By: Natalie King
My kids are drawn to the large windows looking into the bright pool area by the sounds of glee and splashing on the other side of the glass. My daughter, Bayu, is two and my son, Judah, is four. I would love for them to learn how to swim. We are sitting in the café of our local gym, waiting for Greg (Daddy) to finish his workout so that we can go have lunch as a family.
I am drawn to the windows too, but for other reasons. I’m going to scan the kiddy pool for other moms. Which moms take their kids to the pool, I wondered. Or, more accurately, which moms wear bathing suits to the community pool. My eyes landed on a mother whom I know, a mother of four. My eyes beam at her like a laser, and I hope nobody is watching me. After giving birth four times, she doesn’t have an ounce of cellulite on her effortlessly muscular body. The feeling in my stomach is hollow and heavy, like a lead ball just landed in my cavity and is settling down for good.
The kids look like they are having a blast, splashing, laughing, and learning to swim. My two-year-old says, “Bayu swim, yea, Bayu swim.”
“Yea, Mommy,” Judah chimes in, “let’s go swimming, right now.”
“No,” I say. Then they elevate their plea to a loud whine, and I am embarrassed. I look around the café, and I know people are thinking that my kids are acting like brats, and it’s my fault because I’m not a good mother. Or worse, they are acting like brats because it’s all they know, because their parents are brats.
“Ok,” I say, to make them be quiet. “We will go swimming. But we don’t have our bathing suits, so we have to come back another day.”
That brought the whine down to a bearable decibel, where I didn’t feel like I had to quickly make promises that I wouldn’t keep.
How am I going to get out of this? There is no way I’m getting in the pool. I am an attractive woman, at least I think so. I am tall and slender. I put a lot of energy into looking good. I get my hair done. I get facials, Botox. Seriously, you name it, if it promises to improve my appearance, I’m all over it.
The problem that I face is that I have the cellulite gene. I’ve tried to get rid of it, and I just don’t want anyone to see it. I’m thirty-eight, and I’ve been hiding my cellulite for about ten years now. It’s a secret, and I’ve been very loyal. When I’m naked at home, I walk sideways or backwards so that my husband can’t see the unpalatable cottage cheese on my ass. Now my kids are asking me to bare myself to the whole town. Being a mother is making me very uncomfortable. Here I am almost forty years old, and I’m fantasizing that if I had one wish in the world, I would skip solving world hunger and wish for no cellulite.
OK, I think, I’ve got to find someone to take my kids swimming. I walk over to the counter, and I ask about swim teachers.
“Hi, do you have swim lessons available for two- and four-year-olds?”
“Oh, yes, you can get private lessons.”
She continues, “But if you’re going to do that, it’s best that you take the kids to family swim.” She points to the pool. “That way the kids get familiar with the water just by playing. It’s the fastest way to learn to swim.”
I ignore that part and sign the kids up for lessons.
On our drive home I think about other moms. My friends go to the beach in their bikinis, and they spend all day there with their kids. The kids dig in the sand, play with kelp, have snacks on blankets. They have fun; they’re outside; it’s good for them; and the moms seem to be enjoying themselves. They snack and chat all afternoon. I know this because they have invited me, and I’ve gone—in my leggings of course. They walk around unself-consciously in their bathing suits. Some have cellulite like me, but it doesn’t seem to matter to them. They just walk along letting it jiggle while they are engrossed in conversation. I notice that I don’t find them to be unattractive, and actually, the more unaware of their bodies they are, the sexier they seem to me. I’m scared that I would be stiffly aware, and walk like a robot, or do some strange side step if I was in a bathing suit out there.
I feel like I am a turtle, and someone is threatening to take my shell. I am overcome with dread. I realize that this anchor is coming down on me, and there is no way to escape it. My kids are little. They are just starting their swimming years, and they want to go to the pool. I am going to have to wear a bathing suit to the community pool.
When I get home, I’ll try on my ten-year-old bikini and compare myself to the images that have been burned into my self-esteem index of all the other moms’ butts, thighs, and bellies. My kids want to play on the porch, so outside, I pull my pants down and get a look at my thighs and butt in the reflection on the living room window. Sure enough, dimples galore on my upper thighs. I turn around and look at the front of my thighs. My stomach plummets. How can I have cellulite on the front of my thighs?
Maybe window reflections are particularly unflattering. Perhaps the lighting at the pool is more forgiving. I look through my drawers to see if I can find that bathing suit. Oh, here it is, the skimpy bikini from Victoria’s Secret that’s over ten years old, back when I just wore the bottoms on the beaches of southern Spain. I let the kids continue to play. I put the bathing suit on.
OK, this is it. This is what I look like, I tell myself. I turn and face the mirror. After I strain my neck trying to see my backside, I get my powder compact out and study my butt and thighs critically. Not great. I stand in the bathing suit in all different kinds of light, posing with my stomach tightened, and my butt slightly stuck out. I definitely need a one-piece. Most of the moms who go to the pool wear one-piece bathing suits.
It’s open swim day. I pack our bag and my old bikini. Here it goes. It’s not a straight shot from the women’s dressing room to the pool. You have to walk past the weight room where all the high school boys are groaning, then past the sauna room where all the old men are sweating, and into the pool area—which is open to the café. I open the heavy door and the moisture of the tropical, pool room quickly fills my nose and coats my skin. I wear my towel until I absolutely have to disrobe. At the last towel hook, I stand in the most flattering way I can manage, making sure not to make eye contact with anyone. I take off the robe, turn to hang it up, exposing my backside to the pool and café. I hobble with my littles on the rocky pool aggregate over to the kiddie pool.
Oh hell, I see Jeanette, from Montessori drop-off. Our four-year-olds are in the same class. I already admire Jeanette because she’s an Ivy League graduate with that natural kind of Eddie Bauer beauty, and now I’m seeing that her skin is as smooth as the surface of a balloon. She’s wearing a speedo, making me painfully aware of my teenage bikini. I’m not trusting its flimsy material to keep my flimsy breasts from falling out. I wonder what kind of indelible conclusions she is making about my character, based on this indecent swimsuit.
“Hi,” I say, looking at the ground. I ease my body down into the warmness of the kiddie pool and float weightlessly on my back.
Bayu Jane giggles for maybe a half hour straight. Judah plays with other kids pushing boats along in the water. I do yoga, and the buoyancy allows me flexibility in the pose. I pull my giddy kids around in circles to make waves. This is fun. My kids are having fun, and so am I. And before I know it, it’s time to get out. We get home and the kids eat well. They tell Daddy about swimming, and how fun it was. I feel like a good mom. They go to sleep quickly. I lie in bed thinking that I want to make a habit of going to the pool now, when, for the last ten years, I’ve been dead set against it.
We go to the pool three days a week for the next year. My kids can’t wait. And I have changed. I walk around letting my butt cheeks bobble on the back of my thighs, and I like the way it feels. I still have cellulite, but I don’t think about it, or I don’t think that it’s unattractive. Don’t get me wrong. I still wish it wasn’t there, and if there is ever a remedy (that really works), I’m all over it! It’s just that I never knew that it would feel good to be seen in a bathing suit. I feel sexier. Putting everything I don’t like about my body out there for everybody to see, makes me feel OK.