Beads of sweat dripped down my back as I stood in the change room, a narrow stall closed off by a curtain, sizing myself up in the mirror. I was standing almost naked in a Toronto swimwear boutique, waiting for an attendant to return with some two-piece swimsuits. I was looking for my first bikini — and I was nervous as hell to show that much flesh outside the confines of my comfort zone (i.e., my 420-square-foot apartment).
But when the bubbly salesperson returned, wielding one of the most flattering plus-sized bikinis I’d ever laid eyes on, my confidence resurfaced, and I began trying the pieces on. As I stood in front of her, my belly rolls clearly visible, she focused on my positives. “You have beautiful eyes!” she exclaimed. “If you want your privacy, I can leave.” “No, it’s fine,” I lied, smiling. If I was going to bare it all in public, I might as well start with one stranger. Then I turned, saw myself in the mirror and, to my surprise, liked how I looked in a bikini.
Growing up, I was never skinny. Kids called me the jolly giant. By age 13 I was almost five foot 11, and I always weighed more than the other girls. My weight went up and down. After all the praise I received when I lost 20 pounds on Weight Watchers at 14, you can imagine how I felt after I gained it all back (and then some) in university. Late-night binge eating and a love for prime time TV took over, and things got a little out of control. When I was 19, I would have laughed at the idea of wearing a bikini — especially in public. I’d never hesitated to post photos of a bathing-suit-clad me on vacation or poolside on Facebook — but that was a one-piece situation. The bikini was unknown, and therefore frightening, territory.
This whole quest began last summer when plus-sized blogger Gabi Gregg posted a photo on her blog of herself in a gorgeous retro bikini. Suddenly, I started seeing women of all shapes and sizes across the continent posting selfies in bikinis, proclaiming their pride and confidence in their bodies. Inspired, I vowed to join the movement and decided to buy my first bikini as an adult.
A couple of weeks later, I packed my two new bikinis (one pink, one black) and headed to Grenada with my family for a vacation. On the second day, after the sun set, I slipped into the pool in my new suit and glided across the top of the water, repeating determinedly, “You are beautiful, you are beautiful, you are beautiful.” Positive reinforcement, I thought, would be the thing that would help me with my debut.
The next morning, when we arrived at a local beach and I removed my cover-up, I instinctively waited for the stares — or the giggles, or pointing, or harsh whispers. But none of that happened. In fact, I was the only one who seemed to care at all about my choice of swimwear. As I walked along the shore, I gained confidence with every step. At one point, I stopped to rent a chair and caught an older man eyeing me. I glanced at him nervously. Then he said, “You look beautiful today,” and went back to his meal. Later, my mom snapped some photos of us lounging, and rather than hide or even try to suck in my tummy, I posed. A lot. To an embarrassing degree. But I felt good, and for the first time in my life, I was seriously rocking a bikini — cellulite and all.
Today, I’m a size 16. I have a few tummy rolls and my thighs rub together when I walk. But I’ve never been healthier — and I finally know my self-worth. It has nothing to do with the number on the scale. It’s about who I am as a whole: my caring nature, my loyalty, intelligence and, yes, stunning beauty. Because at the end of the day, all of us are worthy of that title.