How I Learned to Love My Bikini Body

Welcome to Clothing Optional, a series in which we test out all the newest products and treatments meant to help us look better naked.

Writer Maya Allen wearing a hot pink bikini on the beach

It took me 25 years to wear a bikini in public. Because my body and I, oh man, we've been through some things. Since this is a safe space, I'll admit that even to this day, I don't 100 percent love my body. And that’s 100 percent okay. I’m all about self-love, and I understand that to fully embrace who I am, I must trust the process. Growing up, I had what many people call “baby fat,” which never really went away like I thought it would. As a black girl in Portland, Oregon, one of the whitest states in America, I wasn’t stick-thin with blonde hair and blue eyes. I was tall with a whole lot of meat on my bones and a head full of afro-textured hair. I wasn’t anything at all like what I saw in the magazines or on television. And my wide hips and growing boobs damn sure didn’t allow me to blend in with my classmates, who didn’t look anything like me. The body images I was constantly bombarded with did not take into account my genetic makeup. So internally, I felt excluded from the narrative of what was considered beautiful in the eyes of America. In turn, this flawed ideal of body standards began to weigh on me.

For years I stayed away from clothing that hugged my curves or showed off any skin. Especially during my body-evolving days of puberty, loose clothes that camouflaged my curves were my go-to. It’s interesting because as I type this, I realize that I’m still confronting these self-defeating thoughts that flooded my mind about my body. Subconsciously, this deeply rooted loathing I had for my protruding stomach and stretch marks that I saw for the first time when I was in middle school was something I tried to ignore. Thankfully, my growth has uncovered this thought and allowed me to do something about it. Even though my exterior personifies the utmost confidence, these negative feelings I had about my body lasted a long time.

Writer Maya Allen in a black bikini sitting in beach cabana

In my mind, a “bikini body” was something I’d never have. I accepted the fact that I’d probably have to stick to one-pieces for the rest of my life. Living in this digital age, we’re constantly inundated with images of models who are a size triple zero and celebs on the big screen who are privileged to pay an arm and a leg for top-of-the-line trainers or get all sorts of surgeries to obtain what they believe is the “perfect body.” It’s statistically unrealistic to have a model body. But what does that even mean? Despite what society says, there’s no such thing as a superior body standard. But there is such a thing as creating your own. In January of 2017, I decided to define a “bikini body” for myself. I was sick of not liking what I was seeing in the mirror. So I made it the most health-focused year of my life. This is when I took control of my thoughts, which in hindsight, changed my life.

I transformed my entire diet and began exploring what all the world of fitness had to offer. Working out became a routine in my life—I found cycling and barre, which I still do three to four times a week, and built support groups of friends who also value healthy lifestyles. It sounds cliché, but when you start seeing physical changes in your body, you feel so accomplished. Not only did I feel disciplined and like I had my shit together, but I also felt healthy on the inside. I didn’t go into this journey with a number in mind for my weight, and I barely weigh myself now. Putting less value on numbers and more on my actual health was the golden rule for me. Staying consistent is an uphill battle I still struggle with today. But when I put lots of greens and healthy proteins in my body, I feel my best. When I incorporate movement in my life through fun workout classes, I feel my best. Prioritizing my health became an honorable act of self-care in my life and my number one stress-reliever.

Writer Maya Allen wearing workout clothing

Watching my body change over time was one of the most motivating experiences of my life. As a natural overachiever, these moments reminded me that I am the only driver in my life, and the directions I go in are up to me. As I got closer to my 25th birthday, an unfamiliar feeling came over me. I was getting ready for a trip to Mexico with my best friends and thought there was no better time to try wearing a bikini for the first time. With the support of my sisters, I knew I could do it. I distinctly remember the day the bikinis I ordered came in the mail. I tried them on in the living room with my roommate, who was also attending the trip. Seconds after trying on the first, I was shocked at how good my body looked. It’d been over a year since I even dared to pull a bikini on top of my curves. And I felt damn good.

My birthday landed on one of the most beautiful days in Cancún. I slipped on my bright pink bikini and that’s when the rebirth of my bikini body came into fruition. This moment marked a transformative time in my life when I felt liberated and carefree. What I prematurely thought my shapely body was “supposed” to look like growing up didn’t matter anymore. I redefined my perception of a bikini body for myself, not anyone else. My mind, body, and soul felt lighter. It was like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I felt like I could walk freely on that beach, take photos, drink champagne, and celebrate every nook and cranny of my body. I’d worked so hard for this and I was celebrating myself, through and through. Later on that evening, I posted an annual picture on Instagram of myself on my birthday. But this time, I was in a bikini. I was floored at all of the comments I received from my followers who were grateful that I had come into my own and was showing off what my mama gave me. I have a feeling that photo encouraged other women to not use apps to physically alter their bodies and instead embrace everything.

Writer Maya Allen sitting poolside in a white bikini

If anything, I hope that we all continue to challenge the notions that have been set before us, like the outdated, limited idea of a bikini body. Work on it for yourself. Show it off for yourself. Wear it for yourself. And don’t ever feel bad for wanting to look amazing in a bikini, for yourself. Stay tuned to my Instagram these next few days because I’m headed to Jamaica and will be wearing lots of bikinis. To think that I once feared them so deeply—it’s amazing what a year can do for you.

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