Bathing Suit Rules for Moms

Taking on body issues, trash-talking and modesty at the local swimming hole.

WHEN IT COMES to the attire at Crystal Lake Pool, there are rules:

“Bikinis on moms are fine.”

“Speedos on dads are not fine.”

“No thongs.”


Obviously, these aren’t “official” rules, in that there’s no sign posted next to the Cow Tales jar at the snack bar. But they do very much exist in the minds of individual residents of Haddon Township, many of whom believe quite strongly that their personal rules should be followed. By themselves, yes. But also by everyone else.

It’s easy, of course, to adhere to one’s own rules. I, for one, will only wear a ta­nkini, preferably black, with three requirements: 1) It’s long enough so the top and bottom touch and do not reveal even a millimeter of my 41-year-old abdominal section, which has been stretched to accommodate three babies and no longer looks like human flesh; 2) It has a low-cut halter-style top to make the ensemble feel less like what it is (i.e., the pool version of the Mom Jean); and 3) The bikini bottom must be extra-large, even though I am not, because I can’t tolerate any muffin-top muffining in any way, from any angle.

My friend Micki, while very tall and very thin in the way I occasionally look in dreams I have, insists on wearing a bathing suit with a skirt attached. (For the record, I’ve always questioned the effectiveness of “bathing skirt as cover-up.” Doesn’t adding a swath of fabric, sometimes in lengths so prominent that they border on burqa, actually function more like yellow caution tape? Do not look HERE! Not HERE! HERE is EXACTLY where you should NOT be looking!) Last summer, however, Micki felt brave. Instead of a skirt suit, she purchased one with boy shorts. She wore it once, complained of wedgies, worried about butt-cheek detection the whole time, then came home and promptly laid it to rest in a dresser drawer.

“But it looks great on you,” her husband pleaded.

“Just … no,” she said. “I don’t want all those people looking at me and thinking, She’s trying to look like she’s 20.”

Beth-From-Soccer wouldn’t wear a bikini if you paid her, which is convenient, since her husband wouldn’t let her. Granted, he begs her to wear one at the beach, but he also states, definitively, “No mother should wear a bikini at the pool, period.” Beth doesn’t entirely understand why. “Am I an embarrassment in front of his friends? Maybe he just doesn’t want other men—namely his neighbors and fellow soccer dads—imagining his wife partially nude, no matter what shape I’m in. I’m trying to convince myself of that. Yeah, let’s go with that.”

Beth’s husband, then, must stare disdainfully at our other friend, whose own rule is plain: “Fuck it! I wear a bikini!” (It must be said, I’m so ridiculously jealous that she is so ridiculously confident about her bod that I kind of have to hate her a little.) Another friend will only wear a one-piece Speedo racing suit. Still another won’t wear a suit at all, just a sundress, “so I won’t judge anyone wearing a bathing suit,” she says, as if she really doesn’t judge anyone wearing a bathing suit.

Here’s the thing: We are wearing bathing suits. We are wearing less fabric per square inch than we wear when we sleep. The only time we dress in less is when we are naked. Suddenly, we are near-naked with people we regularly interact with while fully clothed. And we’re not hearing little declarative statements chatter through our little minds? “Five kids and Greg’s mom still has a sixpack? Seriously?” or “I had no idea Marcia’s dad had those pecs … or that, um, tramp stamp!” or “Peter’s mom might want to wrap a towel or something around that.”

In fact, after our first pool day this year, my husband and I had this stealthy conversation in the minivan on the way home:

“Did you see C-I-N-D-Y’s mom?” I asked Thad. “Are they fake?”

“Ummm, yeah.”

“Are you sure? Because they looked a
little … ”

“Definitely fake.”

“They must be new.”

“Nope, she had them last year.”

“She did?”


“You’re sure?”


“I didn’t realize you were so aware of C-I-N-D-Y’s mom’s boo—”

“Oh, please. Stop that right now.”

He was right. I had to stop. I had to stop talking about any of this, as if shutting my trap might shield me karmically from the possibility that at this very second, another couple was having a conversation in their SUV about the inappropriately low-cut black lacy-ish tankini from Target and the mom wearing it. Namely, M-E.