. After spending my whole life as someone who was small, but told all these messages, my world came crashing down when I looked in the mirror and saw I was another person bigger. Clothes became what I hid inside, trying to draw attention away from my appearance. Summer was the worst...when you are wondering how to understand your own worth and appearance, it's hard to not have a lot of it wrapped up in a little piece of brightly colored spandex. I was depressed. Anxious. Scared that I was going to be alone for forever.
And then I came out. I remember sitting on my parents sunporch, Jordan (my at the time fiance) by my side telling my parents I was marrying her. And while I remember very little of that conversation, 6 words have haunted me since. "You use to be so pretty." My mom said those words, reaching out and tucking a hair behind my ear. I don't know what she meant by it, but I know what my heart heard.
"You use to be attractive." - "You use to be so smart." - "You use to be worthy." - "You use to be apart of this family." - "You use to make me happy." - "You use to have value." - "You use to be worthy of love, worthy of my love."
I bought my wedding dress out of my understanding of those 6 words. I made decisions on how to handle decisions out of what I thought those words meant. I wore the clothes I did for a year a half out of those words. I heard what my wonderful wife said through the lenses of those words and I still to this day take compliments from strangers or friends out of those words...believing they are trying to find something nice to say to a person who is so unworthy of anything. I use to have worth. But now I didn't. And this all came crashing together on Saturday when Jordan and I found ourselves headed to the pool.
I put on that bathing suit. The two piece, bikini top, high waisted bathing suit and quickly slipped my cover up over my head. I'd be ok, I'd just keep that dress on and no one would see. Deep breaths, hiding would totally work. We got to the pool, about 20 people were around and before Jordan had taken off her shoes, this rush of emotions hit me. I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't hide. I couldn't listen to all the negative voices inside my heart. I couldn't let these two pieces of spandex tell me how to live my life. So off went the dress. And with it the load I had been carrying for so long. I spent two days in and out of that bathing suit, trying to wrap my head around the freedom I felt. And while I am sporting some serious sunburn (#reallywhitegirlproblems), I came home realizing I had to share this as well.
I am size 18. I have bigger boobs and an ass. My belly isn't flat and my thighs always rub together when I walk. I have stretch marks and scars and pale skin and mascara smudges constantly under my eyes. But this is me. And I am worthy and loved and pretty. My worth isn't found in a "good Christian husband" or in saying the right things or knowing my birth mom or making things right with my family or getting skinny again. And neither is yours. You don't have to hide, cover up, run away, disguise, fit in, or anything else to be worthy, loved, strong. You are those things because your human. You are beautiful and wanted and needed and have a place in this world. And if you find yourself feeling stuck, believing the lie that you shouldn't wear a bikini or insert your personal you shouldn't/don't deserve _________ here, its a lie. Its scary, but this is the hope I clung to, the hope you should cling to....that a life lived beyond fear, beyond hiding, is one where we can know and be known.
This Monday, find that thing you are afraid of. Sit with it for awhile. Know why its such a big deal and what it would mean or feel like to try and conquer it. And then, even if it takes you a while, go do it. Be daring and bold and brave. And then shout from the roof tops that you did that thing you didn't think you could. Let people know you and in turn learn to know others as well. Share your stories, confess those deep hidden lies you've told yourself for so long. I'll be right here cheering you on, myself trying to find more fears conquer. And writing more confession of love and worth as I do.
In freedom, hope and sunshine,