I forgot to diet for swimsuit seasonSummer: the one time of year I actually think it might not be so bad to join a religious sect that wears robes.

Each year, women all over the Western world face a dreaded unveiling … an event requiring months of preparation … dieting, shaving, waxing, weight lifting. For most people, the prep season starts about now. But in Florida, pre-game is over. The most beautiful months of the year are upon us. Spring break is less than a month away, and suddenly I’m thinking pilfering the Butterfinger heart my kid got for Valentine’s Day wasn’t the best idea.

A year ago, I was in the best shape of my life, after losing 65 pounds and becoming a runner. Then a gym injury, coupled with some stressful events in my life, led me to binge my way back to the unhealthy place where I started. Somehow in the last 12 months, I started thinking “Just do it” meant “Life’s short; eat the cake.”

So here I am, faced with shopping for a plus-sized swimsuit, cursing the fashion industry for letting men wear baggy trunks that cover their non-cellulite-ridden thighs, while women are relegated to these French-cut numbers that ― unlike swimsuits in the ’70s ― don’t just show your leg, but your hip, your fat roll, and parts of regions down yonder that one is now expected to landscape with the finesse of gardeners at the Biltmore.

Obese woman dressed in swimsuit with beach umbrella.Why is it, I wonder, that non-European men get to cover half their legs, while we women get the material equivalent of a macramé plant hanger?

Through the years, I’ve tried every swimsuit imaginable, searching for that one phenomenal find that would bless me with body of a Miss Universe contestant. Just name the trick; I’ve tried it: Black is slimming. Stay away from large prints. Stripes should be vertical or diagonal, pointing toward your waist.

One year, I was sitting at my desk at work, when my friend Jo Anne called with what seemed like the miracle I’d been hoping for.

“Parri, I was at Jacobson’s this morning,” she said. “They just got in a truck load of swimsuits with tags that say they’re guaranteed to make you look 15 pounds slimmer.”

Finally. Could it be? I could actually stop praying for a tapeworm?

I dropped everything, took an early lunch, and raced across the street to my favorite department store. The suits were about $100, but I’d have forked over my kid’s college fund while singing Zippety Doo Dah for one brief shining moment of looking like a cover girl.

Back in the dressing room, I huffed and I puffed and I shimmied into one of the new miracle suits, like a Hebrew National salami being packed into into its kosher skin. And when I was done, what I saw in the mirror was nothing short of astonishing. Dear God, I had the torso of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

What the tag didn’t mention was what I now refer to as Thighness’s Law of 12-ply Lycra: What goes in one place must come out someplace else.

I had so much fat rerouted under my arms, I looked like I had a third and fourth boob … or gargantuan armpit tumors ― you pick. And so much stomach flesh was rerouted south that my belly button was in my lady garden and I had saddlebags that could double as end tables. I’m not kidding. Each side could have supported a lamp.

Over the years, I’ve tried every method known for detracting attention from my body. I’ve worn shorts over my swimsuit. I’ve sat in the sun and sand, schvitzing to death in a beach cover up. I’ve wrapped my beach towel around my waist like a terry cloth sari

pink-hI’ve even considered one of those humorous numbers that they sell at tourist boutiques: an oversized T-shirt with an airbrushed mural of a thong-clad centerfold with a tiny tan waist and breasts the size of genetically-engineered cantaloupes ― pouring out of a skimpy bikini top. Tempting as it was, I like my privacy and didn’t want to get stopped on the beach for my autograph when people mistook me for Pamela Sue Anderson.

And then one day, my husband looked at me in my shorts, dying from the heat on the beach and said, “Why don’t you take those off?” He kindly pointed out that wearing shorts didn’t fool anyone into thinking I was any smaller. I was hiding nothing, so I might as well be comfortable, cool off and go for a swim.

I wish I could say that the story ended there … that I embraced my body and lived happily ever after. But the truth is, while I did take off my shorts, I’ve continued to be self-conscious of my body ― at every size ― especially on the beach. When my husband and I took a cruise several years ago, I searched out lounge chairs next to the fattest ladies on the ship, figuring my body would look better in a lineup.

So here I am: the middle-aged product of yo-yo dieting since the age of eight. I lose 60 pounds, I gain back 65. I lose 65 and gain back 70. And here’s the God’s honest truth. I am a woman who has let society’s image of beauty dictate how I feel about myself. I’ve tried to accept the large me, but I reject myself in the mirror. And the irony of it all is that I don’t know anyone who I think is ugly ― large or small. And I want more than anything to embrace myself the way my friends embrace me … and the way I embrace and accept others.

I’ve spent years not letting people take my picture. And I’m tired of being excluded from my own scrapbooks, because the fashion industry has shamed me into deleting myself from my own life. I’ve spent too many years feeling like I’m “not enough.”

I may never be a size 2. And that’s okay. When I was in the best shape of my life last year, I was a 12. I felt energetic. I slept more soundly. And I finally became athletic, achieving the goal of running my first half marathon. (I started tanking at mile 9, but darn it, I finished!).

Today I’m back to struggling with high cholesterol and sleep apnea. I’m always tired. My lower back aches when I’m standing, so even walking the dog is painful. But I’m going to fight to get back to that 12 ― and to be comfortable in my own skin, whatever my size.

This is who I am right now ― a funny, fun-loving, kind person who also happens to wear a 2X. And I’ve decided to no longer be intimidated by the racks of bikinis paving the way to the oversized black suits with the skirts. Magazines with surgically- and Photoshop-enhanced miniatures of real women will not shame me into the shadows anymore.

So this year I’m going for the pretty swimsuit … one that’s colorful, like me. Maybe I’ll buy the hot pink suit … or the one with the large floral design … or the one with (gasp) horizontal stripes. And maybe I’ll find myself with my eyes blacked out in the Glamour “DON’T!” column. But I’m done hiding in heat-absorbing, sweat inducing black three-ply Lycra that pushes my liver into my armpit. I’m going for one of those bright, happy suits that we plus-sized girls are supposed to avoid like gluten. And I’m smiling as I just think of breaking all the fat-girl rules.

And rest assured, fashion industry: If I ever do get to a size 2, I still won’t want one of your thongs.

Because string is not a dignified garment.

It’s something you use to tie up the recycling.

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