Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why I Want to Knit a Bikini One Day

I almost have a finished knitted item to display, but not until tomorrow. In the meantime, here is an article that I wrote a few years ago. It is an example of the sort of thing that I want to get paid for writing one day. You know...when I publish my memoirs and all of that.

Two Pieces
(an article by Jayne Schmidt. All rights belong to her.)

“All history happens in the body.” I read this in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells and agreed with it instantly. While I believe the deep truth of this statement, I am also aware that my history and my body have been at odds with each other for most of my life. I have used my body for transportation and to facilitate all my grand schemes, but I have not always been kind to it, to myself. I have resisted its needs and resented its weaknesses; I have turned stone ears to its cries for help. I have sadly misunderstood my physical self as crucial to a healthier, more complete identity both as a human being and as a woman. The latter is a tetchy subject for me at the best of times, one that I peek at obliquely in shy sidelong glances. On braver days, I look my womanhood straight in the eye as though attempting to win a game of chicken with myself, but inevitably I lose my nerve, avert my face, and gaze off into the middle distance until I regain my composure. Despite all, she is patient with me, this creature, my body. Perhaps it is because she and I both bear the wounds of our shared history, a difficult one from which we need to recover. I suspect, however, that my physical self figured out long before I did that the Holy Spirit is at work in me, healing me in a delightfully circuitous fashion, as he navigates me into unexplored areas of my femininity.

One of these small voyages of discovery began for me last summer. As Vancouver summers go, this one was a minor miracle with its steady stretch of sunshine through July and August: an abundance of beach weather rare for this wet west coast city. As the weeks of the school holiday passed, I spent several pleasant respite days, away from my children, at White Pines Beach in Port Moody. One morning in late August as I sat dreamily watching the clouds roll by, a notion that had been forming at the back of my mind all summer finally penetrated my consciousness. Startled into awareness, I scanned the beach attentively and saw that it was true: every possible type of woman wears a bikini. And shouldn’t. I could find no solid criteria by which to distinguish those who wore two pieces from those who wore one. I could not separate them on the basis of beauty, age, height, weight, smoothness, lumpiness, or downright oddness.

Despite how such diverse women might feel about their bodies in the privacy of their own thoughts, they seemed to me to be perfectly comfortable and unaware of themselves as they lounged at the beach, letting it all hang out, so to speak. Safety in numbers, I supposed. Maybe, I considered, it’s a bit like wearing mouse-ears in Disneyland. In that one place anyone can do it, and no one has the right to point and ridicule. I began to wonder about myself. I have categorically refused to wear a two-piece bathing suit since I was about eleven years old. I have a boy’s body: long, lean, flat chested, no hips, no curves, and no womanly attributes…or so I supposed. My husband Doug thinks otherwise, but his opinion almost doesn’t count. I wear short hair and no make-up. Every now and then store clerks and other service personnel call me “Sir.”

Not to mention that I think I have a weird belly button. I had a hernia operation on my navel when I was a year old, and I’m convinced that my surgeon overslept on the day in doctor school when they were teaching the tie-off procedure. It just never looked right to me. Other girls had a cute little pucker, or a mysterious well-like impression. Mine looked like crossed legs, or a pretzel. There are parts of my body that have not seen sunshine in nearly thirty years, and until last August, I had no intention of showing them to anyone, not in a public setting at least. But I was relaxed that day at the beach. My critical controlling inner voice was on vacation, and my kinder softer self suggested that if those women, in all their marvelous variety of beauty, could sit comfortably on a beach and expose their stomachs, then so could I. I made a rash little promise with myself that next summer I would buy a bikini and wear it to the beach. Then I made the colossal mistake of revealing this to my friend Denise. Denise is a woman. She has long glossy gorgeous hair. Curves. She knows how to look like a girl, smell like a girl, walk like a girl. I love her to bits.

Summer was nearly at an end as I made this foolish promise with myself.

When fall routines rolled in with the rain clouds, they rapidly drove all thoughts of beaches from my mind. But Denise had not forgotten. A few weeks into the deep dullness of January, a good friend offered our family the chance to spend a week in February at her time-share resort in Mexico. We had three weeks to organize it. Doug and I took less than twenty-four hours to discuss the subject, arrange flights, and break the exciting news to our stunned children. What an opportunity! What a treat! What a pure gift from heaven! “You need to buy yourself a bikini now,” was the first thing Denise said when I told her of our plans.

“But it isn’t summer yet,” I protested, “I made that promise for next summer.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she argued with me: “This is the next opportunity for the beach, and you have to keep your promise.”
I had the slight suspicion that she had an agenda. And I had one final argument.

“What about my stomach?” I hedged, “It’s fish-belly white! I’ll get terribly sunburned there.”

“ No problem,” she didn’t miss a beat, “you can go to the Fake-N-Bake.”

This would be the Fake-N-Bake as in the electric beach – an indoor tanning salon. When I told my counselor about all of this, she laughed and said, “How delightful! You have a makeover artist in your life.” She has an agenda too. I decided to stop arguing and see if I could even find a bikini in the dead of winter.

I found one I liked at the first store on my list.

I now own a bikini. It’s black. It has two pieces. When I wear them, I am conscious of what feels like an awfully large space between the top part and the bottom part. It feels more as though I have taken something off than put something on. I have worn it several times now. In the store, I tried it on over my underwear. When I got home, I tried it on again without the underwear. I wear it under my clothes when I go out to the fake beach to get a few rays on my pale white stomach, which is not so pale and white now. After about a week and a half of this, I allowed Doug to see me in it; however, I declined Denise’s laughing suggestion that I model it for her and some other friends who came to dinner one night.

My friend Clair told me, “I’m dying to see it.”

“ It’s not that exciting,” I muttered.

“Are you kidding?” She enthused, “It’s a bikini – and you’re going to wear it – that’s exciting!”

Sometimes it seems as though all the people who love me have united in a conspiracy to help me get well. I catch glimpses of their master plan every now and then; it always makes me wonder what is next. It always makes me feel known, noticed and cared for. It makes me marvel at how involved God must be in each individual life of those whom he has created in such infinite variety. I think of how he must chuckle with delight when I summon the courage to celebrate my body in an entirely new way for me. I am looking forward to this Mexico trip. I anticipate the gift that such a week will be for my family, in the midst of a stressful and tumultuous year. I relish the interruption that it will be -- the novelty -- even the hassle that it will be. I know that my children will experience things they have never imagined. I know that Doug and I will treasure their joy, along with our own. I also know that in less than a week, I will slip on those two brief bits of black fabric and step outside into the scrutiny of the sun and the public eye for the first time. I suppose that I might worry and feel self-conscious for an hour or so, but then I will simply be a woman, one among many, who happens to be wearing a bikini.

1 comment:

Trish said...

Jayne, you can't leave us hanging here! We want details of your trip, and whether you wore your bikini. I have noticed that phenomenon at the beach, about strength in numbers. It's the nudist resort mentality. It's really not about fitting in, but rather about freeing yourself.