I grew up in a beach town, the daughter of beach people. My mom and dad skipped school in the 70s to spend afternoons sunbathing and flirting by the gulf. When the kids came they toted coolers and games and shovels. I toddled in the surf and learned to draw in the sand.
When my brother and I entered high school, we skipped class like our parents had, crossing the causeway in my little black Saturn, windows down, radio blaring, sunglasses rockin’, our hair blowing in the sea-scented breeze.
I live in Round Rock, Texas now, twelve years later, and every day I miss the ocean.
I’ve been away for a long time and in that wandering I’ve found lakes, rivers, and springs, all magical, beautiful places.
I tell you this because you should know: I am a girl who loves the water. I am a girl who will always love the water. And I am a girl who has owned many, many bathing suits.
The first I can remember was a goldish yellow one-piece with black diagonal zigzags; it looked like someone had tested a sharpie across the belly. I can see myself, six-years-old, jumping off the dock at church camp, or rather lingering on the dock, hoping someone might notice how cool I looked.
In high school I wore one-pieces exclusively. That was the family rule. I didn’t hang out with many girls who wore bikinis. That wasn’t some sort of friend qualification; it just happened that way. Maybe bikinis weren’t as universal in the 90s. Maybe I lived in a bubble.
My brother dated girls who wore them. I don’t remember judging them, but I do remember my brother feeling very uncomfortable come swimming time.
In high school I felt pretty at ease in a bathing suit. I chalk this up to the one pieces. I think because I wore a one piece and not a two piece I felt invincible, like I couldn’t go wrong. So I played tackle football in the water with guys in my one piece and threw the frisbee in my one piece and dove for the volleyball and so on.
I wouldn’t recommend the tackle football.
Anyway, when I went to Christian college I found out from friends that wearing a bathing suit in front of a boy was very, very bad. They called it “mixed bathing.” I’d have made fun of the word “bathing” but the suit’s called a “bathing” suit, so whatever.
I felt cornered by their comments. My friends hadn’t lived on the beach, so it was easy for them to make sweeping assertions, but, too, I was new to the Bible belt, and felt like I’d missed something I was supposed to have learned.
Later, when those same friends came to visit me in Florida, they all wanted to go the beach, which surprised me, and even though we didn’t go with boys, there were certainly boys at the beach. I picked my most modest suit and wore shorts over it, hoping to blend in. One of my friends swam in a sports bra. Another had an all out bikini.
Christian college taught me that people don’t always do what they say when it comes to bathing suits. Looking back, I think it’s just that people don’t always know what to say, or really even what to do.
After college I thought more about what I wore to swim.
Around that time I started wakeboarding, (imagine water skiing and skateboarding had a baby). My friends Jay and Hilde had a boat and they’d take pictures while we rode.
When I saw the pics, wow, I was embarrassed. There was the board, the life jacket, and then… my legs. You couldn’t see a swim suit at all. Hilde’s pics looked the same. Immediately we went shopping for board shorts.
Since then, I’ve been fond of shorts. I can move in them. I don’t have to pull at them. I feel covered in them. And they’re made for water; so people don’t look at me like I’m a freak (although I’d be happy to look like a freak if I thought that’s what God wanted for me).
Too, I don’t mind when friends post our beach pictures on Facebook.
The last transition in my bathing suit saga came when I had kids. For a few reasons, primarily that kids enjoy undressing their parents in public, I decided I couldn’t wear a traditional bathing suit top anymore. Still, I hated swimming in t-shirts which stretch in the water (and aren’t allowed at public pools). So, I started wearing a loose rashguard. Mine looks something like this:
This week I’ll go to Corpus Christi with my family. My toddler daughters have both one pieces and rashguard/shorts (I’m not sure when I’ll talk to them about their swimwear choices, but probably when they’re able to actually make some choices of their own). I’ll wear the usual. My husband won’t wear sunglasses while we’re on the beach—so I can see where he’s looking and hold him accountable (per his request). We’ll try to find a less-crowded, family friendly place to set up, and we’ll fully enjoy the beautiful beach God made.
In the last few years I’ve made my bathing suit choices intentionally, taking into consideration my lifestyle and my body—each one’s is unique—and the modest life to which God’s calling me. I choose to wear something that covers my sexual parts in a way that isn’t too form-fitting. I choose to feel free when I’m at the beach, free to play with my kids, free to swim, free to surf, free to do whatever I want without ever worrying about a wardrobe malfunction or about what someone else might be thinking.
All I hope for you is that you do the same, that you consider your personal experiences with bathing suits and your understanding of God’s instructions on the topic of modesty, and that you find a way to live your convictions come swim time.