Bathing Suit Rules for Moms

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

I WORE A BIKINI to Crystal Lake Pool once.

It was last summer. Beforehand, at home, I tried on every bikini I’ve ever owned (which I keep, just in case I suddenly wake up and, voilà, have the 22-year-old body I hated when I was 22). I looked in the mirror over the dresser, then in the mirror in the kids’ room, then stood on the stool my four-year-old uses to brush her teeth, so I could see my torso in the bathroom mirror, under the most unforgiving light bulbs in the house. I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down about my reflection. But it was really hot out. And I decided to go with it. I felt proud of my 40-year-old self, thinking You go, 40-year-old self!

Once at the pool, the kids charged into the water, and I sucked in a big-girl breath and pulled off my cover-up. I was certain that every single person there immediately turned his head to stare as if, upon hitting the lawn chair, the cover-up had instantly burst into flames. Not that flames would have been necessary to attract attention, considering I was wearing a bikini and was eight and a half months pregnant.

Without the near-term lifeform in my gut, a bikini would have been way outside my comfort zone, no matter how much shredding I’d done with Jillian Michaels the winter before. But my real body was in disguise. This was the “ginormous, beautiful, miracle-of-life” body that, for the first time in three pregnancies, was ginormous and miracle-of-life-y during community-pool season. I’d always privately applauded pregnant moms in bikinis. This was my last chance to be one of them.

Even so, I wanted to get my full-moon-rising submerged as quickly as possible. As I speed-waddled toward the steps, I felt eyes on me. Of course. I fully expected that. But then I heard someone say something.

“Look at you!

I pretended I didn’t hear her.

All community pool-goers operate with the understanding that everyone has different rules about what is appropriate to wear at the pool, and that we all have opinions about the attire of others, and we even accept that there is private, however dangerous, pickalittletalkalittle-ing about said attire. But there is also an unspoken agreement that unless we are saying, mom-to-mom (i.e., never “other-dad-who’s-not-your-husband-to-mom”), “You look great,” comments should not be shared aloud with the subject of the comments, in real time or otherwise.

Because, really, what does that mean: “Look at you!”? To me, it meant this: I’d spend the rest of pool season wearing the thick, tent-like, matronly maternity suits I’d borrowed from another kindergarten mom. And feel like an emu in Spanx.

“You still should have worn the bikini, then!” a friend from a town that is far, far away from Crystal Lake Pool scolded me months later. “It’s all about what you feel comfortable wearing to the pool. As long as you’re comfortable, everyone else should be, too!”

I hear people say that a lot. We like to envision ourselves as supportive, and noncritical, and comfortable with everyone’s choice no matter what it is. And some of us actually are. But for most of us, those are just words. Ask my friend Angela.

Angela thought nothing of it when she wore her black bikini to her pool on the day her six-year-old son was attending a birthday party there. It must be said, she’s the type of woman I want to kick, the kind blessed with those elastic genes that snap your body back into never-had-a-baby shape. Even so, throughout the party, she never removed the sarong from around her waist.

The months leading up to this party had been hard for Angela. She and her husband had separated, and the other moms were well aware of it. It was one of these moms, in fact—a woman who’d lived on Angela’s street for years—who very consciously approached her. She scanned her up and down, paused, and then decided her thought should be shared: “You’re really trying hard, aren’t you?”