Near the Arctic Circle in Norway, where I grew up, bathing suit season was all too brief. Throughout endless childhood winters, I dreamed of sun, sand and surf. As a teen, a dark tan was my ultimate and ever-elusive goal.
Fast-forward to my 30s: I lived in Dallas, where I became jobless while reeling after a failed romance. When dreams of perpetual summer resurfaced, I sold everything to start fresh in Florida, where bathing suit season outlasts heartaches. On the Gulf of Mexico, I shamelessly exposed my skin to the elements and to anybody who happened by. My snowy complexion turned to beef jerky; my hair became straw-colored. Bikinis wore out, and my happiness overflowed.
Fast-forward 20 more years: I am a senior citizen—a milestone that caught me off-guard like a blizzard in May. And yet, I should have seen the signs. For example, in the name of modesty and conformity, I began buying one-piece swimsuits. These things are uncomfortable, and all the worse when wet. My albino belly looked like it belonged to someone else—which would be just as well if it did, because I could not come to grips with my “love handles.” What had I done to deserve this? Didn’t I weigh myself morning, noon and night? Sometimes, I even dieted—for a few hours. Was there no solution?
Indeed, there was a solution. One hot day, as I walked the beach fully clothed, a middle-aged woman in a purple bikini caught my attention. Her waistline was a tribute to childbirth and good food, but she was certainly not obese. In fact, she looked a lot like me—about average and with some bulges. Yet she seemed comfortable in her loose skin. If she could wear a bikini without self-consciousness, so would I! Though we didn’t exchange a word, she gave me the priceless gift of self-acceptance.
Without blushing or apology, I once again wear a bikini—publicly. Youth culture will not order my life! I have come to understand that all have a right to enjoy bathing suit season—in any season of life.
The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Sissel W. Robertson is a reader from Thompson Falls, Mont.