I learned early how to be one of the boys. I learned to climb trees (in a skirt!), shoot bow & arrow, like war games and eventually hate the girls. Because that’s what boys do. Secretly, I longed to be a member of the society of girls. By the time I hit the teen years it became a badge of honor. *I* didn’t have to overcome vanity. *I* didn’t have to spend an hour in the morning getting ready for school. *I* didn’t have to worry about messing up my hair.
When I spent a year away from the church I had the opportunity to “be a girl”. I chose to be the stoner girl. I wore dark clothes. If I did my hair, it was teased high with a LOT of Aqua Net. If I wore makeup (only at school), it was thick and black. Because my clothes were mostly hand-me-downs or borrowed, most of what I wore didn’t fit me. I still had to cover up my body because the teaching of being a stumbling block was deeply ingrained in my psyche. I hated most of the girls who “looked girly” because I desperately wanted to be one of them. I told myself that being “a girl” was shallow and only for the pathetic ones who needed attention to complete them.
The husband grew up in a world that didn’t involve standards and weird hang-ups about boys and girls. He was fascinated by girls. He pretended to not like them, because that was the right way to be a boy, but he secretly always liked a girl…or two…or six. And the girls he liked, they were “girly” girls. They wore cute clothes that fit them. They wore make-up. They moved around in packs, always talking. They drew him in and he was hooked. The idea that he would marry a girl, who didn’t really know how to be a girl, was not even remotely a possibility.
I struggled with how I looked from the very beginning of our relationship. When I met his female friends from college it was hard to not compare myself to them. They were pretty. Confident. They had a college degree. They were his age (or close). They did not feel like their husbands had settled for them. I wore clothes that didn’t fit me. I had no idea how to make my hair look anything other than “body” and I had no clue about make-up. When my sister-in-law did my make-up one day, everyone told me how pretty I was. That should have motivated me to embrace who I wanted to be…BUT I couldn’t erase the years I had been told that good girls don’t wear make-up. Good girls don’t try to look attractive so that other boys think they are pretty. They deny their flesh and their vanity and choose to be holy and righteous. The husband was asked, a few times, why he chose some one so young, who didn’t even look like she cared about herself, who didn’t talk to people, who looked like she was incredibly unhappy? What exactly was attractive about me? I knew I made him look foolish.
It’s no surprise we faced divorce 2 years after marrying. After we decided to not divorce we agreed to move forward. One day I heard about the Family Life Today Marriage Conference. I wasn’t sure the husband would go, because he doesn’t like conferences. But I convinced him it would be *the* thing to help us. Coincidentally there was one on our 3rd anniversary weekend…in Hawaii. We decided it was God’s way of telling us to go. So we bought tickets and made plans. And for once I was brave enough to voice what I wanted. I asked the husband if I had to wear a skirt or if it was ok for me to wear shorts. I decided that if it was to be my honeymoon, and there was NO chance of anyone we knew seeing me, I could at least look amazing for him. He agreed. And I secretly shopped for clothing I knew would cause others to judge me unworthy…but would hopefully make my husband feel happy that he was in Hawaii with me.
I never went to a pubic swimming pool as a child, which is one reason I cannot swim. At home I was allowed to wear a simple one-piece bathing suit to play in the wading pool, as long as the only boys who saw me were my brothers. Wearing a swimsuit around other boys was a rule I was terrified of breaking. My parents relaxed a little during my teen years and I managed to get swimming lessons in 11th grade. I even wore my swimsuit to the school pool party. The idea of buying or wearing a bikini…not happening in my universe.
The husband…had other ideas. He liked girls who wore bikinis. And he saw no reason why his wife shouldn’t wear one. I found myself standing in a little shop in Hawaii trying to pick out a bikini. I let him pick one. I looked at it and thought, “Wow, there’s not a whole lot of fabric here.” And then there was the whole problem of what size do I wear…because if you asked me I needed everything XL (I was like a size 2!). I went into the little alcove and tried it on. The husband wanted to see, so I timidly stepped out to get his approval. Um, ya, he liked it. So, I agreed to buy the bikini. Secretly, I loved that he wanted me to wear one, I just couldn’t quiet all the voices that told me that I was going to be spending at least 2 or 3 services at the alter begging God to forgive me.
I wore the bikini with shorts and a tank over the top. I was sure that everybody was looking at me and knew that I was breaking every rule of decency and modesty and holiness. The husband was probably thinking that he was going to show off his wife’s rocking body….or something like that. I couldn’t relax, so we wandered away from the pool, and the party. I found a quiet alcove and then I agreed to play on the shoreline there…where no men could see me. The husband decided he had to take pictures…something that made me blush and feel amazing at the same time. So for about 5 minutes in time I acted like I was normal and let my husband take pictures of me…in a bikini.
This picture represents a happy time in our marriage. We DID connect on that trip. Just a few days away from everyone’s rules and expectations and the influences of our families, friends and church, brought the best out of both of us. For three days, we only had each other, and we had fun.
Sadly I returned home, threw away the bikini and returned my frumpy, baggy self.
I told the husband I was going to write about wearing a bikini and he told me I should post the picture. At first I was scared, because, I still can hear those voices from long ago. But I no longer am ashamed of this picture. I don’t see a girl who is trying to attract men to follow her. I don’t see a girl who is a sex object. I don’t see the immodesty that I was trained to see. I only see a girl, desperately trying to be a woman. I see a girl who only wants one man to love her and adore her. I see *that* in this picture.
The years of bad theology are being replaced by confidence in who I am as a woman and my aging body. I’m learning that beauty is not about sex but bearing the image of the one who made me. Femininity is not defined by hiding my female body under layers of clothing and behaviors. I no longer fear if men see me. I am no longer chained to the responsibility of shielding random men from lust.
I still believe in modesty. I still teach my girls that there are appropriate times and places to wear certain things. But I don’t burden them with fear of men and their lust. I don’t tell them that they can’t be too beautiful or have too good of a body. I want them to embrace the beautiful, feminine creatures they are…that they are not defined by their sexual appeal. I want my daughters to look at themselves in the mirror and not see something to pray away…that they see just how well they bare the image of their creator.
As for me…I may one day wear a bikini again.