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The Skin I Am In

In 2002, I remember distinctly this one “date” night. I spent time carefully putting on my make-up, styling my hair in a way that was appropriate for a night out.

And then I threw my arms into a thick black cardigan, black pants and a giant black purse.

It was August in Georgia, and the temperature was sweltering.

(Again, I was wearing a cardigan.)

Why was I wearing a cardigan in Georgia in the middle of August?

Well, for starters, I hated myself.

Pure and simple. I hated myself enough for my skin to be completely hidden, to heat up and sweat through the make-up I had spent so much time applying.  To soak my hair, that I had spent time flat-ironing. To go to such great lengths to hide my large arms.

The date night was ruined, because I was miserable.  I was sweating. I was hot. I was gross.  And it was all about hate. Just pure and simple hate for the skin I was living in.

I look back on it, and I can’t figure out why or where all that hate came from. I knew I was “fat” and I had struggled with my weight my whole life, but by this time, why was I still fighting with myself?

I still don’t know what it was all about back then.  But I know it was real.

I have spent the last few days on Spring Break with the kids, my two friends and their kids. The Expert and I were both caught in the Atlanta weather-Delta-debacle on Wednesday.  My flight with the kids eeeked out at 10:45pm and we arrived in Florida 17 hours from the time we left the house. His flight from DC prevented him from getting out of Atlanta that night and also on Thursday.  We didn’t bother on Friday and good thing, since Delta cancelled yet another thousands of flights on Friday and Saturday. What was supposed to be a family vacation turned into something different—but it’s still been a good trip for the kiddos.

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And during said trip, I brought a bikini or two.

And while I haven’t necessarily been “loving” my skin lately, I have crossed a few bridges this trip.

Number One:  In the event that I think I *might* have a trip where I have a 1:30 flight AND the entire trip takes from 9:30am until 2:00am the next day, I will just drive.

Number Two:  My body will seriously, like never, be perfect.  My body is a roadmap of scars and stretch marks and loose skin, and a whole mess of stuff that I can’t even describe at this point.  John Mayer did not have me in mind with “Your Body is a Wonderland.”  Maybe “Your Body is a Funhouse.”

[Why not? Sure it can be scary and fun, all at once?  Yes.]

Number Three:  When our bodies have the ability to do things (like travel and run and walk and surf and quilt), then we should DO these things IN our bodies – and rejoice in the skin we are in.

Sometimes I think (and I know) that it feels impossible.

But then, I think back to my “sweater wearing days” (as the Expert likes to call them), and I wonder why in the world I deemed myself so awful that I could not bear to show anyone my arms… that I would rather sit in a cardigan in the hot as balls Georgia sun than show anyone my arms?

Because really, no one cares what my arms look like.

People are too busy wearing their own cardigans and hiding their own flaws to even notice that I was wearing a cardigan.

When I made this realization, I thought to myself: “Self!  If no one cared that I wore cardigans in August in 2002, does this also mean that no cares that I NOW wear bikinis in 2017?  And not like the high-waisted bikinis. But a small one where my mom-pooch can escape, a bottom where there are stringy-things, and a top with no boobage support whatsoever?”

And then I realized, “Yep. That applies. No one cares.”

So this Spring Break was a bit of an awakening for me. I have worn some two-pieces, but sparingly, since my teenage years—and only at the gym pool where I could run away quickly.

But I wore a bikini every day for three days.  At the pool, at the beach, walking around.

And while I could feel the stomach wiggle, and the trunk trying to close on my junk jiggle, I just kept walking around. Holding my head up.  Just being me, in my skin.

Because lawd, the skin tells the story.

The skin tells the story of kids incubated and birthed, massive self-abuse, addiction, 65 pounds gained and lost and gained and lost… it’s a damn story, people.

So, why would I bother hiding it any more? It really seems silly, when I think of it that way.

There is nothing wrong with the skin I am in.  It’s just a part of me.  And how wonderful is skin? I mean, really. Skin, in general, is a powerhouse.

Yep. Even when broken and saggy and sad-faced belly buttoned.

This weekend, I realized that part of the reason I really loved triathlon in the beginning was just maybe because it was a chance to expose my skin to sun and wind and air—even when I didn’t feel comfortable doing so—because I “had to wear a tri kit” in a race or whatever.

Then I kept going, because it continued to be something brave.

Kate Northrup once said that, “People piss us off to set us free.”

When I started reaching and looking for something different in my life, back in 2010, I was actually the person doing the pissing off— I was pissing myself off.

The way I treated myself. The self-hatred. The food. The booze. The job.  All of that.

But if I was the one doing the pissing myself off, then I knew that I must also be the person who would be responsible for setting ME free.

And it turns out… that is true truth right there.

Learning to love ourselves is not an easy process. I think if someone asked me, “How did you learn to love yourself” that my response would be this: Well. I still do NOT love myself.  (And that, yes, still makes me sad.)

But what I can say is this:  I like myself.  When I am alone, I don’t mind hanging out with me.  I am nicer to myself. I say nice things like, “You look good today” or “What a great run.”   I refrain from “You are a piece of shit” and “You really suck ass.”

Those latter things are NOT part of my inner dialogue anymore. So, really–that is a form of self-love.

And the only way to get to any part of self-love is through. When Robert Tepper said “there is no easy way out, and no shortcut home,” he clearly was talking about self-love.

Because we meet ourselves where we are–when we begin anything.  And truly–there is only one way to get through the mess, the struggle and the pain… and that’s walking right slap through it.

By taking on the sport of triathlon, that was one way that I knew would push me through the self-hate. I had to face a lot of struggles and demons and inner dialogue to do a triathlon.  But that process, and continuing to race over the years has continued to push me through.

I am not going to spend another second of another day wearing a cardigan… unless it’s 55 degrees outside, or I am re-taking the SAT.

Starting from a cardigan in August to a bikini in April, I have to think that some sort of major self-love right there. (Even if I am not ready to admit it quite yet.)

But I will keep working on that self-love thing–because I have a girl right here (and a boy, too) who need me to keep moving forward—and through. 

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Have YOU broken through to self-love? Are you still working on it?  Where are YOU in this journey?

14 Comments

  • Darra

    April 9, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    I feel sad when I see moms who won’t go to the beach or pool with their kids or on their own when on vacation because they hate how they look in a swimsuit. Life is short and the sun is shining. I’m so glad you are wearing your bikini and liking yourself more and more.

    Reply
  • Martha Russell

    April 10, 2017 at 9:45 am

    You look great and thanks for sharing. I think we all struggle with loving the skin we are in and the body we have right now (not 10, 20 or 30 lbs from now). I haven’t worn a two-piece suit since high school, but you have inspired me to shift my thinking. Triathlon has helped me love my body for what it can do, not the way it looks, but the struggle is still real. Knowing that others share the journey is HUGE.

    Reply
  • Jessica

    April 10, 2017 at 10:45 am

    I smiled when I got to the pictures of you in your bikini looking so happy. So free. When I finally allowed myself to wear a bikini it was so amazing to feel the sun, the sand, the water, the life on my body…..just the way it was, with every one of my unique bits. Please keep writing about this type of self love. There are many younger versions of me out there that need to see this!!!!

    Reply
  • Nicole

    April 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I teared up while reading this (as I have with a good number of your posts over the years). I say the encouraging words to the women I coach but I haven’t ever internalized them. I own a couple bikinis but after 5 kids and weight loss and gain and re-loss and re-gain I only wear them under my wetsuit where I change straight from covering up with neoprene to clothes. I am resolving to stop worrying so much about what others think (and realize they aren’t thinking about me at all), and to be a better example of confidence and strength for my daughters. Thank you for inspiring me. And you look fantastic, strong, and athletic in your really cute bikinis. You look like a triathlete!

    Reply
  • Michelle

    April 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    This is just what I needed today. I’m training for a marathon and seriously struggling with self hate. I did my 20 miler on Saturday in shorts, got home, disrobed to get into the shower. One look at my body in the mirror before hopping in the shower and I was in tears. For not being where I want to be or looking how I feel like I should. Your words ring true and give me hope!

    Reply
  • Stephanie

    April 11, 2017 at 11:10 am

    My husband is obese, and he knows he’s obese. However, he is perfectly fine in the skin he is in. And you know what, our sons (12 1/2 & 7 1/2) love his skin, too. They cuddle up with him all the time, play with his belly, etc. Now, me, I am about 10-20 lbs from where I want to be. I have a lifetime of self-hatred of myself and my body, which includes dealing with anorexia and bulimia. I’m mostly in recovery from that, but the self-loathing is there and I think my boys can sense my uncomfortability in my skin and that could be part of the reason why they choose to cuddle with the soft daddy instead of me. I loved your post. I would love to feel comfortable enough to wear a real bikini and not a skirted tankini. Thank you for helping us learn to like our bodies. BTW, you look incredible!!!

    Reply
  • Ann Siegle

    May 25, 2017 at 10:53 am

    So I read this once before, and I am reading it again. And in the comments someone said “pineapple bikini” and I went back to your post and looked for the pineapple bikini! I didn’t see it?! And I really really wanted to see that bikini – because, you see, I wasn’t looking at your body, I was looking at your swimsuits! Your body looks like mine does (I’m a wee bit chubbier and so is the dog, so we both need to get more runs in), I have the frowny mom belly button and the stretchy skin I tuck into my swimsuit bottom, but I wear the bikini. In fact, I MAKE the bikini too (swimwear is addictive and easy to sew). So I’m only slightly bummed I didn’t see the pineapple bikini 😉 But I rock my bikinis, I rock it at the large public waterpark in my city in the summer, teeming with lots of other people who, also, are in their own skins. I wear it at the fancy resorts in the winter. I even wear it in my yard, with the neighbors just feet away. Thanks for this post, it’s a super-sharable one for all moms 😉

    Reply
  • lisa

    November 6, 2018 at 12:16 am

    First of all you look amazing! I know you are looking at your body through some very different glasses and believe me I am right there with you when it comes to my body but that swim suit looks amazing on you. I see a super fit body with a wonderful shape and proportion. That bikini is cut perfectly to show of your amazing body! You are killing it! I can relate to a lot of what you are feeling as I have been wearing “the cardigan” for 10 years now. I haven’t wanted anyone to see me in a bikini.. ever! Now I have forced myself to tackle my body issues and my fears. I am a former “Athena” sized triathlete who never got skinny competing in Ironman only much bigger albeit stronger. I gained 70lbs with my pregnancy and have struggled to lose the weight. So what did I do?? I signed up for a body building competition! In 3 weeks I have to strut my stuff across a stage in a very tiny bikini and be judged. I am at the stage right now where I am asking myself at what point I incurred a head injury before making this decision because brain damage is the only way I can explain why I decided to do this. I have worked really hard and committed to the meal plan and the workouts. I a stronger and fitter than I have ever been but I have had to accept that my body will never be perfect. I will march across that stage on November 25th and ignore the jiggle that still exists around my hips and butt despite hours in the gym and more egg whites that I ever care to see in my lifetime. I will celebrate my body for all its lumps, bumps, scars and cellulite. I will celebrate getting out of my comfort zone and opening myself up to the world. I will stand tall, flex and feel sexy in that little red bikini because I earned it! I am healthy, strong, beautiful and alive!

    Reply

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