Living

I Was A 45-Year-Old Swimsuit Model

And it helped me overcome lifelong body issues.

The author poses in a Summersalt Sidestroke bathing suit

Photos, Carmen Cheung. Art direction, Stephanie Han Kim. Makeup and hair, Ashley Readings for Nudestix Cosmetics/Tresemmé Hair/Plutino Group.

I have never felt so vulnerable as on the February day when I stepped onto the cold photo studio floor, surrounded by my smiling colleagues, in nothing more than a swimsuit. I’d brought my favourite housecoat to lounge in, but in the moment before disrobing, I trembled and took a really deep breath, wondering why I’d volunteered for a swimsuit photo shoot at all. I’m a 45-year-old mom of two (my kids are 15 and 12), 5-foot-1, with a physique I describe as “perimenopausal carb consumer.” I try to stay active (read about how I started cycling in my 40s here), but, like many women, I keep a running list of all my perceived physical flaws. Heidi Klum, I am not—I never saw myself as model material.

Months earlier, a Chatelaine colleague had put a call out for real bodies to model Summersalt’s Sidestrokea one-shoulder, colour-blocked, popular-on-Instagram one-piece swimsuit. I’ve been known to Bridget Jones it, trying things like fronting a rock band in the name of a good story. When an idea scares me, I typically put my hand up⁠—my career in magazines has brought me so many opportunities to challenge what I believe about myself. Surely, a gregarious oversharer like myself could handle a photoshoot in her bathing suit.

And, as the mother of a daughter, I’ve become acutely aware of how society tells girls and women what to think of their bodies: how to police and protect them, how to make them smaller, how to take up less space. Experiencing it is one thing, but watching the multitude of messages barraged onto a small, female-identifying child is another altogether. It makes you hit the rewind button on everything you’ve consciously or subconsciously absorbed about your physical self. For me, all those pressures manifested as an eating disorder at 18 and lifelong body image issues that I continue to work through. In my household, I’m very careful not to weight shame and try to promote an active lifestyle as a means to gain health and strength—rather than weight loss.

The swimsuit photo shoot seemed like a great opportunity to proudly show my kids that you can be fabulous at any age. Many years ago, in the pages of Chatelaine, a young writer named Lora Grady wrote about buying her first bikini as a plus-sized woman. Back then, my kids were young and I was struggling to reconcile the way I saw my body with its softer, rounder, post-pregnancy lines. Reading Lora’s writing made me realize that every body is a beach body. After a lifetime of diets, restrictions, ab exercises and self-loathing, I decided to buy a bikini and let it all hang out.

Still, it was a big jump from building sandcastles in a two-piece to baring your cellulite in front of your colleagues. I’ve been pushing myself to silence the negative voices in my head and embrace my physical self as I am every day. I’ve taken and posted countless selfies since turning 40 and, with each one, I learn to see myself as beautiful. Since my divorce, I’ve taken up yoga and meditation, like a true Eat, Pray, Love cliché. Through my daily practice, I now believe that our bodies are our best friends, containing our true beauty: our spirit. I’m grateful for this 45-year-old body, that birthed and nursed two kids, this body that still dances and downward dogs and cycles, this body that hugs too tightly and for a beat too long. The cellulite, the stretch marks, the sun spots, the scars from my c-section and lumpectomy, they are just highway markers on the road of life. They remind me of where I’ve travelled, how I’ve grown and where I came from.

In a recent interview, Oprah was shocked to learn that Jennifer Lopez has days where she criticizes her looks. J.Lo! No matter how “beautiful” society deems us to be, we all have a critical inner monologue—it doesn’t matter what size, shape or age you are. But that day, dancing to Lizzo with my friends and colleagues (including the lovely, inspirational Lora Grady!), I left most of my body shame and negative thoughts on the studio backdrop. When the magazine arrived in the mail, I called my kids over. “Your mom is now officially a swimsuit model!”


Editor’s note:

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Maureen Halushak, editor-in-chief, Chatelaine

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