The No-Shame Bikini Experiment

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y5bmpmFw-_CMnXNdj4n-7AJS7zDunYLJitHoy-wmlQoPhotographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Last month, I sidled up to Connie Wang at her desk, crouched down low, and whispered, "I — I think I'm going to get one of those plus-size bikinis. What do you think?" She looked around as if I was asking her for drugs, which is fair considering the fact that I was biting at my cuticles and glancing around the office like a fiending lunatic.

We've covered the rise of the "fatkini" since its inception, and I've always been blown away but the guts and style of women like Gabi Fresh who took such a wildly foreign concept — fat girl in a bikini — and made it something aspirational. When I first saw Gabi in her Swimsuits For All pieces last summer, I was absolutely knocked out. She's a woman who knows her body and knows how to rock it, with self-respect and grace. But, as for me? No, no. No-thank-you-sorry-too-scary-goodbye-aaaaaaah.

I've never worn a two-piece in my life. My stomach has always been the part of me that I am most ashamed of. I held bags in front of it. I stood behind friends in pictures, to hide it. I wore baby-doll dresses hoping to obscure it; then, people would give me their seats on the subway and I'd realize I had only succeeded in looking vaguely pregnant. My legs are okay, my arms are manageable, but my belly and I just don't get along.

But, this last year has taught me one thing about tackling food and body-image issues: If you've got them, flaunt them.

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A few months ago, I was stuck in the belly of the body-image beast. Every shoot for this column was an anxious chore. I punched up my cheekbones with blush and volumized my hair and panicked over finding a top that would make me look the way I wanted to feel: confident, body-positive, but please oh please, just a little bit thinner. I'm not perfect, nor am I nearly "done" with this process. My body, my eating habits, and my fitness may be evolving, but my mind has a hard time seeing that. My mind has a lot of catching up to do, and it's not easy to get its attention with my stomach screaming, "I'm here! I'm gross! Get used to it!"

So, I wrote about it. I put on a simple, knee-length, pink dress and our photo team took a full-length shot. And, it helped. You guys helped. The simple act of telling what felt like a nasty little secret made me realize how powerful and healing it is to speak the truth and expose yourself to others, whether they're friends, strangers, or trolls. And, that story had a troll — one I've come to know quite well.

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I am reluctant to call him out, because God knows it's exactly what he wants. (I say "he" because in all his burner accounts, he used either "Guest" or a male name to identify himself.) But, just like my big, ugly belly issues, I'm going to keep speaking up about the shameful things that get in my way. Among all the 131 incredible, kick-ass comments from the readers I've come to count on, there was this from a user named Jay: "You need to spend more time at the gym and less time writing this bs." Beneath that, under a different name, was another less-than-brilliant witticism about covering myself up with a bag.

Jay continued to pop up on a number of my stories — anything that had my photo included. (Thanks for reading, Jay!) He'd chime in with more highly original input, such as "put down the fries, ur disgusting," or "you are addicted to cake." Addicted to cake. Well. I can't really top a zinger like that.

Our social team moderates comments, but as an R29 staffer, I have the ability to log in and see the details behind these anonymous accounts. I probably should have just let it go. I have better things to do than fret over what a sixth-grader thinks of me. Buuuuut, I went ahead and checked anyway. Sure enough, Disqus revealed that it was the same sad, little weenie logging in and out under different names to call me a fatty on the Internet. Even more pathetic, he'd log in under other names to respond to himself. Jay would say, "omg ur so gross, go to the gym" and then underneath he'd log in as "Nate" to reply, "no need to state the obvious, Jay." YIKES.

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But, let's be real. I was pretty pathetic, too, to get so irked by this loser. When it came right down to it, weren't we both sitting in front of a computer, looking for attention? Then, one day, he popped up on a story where I was photographed wearing a sleeveless dress — again, I was writing about body image. "Cover urself up," he wrote. "Nobody wants too see that."

That's it. Jay nailed it. Every single ugly thought I've had about myself, every nasty look I've given my own belly, was summarized by that one, misspelled sentence. Nobody wants to see that. I should cover up and hide.

But, I'm done with hiding. There's always been a little bit of fuck-you in this column, and it's not just for the name-callers. It's for that voice in my own head that thinks the trolls are right. I took this leap with great joy and positivity, but I cannot deny the picked-on, self-hating, stomach-hiding girl a little bit of retribution. That's who this column is for. She's the reason I put on these bikinis. I wore them to the beach, in front of everyone, for her. I stood in front of the cameras wearing them and had the most fun shoot of my life, for her.

And, I looked fucking great.

The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. You can also follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. If you're new to the column, you can check out all the entries here. And, if you're feeling it, feel free to grab the hashtag yourself. Your sweaty gym selfies and foodie snaps are my sunshine on a cloudy day.