Nancy Roman

Taking My Own Advice

It’s time.

Time to go to the beach.

In my bathing suit.

Saturday was hot and clear, and so my husband and I got up early. I blew off my Zumba class and put on my new bathing suit. (This is tricky -I need the class in order to wear the swimsuit, but if I go to the class, it will be too late in the day to wear the swimsuit.)

We put the top down on the convertible and went to the beach.

Our little sportscar has a miniscule trunk but we managed to fit:  one umbrella, two beach chairs, blanket, cooler, and one big duffel with towels, a change of clothes, sunscreen, and books and magazines. None of the stuff in the duffel will my husband ever use. He won’t go in the water, so doesn’t need the towel. Since he won’t get wet, he won’t need a change of clothes either. He’ll say “Later” on the sunscreen and then fall asleep before he opens his magazine. And of course he’ll come home sunburned (because he will put up the umbrella but won’t lie under it). But it makes him feel better to have all that stuff. Just in case.

All this shit has to be schlepped from the car to the beach, but we’re good at it. Especially because we stop every thirty feet and rest.

Then there’s big decision. What spot on the beach do we take? Being childless, we tend to enjoy watching kids play, but on the other hand, the little monsters can be so LOUD.  But if we pick a spot with no kids, then for sure within the hour a family of screamers will park next to us. The best thing to do is to try and fit in between people who have just one kid. Kids don’t yell too much without brothers and sisters.

So my husband spears the umbrella down like Columbus claiming the sand for Spain. I look around. I like what I see. Middle-aged people.

“Perfect,” I say.

I wrote a serious essay two weeks ago – reminding women that they need to enjoy life.  “Put on your swimsuit.” I said. “You’ll never be younger or more beautiful than you are right now.”

And these words rang especially true as we all lost wonderful Nora Ephron this week. Nora said, “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.”

Thank you, Nora. I believe that and I said so.

But practicing what I preach is not always easy.

I want to wear my bathing suit no matter what I look like. But what I want to look like is: GOOD.

This is hard to do amid all the young tan slim beauties in bikinis.

So I don’t want to be near any. (My husband may feel differently.)

I feel much better amongst lumpy thighs and loose upper arms and round bellies. I am glad that the beach is full of imperfect bodies. I’m glad that women are taking my advice and donning their bathing suits and enjoying the beach. But I confess that the petty side of me is glad only if it makes me look better. On the outside, I rejoice when women of all sizes celebrate their bodies. On the inside, I am glad that some of those bodies are older and chubbier than mine.

Mean-spirited it may be, but I felt so good, I walked down to the water. No cover up. And to the bathroom. That pretty much means that I was seen by everyone on the beach.  I was tempted however to stop at every blanket and say “I’m sixty-one,” to put my body in context, so to speak.

But then the inevitable happened. A family plunked down their stuff just in front of ours. Mom, teenage daughter, and two young children.

They spoke Russian. I recognize this language well – I’ve watched a lot of Russian mob episodes of “Law and Order.”

My guess – and I always make up a history for everyone I observe –  Mom from Russia was one of those mail-order brides. She was now in her mid 40’s. Still attractive, but a little pudgy all around. This is not an ethnic stereotype – just a typical mom stereotype. The teenage daughter was about 18. She was from Mom’s first marriage. The other two kids  – a boy around seven and a girl around five – were progeny from Marriage #2. Both husbands are now gone. Mom likes it this way.

It was the eighteen-year-old who caught my attention. (Although now that I think about it, she was most probably seventeen. If she were eighteen, she would have had at least one decal…er, tattoo.  Navel piercings don’t count in judging age – I think you can have one as soon as you give up your Dora The Explorer beach towel.

Natasha (as I had already named her) was skinny. Really skinny. She showed up in a short ruffled skirt and her baby sister’s undershirt. I was also wearing a little skirt (my tankini is skirted, as befits my age, but no flounce, also befitting my age) and I thought for a moment that she had a tankini too. Then she peeled off her outer layer.

Underneath was the tiniest of bikinis like clear merlot. And beautiful, perfect skin. Lightly tanned.

She was gorgeous. And sullen. But then again she was a teenager. I don’t understand Russian, but I am quite sure she was rude to her mother.

Full of herself, I thought. Out to flaunt her loveliness to all of us ordinary humans. God, I hate young people.

But then the weirdest thing happened.

Natasha turned to lie on her back and I saw that the highest part of her was her jutting hips.

I know someone who had hips like that. Me. I had hips like that. Bony hips.

And I remembered that at seventeen, I had a bikini too. But I wasn’t flaunting my youth. I was trying to seem like a normal teenager. When what I really thought I was… was: Hideous.

If I want women to celebrate their bodies, why wouldn’t I want this girl to rejoice in her loveliness? I wish I had known back then how beautiful I was. I was suddenly certain that Natasha was as self-conscious and insecure now as I was back then.

And I said a little apology to Natasha.

In my mind, of course… why would I ever apologize to a teenager?


  1. Natasha was likely normal and self hating. You are entirely correct, it will be twenty years before she will even begin to think, “what was I think I looked fabulous at 17, well perhaps a bit thin; and I was a schmuck to my poor mother”.

    You on the other hand likely looked fabulous at every age and are simply unconscious of your fabulousness. But then, we (that is women) are programmed to be in denial.

    As always, you remind us of why we should celebrate!


  2. Thanks for taking us to the beach and for pointing the way for all of us to feel better about how we look.


  3. Bonnie

    I think the only time in my life that I wore a bikini was when I was 15, in France. This was in Deauville, which is a very fashionable beach because the Paris models went there on the weekends. I felt so stupid and unfashionable because the French women all were either topless (which I was not ready for at 15, lol) or wore chic ONE PIECE suits in chic dark colors. There I was with my stupid orange American bikini. And worst of all, I couldn’t even swim in the thing because the straps would come off or the teeny tiny bottom would come off. So I went and bought one of those chic black maillots, and have never looked back.

    Sadly, these days I have switched to the infamous tankini with board shorts, mainly because it is a LOT easier in the ladies room.


    • It’s odd, but I have found the tankini harder than the one-piece (to get off – not in the ladies room). Because I can’t seem to get the top off. I wonder why the one-piece was so easy to slide down, when I can’t get this top to go UP or DOWN when wet?


  4. Sigh. I miss Nora Ephron. Unfortunately I’ve missed the window to take her advice.


    • Me too, on both counts. Nora was one of the inspirations that started me blogging. And I wished I knew back in my twenties how gorgeous I was.


  5. I vowed this year I’d buy a bathing suit since I don’t own one and would like to swim, I think. Sometime. Maybe next week even.

    I subscribe to your posts but when they come to my email, I don’t know how to comment. I just found you on the comments section of the Frump Factor. I’d love to have you visit my blog, and although my most recent posts have been dashed off in a hurry, please peruse.

    My sister once commented on your blog that we believe you are our long-lost fourth sister. Your mother shares an almost-birthday with ours and sounds eerily similar!!


    • I think to comment from email, you just need to click on the post to get to my website. Then you can comment through normal methods.
      FYI – I just checked out your site. I love your style!


  6. You are so right-on about every part of this:
    Body insecurities know no age limit? check
    Celebrate our bodies whatever they are? check
    But only (really) if the bodies around me are worse than mine? check

    I need a bathing suit for the family vaca this week and I’ve put it off until the last possible second. I’m going in today -wish me luck.


    • Just a follow-up that, armed with your uplifting advice, I went bathing suit shopping over the lunch hour. And left my heart in the store, bleeding from a thousand, me-in-spandex-in-a-3-way-mirror induced cuts.
      Clean up in dressing room #3.


      • I’m tellin’ you – Go to the dressing room with swimsuits that are WAY TOO BIG. You;ll feel so much better when you have to go down to a smaller size.


        • You’re right – that helps. I went shopping again last night. (Since Shades of Gray is so big, I wanted to get in on the S&M bandwagon) I went 2 sizes too big and it helped. Found one. I’m probably not going to be strutting down to the water quite with YOUR self-confidence, but I didn’t feel I needed to find the nearest bridge to practice my swan dive off of afterwards.


  7. I remember, when I was 18, I had 2 bikinis – an orange one and a white one. Now, many, many, many years later, I know that orange is possibly one of three colours I absolutely should not wear. As for the white one – when wet, it was almost transparent. I cringe when I think about it! How did I dare?! And I still didn’t feel I looked good – because I had to wear glasses. Teenagers are never satisfied. Sigh.


    • I saw a teenager at the beach in a blue top and a white bikini bottom. The top looked like a bathing suit. The bottom looked like her underpants.


  8. I always appreciate your honesty (and sense of humor…and drawings!), Nancy! I’m the same way – on the outside, clapping and cheering, on the inside, comparing myself and wanting to look better! It sounds like in the end, though. you had a perfect beach day…minus the schleping.


  9. Bonnie

    One of my Facebook friends just set this as her status, and I thought it was apropos to this discussion:
    “A while back, a friend of mine posted an article/talk/sermon? where a youngish [20’s?] male gave a talk on clothing and attire. He said the average male views females in bikinis as if the females were wearing bras and panties. Think about that and ask the males around you what they think. I did.”


    • I think most men watch the women on the beach and think of them WITHOUT their bras and panties.


  10. Laurie MacKellar

    This was wonderful. I look at pictures of myself as a teen or even when I was in grad school and ask myself why I thought I was fat. I did bare my fat arms this weekend for all to see – a first fir me. The bit about the kids and loud groups – that always happens to me at outdoor concerts. That is why I go for a hot dog if there is something good playing. I am sure you look a lot better in your suit than I do in mine. Natasha will realize how good she looks now in years to come


    • I’m hoping to reach that point where I just don’t care anymore. But so far, I still care way too much!


  11. I never wore a bikini, but I did wear two-piece swimsuits when I was much, much younger, and I don’t mean a tanking, which is what I wear now because of all the times I have to run to the bathroom. Ah, isn’t getting older grand! I really laughed reading your post because I do the same thing when I’m at the beach. I look around and compare myself with other women who I think are around my same age, and if I come out on top, sad to say, I’m a little smug. How terrible of me!


  12. Wow! I never looked at it like that when I was envying all of the teenagers on the beach. I just figured everyone had self-confidence but me!


  13. Acceptance of oneself is a life long challenge. Love that you are putting into action your words.


  14. “Kids don’t yell too much without brothers and sisters.” Why didn’t anyone tell me this before we had our second kid? Why?! This couldn’t be more true.

    I was deeply saddened when I heard the news about Nora — and just in March while on a road trip I finally read her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. I don’t feel bad about my neck at all — I love my neck and it’s one of my better features. But some day I’ll be wearing turtlenecks in July. After reading it, I wanted to sit and gaze at my neck in the mirror (as she suggested). Great storytelling as always, Nancy.


  15. LOVE this! You always give me something new to think about.
    I don’t go to the beach much, but I go to water exercise at the gym and I do compare myself to others in the class. NOT to the young hotties on the machines. I usually come out ok.


  16. Jiz Andlay

    OMG! I feel like you just crept into my brain and read my thoughts!! Hilarious. Thou shall not apologize to teenage unless thou bitch slaps them.


  17. I went to the beach myself this week, with the words of your previous blog echoing in my ear. But I disregarded your advice because, Iike your husband, I knew I had no intention whatsoever of going in the water. And I burn. Really easily. So no bathing suit for me — I wore my new best friend — the cute maxi dress. I ran in to a group of my a bit younger friends. They all had on bikinis. With about 15 layers of cover up — I never saw a one of them exposed (we are in California — it was cloudy and not a million degrees like everywhere else in the country). And I couldn’t help it, but a bit of me thought “mutton dressed as lamb.” Then I felt guilty, because they are all nice and part of why I feel that way is they look better than I do. Give ’em a few years. Anyway, I don’t really like the beach that much.

    Thanks for articulating what so many of us are feeling!


  18. I really loved this and could completely relate (btw I found you via Dianna’s blog ..)

    My current tankini is shot, the elastic is gone but it’s so comfy and I’m usually the only one at our pool anyways.

    I shopped for a new one recently but the store did 2 unfortunate things: 1) locate the Tankinis and Old Lady styles right next to the cute juniors’ bikinis and 2) all of the sizes were in fonts so small I couldn’t read them without my glasses … which I’d left at home. I darn near dislocated a shoulder trying to get in and out of one top … Ah crap!

    Wonderful empathy you showed for the young Natasha; we’ve all been her and, like you, I wish I’d celebrated and lived my 20s in a bathing suit, too.

    Cheers! MJ


  19. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    I love your staking your claim on the beach strategy–find a spot where the family has only one kid (smile).
    And your comments about bathing suits–so precious. I’ve finally come to terms with my bod–but only because I took up competitive swimming very late in life and I get to see men and women of various shapes in bathing suits every morning and nobody cares what anyone else looks like.
    So thank-you Nora Ephron for giving me the courage to wear a Speedo. Oh, how I’ll miss her essays…but now I’ve found you,, and you’re funny and reflective too.


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