Why Does Being A Fat Girl In A Swimsuit Make A Statement?

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"Make sure you bring your swimsuit," my sister said on the other end of the line. She heard the weight in my pause, then asked to confirm. "Wait, you do own a swimsuit, right?"

A fair question but yes, definitely, I do own a swimsuit. It's this cheap-o, Made in China, leopard-print deal. I didn't want to invest in a nice suit when the only time I planned to wear it was (sparingly) on my honeymoon. After I hung up the phone with my sister, I went to my closet, folded my arms, and looked at the suit hanging there. How can someone have such a complicated relationship with a bit of fabric? It's just my swimsuit, but sometimes (when I'm especially melodramatic), it feels like an omen, some slain albatross that will carry with it misfortune.

When it comes to my sister and me, there is a comical, cartoonish difference. Steph is insanely beautiful, with tan skin and thick, long hair. My hair is thin and short, and I'm pudgy and pale. Steph works in the military, whereas I have a comfy office job. Not to get too metaphorical here, but I could describe my sister as distinctly summer in looks and personality, whereas I'm more of a winter — soft, bitter, melts in the heat.

But melt I must; Steph lives by the beach, and I'm visiting her this summer because she's getting married. It's going to be very small and very beautiful, and I'm so, so happy for her, so I've agreed to step outside my comfort zone. This means that I will be a) in hot weather (SOS), b) possibly attending a baseball game at some point, and c) going to the beach. If this sounds like a complaint, it's not: It's going to be weird and cool to do things I don't normally do, and I'm going to be with a bunch of people I love.

But then there's that swimsuit.

I can't remember a time when I liked wearing a swimsuit — even at my smallest, I always stayed away from the sun, safe in my parents' basement with Mountain Dew and the PS2. Occasionally, my sun-kissed friends would beg me go to the neighborhood pool, and I'd reluctantly comply. But wearing a swimsuit now is different than wearing a swimsuit then — when I wear a swimsuit now, as a fat girl, it becomes a statement.

This is true of all things you do as a fat girl, even the most mundane shit. People can't wait to talk about fat girls exercising, dating, eating, laughing. Putting on that swimsuit and playing on the beach becomes a recipe for one of two things: either "FAT WHALE WASHED UP ON SHORE" or "BRAVE WOMAN BRAVELY WEARS SWIMSUIT." You're chastised, or you're lauded, and sometimes you just want to go to the beach and drink margaritas without either of those reactions looming over you.

You're chastised, or you're lauded, and sometimes you just want to go to the beach and drink margaritas without either of those reactions looming over you.

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It's a weird thing to explain to other people. "Mom, Dad, Steph — I want to wear a swimsuit and chill out, but I'm also haunted by the Ghost of Subreddits Past. Ingrained hatred of women’s bodies is such a bummer sometimes, right?"

If you haven't been dragged across the internet for your looks, it's hard to explain the way it feels. Most days you're fine, but then some days, you go outside and you're worried that some sneaky suburban teen is taking pictures of you looking at snacks at Target. In the past few months, it’s become less about my relationship with my body, and more about their relationship with my body. I can be totally comfortable with the way that I look (and mostly, I am), but that doesn't stop the grubby hands of the internet from mucking things up. It starts to wear on you, and you start to feel resentful. I don't want to spend all of my sister’s wedding weekend thinking about me, but the weight (ha) of cyber-bullying and harassment is enough to make me think selfish thoughts like: Why does she get to be a beautiful bride and I had to go on crash diets so I wouldn't delete every tagged photo of me?

It's easy to dismantle these worries as pure jealousy, but misogyny is laid on thick in competition between women, and even more so when that woman is your sister. So instead of going over everything in my head a thousand times, I text her.

“I'm writing this essay about my fat ass going to the beach this summer and how I've always been insanely jealous of you and these juvenile feelings start coming through because of my own anxieties,” I write. “So, very weird question: Do you get jealous of me ever?”

It takes her a day to respond to me, and in the meantime I wonder if I've made her mad. But my (extroverted) sister just needs time to think about what her (introverted) sister has been obsessing about for months. When Steph does get back to me, she talks about all of the things I've gotten to enjoy while she's been away in the military. “I don't have my family so close that brunch and pasta dinners are a normal thing,” she says. Steph talks about my roots, about the life I'm building with my husband, and about the way I can connect with people. “The grass is always greener,” she says, and even though that's one of the most overused expressions, it sticks for a reason.

When I tell her about my woes, she lays it out like this: “Grab that swimsuit and a shit ton of sunscreen, and fuck whatever jealousy or anything you have. Accept that your life is pretty rad.”

So I try on my swimsuit again. In my room is this really beautiful old mirror that's permanently stuck at an upwards angle, which is decidedly the worst angle for not only me, but for the whole of humanity. I think about what my sister said as I tug on the elastic of the suit, feeling the depth of its cheapness between my fingers.

There are a lot of benefits to having a sister, with claims going so bold as to say sisters make you happier people. But lately, I’ve been thinking the thing I like most about her is the same thing that often causes the most conflict between us. Lately, I like that we’re different.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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