Bikinis After 40: Good or Gross?

This photo of a model, presumably well under 40, is sadly taped to my frig for inspiration/agitation.

This photo of a model, presumably well under 40, from the Athleta catalog is sadly taped to my frig for inspiration/agitation.

To wear or not to wear?

That, my friends, is the question I struggle with lately at the start of each new swimsuit season.

Twenty years ago, wearing a two-piece wasn’t even an issue. In fact, it was 20 years ago this year that I put one on over Memorial Day weekend after having my second child that March. But back then I guess my body was a lot more elastic than the thing I’m working with today. I mean, I was 27 for godssakes and six weeks of running and laying off bagels was all I needed to bounce back into a bikini. I don’t think I even did sit ups.

I was too busy trying to keep two little babies alive to eat, probably.

Since then, I’ve managed to get it together every year to wear a two-piece to the beach or pool – although some years are definitely better than others. I even wore a Gap maternity bikini the summer I was about five months pregnant with my fourth child because I just couldn’t bear the feel of the hot, one-piece fabric on my middle. Made me sweaty.

As I approach some bathing suit-wearing this April, I am once again hopeful that I can pull off a two piece on the cusp of my 48th birthday (okay, it’s not until August but I can already feel it staring at me like my cat).

My main concern is not if it’s appropriate but whether or not I look good enough to pull it off. Like, I need to get that Shar Pei of a belly under control. STAT.

But yesterday, I read a blog post by Heidi over at Still a Dancing Queen about how, at 40, she worries more about looking inappropriate in her bikini as a mother of a certain age.

From the sounds of it, Heidi looks pretty good in her two-piece – she’s just finished training for a half-marathon and is, after all, just 40. I met her in real life last summer at Blogher and can vouch for her bikini-ready figure.

But when she pulled out her old purple two piece for an upcoming family trip, she questioned the “appropriateness” of it.  “My conservative halter top with its full-coverage bottoms is a far cry from the string bikini thongs worn on Caribbean beaches, and yet I worry it is too revealing for the kiddie pool,” Heidi writes.

And I immediately thought of my trip to Greece last summer and … wait, did you just hear that? “My trip to Greece last summer”? Sigh.

Anyway, the only person I saw wearing a one-piece bathing suit during my week in Greece last year was me, when I put on my black, strapless J. Crew number to sit around the hotel pool in Athens on my last day. I thought it appropriately glamorous for the setting and besides, I needed to cover my middle that had bloated over the week after eating countless “chips” (for us Americans, those would be French fries, like the thick “steak fry” variety that Ore Ida sells) that seem to accompany every meal served on tiny Grecian islands. Drinking a few Mythos beers every day probably didn’t help the situation.

Every woman, even the grandmas, wears a two-piece on holiday in Greece. All the Turks and Italians and whoever else seemed to be sunning themselves on the Aegean in August, where it is very hot, is wearing very little. In fact, some women even opted out of tops. Everyone seemed quite comfortable and, I’d like to add, I also don’t remember seeing any particularly overweight women either.

I am glad that in the end Heidi decided to pack her purple bikini.  “I’ve earned the right to wear that swimsuit—and I’m going to try to wear it proudly without concern about judgment,” she writes. “After all, it’s only a matter of time before gravity wins and I won’t want to wear that swimsuit.”

As someone a few steps ahead, I say, “Right on, sister.” After all, Halle Berry is a day younger than me (don’t think that didn’t blow my f’ing mind when I discovered that tidbit).

We have crazy body issues in the United States. On the one hand, a lot of us could stand to lose a few pounds and on the other, those who are thin and fit fret that they’re not perfect. They struggle with the images they see in things like Sports Illustrated and that bullshit Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Mandy at Words By the Glass wrote a hilarious blog post this week about the swim suit styles being hawked this season by VS, which she called “The 2014 VS Swim Catalog: A Mom’s Buying Guide”: “I start looking through this magazine and I just keep wondering why I get this in the mail.  I can’t wear this shit.  I don’t even know anyone who can wear this shit…or WOULD wear this shit even if they had an ass like that.  If you are showing your ass crack at the beach, what’s the point in wearing a t-shirt?”

Credit: Victoria's Secret

Assuming this ass hasn’t seen its 40th birthday, either. Credit: Victoria’s Secret

For me, that’s the definition of inappropriate swim attire.

At this stage of the game, I don’t care about being perfect. I’ve never eaten more healthfully — tons more vegetables and protein than the Doritos and pizza that used to be my nutritional staples – and exercise a few days a week.

I want to feel good about all those things when I put on my new sporty Athleta two-piece in April, even though I’m well past my 40th birthday. And hopefully I can get there in six weeks – barring car accidents, job or tooth loss, which tend to make me want to be bad and snuggle up with salty good-for-nothings.

But if all else fails, I’ll just get a spray tan. Because as an old friend once so wisely observed, “If you can’t tone it, tan it.”