On Shopping for a Maternity Bikini
I haven’t yet seen the new movie Prevenge, but I’ve been totally sold by enthusiastic reviews that are celebrating its depiction of pregnancy as the horror show it really is. Sure, most of us who choose to go through with a pregnancy don’t experience our fetuses as murderous overlords, but they are definitely invasive creatures who control our bodies and minds. And in the worst cases, they do cause intolerable destruction—when they bring death to themselves or their mothers. I don’t mean to go too dark too fast here, since this is a story about my trip to buy a maternity swimsuit, but sorry, that’s what having one of these things inside you will do! Life is death is life.
I write this from a prone position in a pair of sweatpants and a Frasier t-shirt, in bed in the middle of what should have been a workday. Instead, I’m laid up because my 28-week-old fetus has revolted against me and is causing some gross problems I won’t get into even though I want to. Pregnancy really blurs your public/private boundaries, to the point where I don’t trust my instinct around what’s TMI, so I’m trying to be prudent here. You get so used to showing relative strangers your private areas and sharing details about bowel movements with your various apps, it’s hard to know what people can handle.
Anyway, I’m pregnant for the second time (technically third, since we’re getting to know each other here, #shoutyourabortion), and it’s hell. My son is three and I’m stoked to give him a sibling, and I’m stoked to have a cute little baby pretty soon, but everything else about this sucks. With my son, I was a really good new-age pregnant lady: constantly exercising, eating properly, avoiding alcohol, reading the books. But this time I’m tired, I’m older, I already have a little kid. I’ve become more of a Betty Draper-type pregnant lady: eating bonbons, drinking a glass of wine, mostly just lying down. And this approach might be biting me in the ass.
My husband and I have a trip coming up, when I’ll be 30 weeks, and it will involve the beach. Because of this I knew I faced the daunting task of purchasing a maternity swimsuit. Googling "cute maternity bathing suit" was a fun chore, let me tell ya. All those sexy ruched tankinis and one pieces with little skirts, wow! And the models! Even the teeny tiny bit of progress that’s been made with respect to body diversity in modeling is completely absent in the maternity category. I actually heard myself spit-mutter "skinny first-pregnancy bitches" as I scrolled past all the happy blonde ladies with their cute little baby bumps that are probably just photoshopped onto their regular skinny bodies.
Usually I’m at least self-aware or media literate enough to have a healthy secondary narrative running through my head when I look at images of idealized female bodies. There’s the programmed one that’s telling me, "That’s the good kind of body! You don’t have that kind! Yours will never be like that!" But then I can usually counter it with a sensible voice that says, "Oh isn’t that nice for that lady? Good for her. But fuck it, there are so many ways to be beautiful! And I’m alive! Isn’t that the best?" But I stand (or lie) before you today willing to admit that that second voice failed me in the maternity swimsuit experience.
Eventually I figured that maybe one of those cute retro numbers touted as flattering-to-every-figure would be the best route. You know the ones—one or two pieces, usually a halter top and nice solid cup for the boobs, a low-cut leg, lots of fabric in general. I already had a top like this from the last time I had big nursing boobs, so I figured I’d just look for a bottom to match. "Black high waist maternity bathing suit bottom," "black bikini bottom maternity," etc. All depressing, all impossible to buy sight unseen. The size charts on these sites ask for your pre-pregnancy jeans size and then your current waist measurement before giving you a suggested maternity size. Actually I don’t want to talk about my pre-pregnancy size, thank you very much! And I don’t want to measure my current waist size either! I don’t know what I expect them to do without any of that information, but maybe they could just give all the sizes names like "sexy beautiful lady" and "cool mom who’s still got it" and we could go from there.
So, I had to go in person. I had my husband drive me to the only store within 50 miles that had this particular high-waisted black bottom in a variety of sizes in stock, which was at a suburban mall. I walked in purposefully, straight to the back and took two weird looking garments into the gently lit, purple velvet, double-wide fitting room of Thyme Maternity. I had brought my top with me and I put the whole thing on together and almost burst into tears. Who the hell is that person with the weird body? Without the clothes I can normally use to fabricate that familiar pregnant-lady shape (basically the same old body with a big round middle), I was exposed as just a person who’s all stretched out and puffed up funny all over.
I already knew that being pregnant, and later nursing a baby, is an exercise in physical humiliation. I told this to a misogynist I know (not by choice) and he said he was surprised because pregnant women are so… he made a gesture to the heavens and ahh! sound that indicated he meant something like exalted, or treated as sacred, or some other bullshit that means he’s never actually asked a pregnant woman anything. Yeah, great, it’s so helpful to not be seen as human. It’s really comforting that you’re walking around with that illusion while we’re leaking and prolapsing and freaking out on the phone with our doctors in public about what turns out to just be gas. This moment in the fitting room was just one in the cascade of realizations that my body is on a journey separate from the rest of me. Oh, I see. That’s what I look like. Okay.
This bathing suit bottom could almost be a full-sized strapless swimsuit for a smaller-than-average woman. Off the body, it’s not really recognizable as anything at all, because a garment like this doesn’t have a place in our mental store. It’s transitional, it’s temporary, it’s for these strange bodies we theoretically revere but that realistically freak us out. It’s awkward, and it’s not cute, and honestly, I hate it. But right now, my body is a foreign entity housing a weird alien who will grow up to make fun of me, so I’m not sure where I get off thinking it should also be burdened with being cute. Like, take a load off, right? We’re alive, and we’re going to the goddamn beach!