Over the winter, I padded up a bit. My once-tight pixie body had melted like wax in the sun. Suddenly all my clothes were too small, but I refused to buy anything larger to cover up, -because I feared it would dull my motivation to get back to fighting weight. So for weeks I sausaged myself into too-tight jeans and tees.
I was sweating summer vacation at the beach - the coming-out party for my bubblegum physique.
The month leading up to our vacation at the shore, I ran every day, sometimes twice a day, and took uphill walks on my lunch hour. I cut out my normal Snickers and Rice Krispies treats, and subsisted on Slim-Fast and salads. I even wore ankle weights to work, under my jeans. (Christ, I swore to myself I wouldn't tell anyone about that.) My arms started looking toned, my bum lifted and my midsection lost some of its tire-tube appearance. I even hit a tanning bed for the first time ever. I was feeling fine.
Day One of vacation. The sun is out, the tide is high and I'm lubed up in the best Banana Boat has to offer. Amidst all the size 2 Jessica Biel look-alikes, I remove my cover-up, revealing my favorite bathing suit, a three-season bikini.
The sun seems to blink - a cloud passing, or is it embarrassed for me? I dive onto the blanket like there'd been gunfire. Then I lie motionless, afraid of attracting attention.
When I finally turn over again, I notice … glances. At me. Hmmm, maybe all that work has paid off. Maybe I should write a thank-you letter to Slim-Fast, see if I can get in a commercial. I work up the nerve to approach the shoreline, maybe build a sand castle or two - and the fastener on my bikini top breaks. I scramble back into the cover-up and slink to the condo to change.
Later, clad in bathing suit number 2 and turning a nice shade of cinnamon brown, I start feeling at ease again, my self-confidence slowly rising from Wish I was wearing a parka to I'm looking pretty damn fine. Hell yeah. Take a look, suckers! I work out! I even make it into the water, letting the waves slide my bikini top around - no actual slips, just brief flashes of whiter skin. Who cares, right? I'm splashing, laughing with my sexy boyfriend, frolicking, canoodling, even. It's all very Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" video.
As we walk back to the condo, I notice my boyfriend's sister up on the balcony. With a telephoto lens. A little nervous, I grab at my sarong-shaped beach towel and drape it over my shoulders.
Later, after a shower, I find my boyfriend and his sister huddled around the camera. They look up slowly, apologetically. Like they're going to tell me I have a week to live. "What?" I ask. Then they exchange looks, like, I don't wanna tell her - you tell her. Finally, she hands me the camera and she mumbles, "I was just trying to get some candid photos. I thought you guys were cute, so I was just …" She keeps apologizing, and I don't understand why.
I take the camera and scroll through the digital pictures. Oh, man, who are those people? Who is that chick, white chicken skin, like a naked yeti, physique like cookie do - oh no. Wait. OH MY GOD. That's my bathing suit! I stare at my boyfriend, silently demanding that he tell me it's all some joke. Instead I am met with … pity? Yup, that's me. That's my body. I shove the camera back.
I'm traumatized. The carrion of every sneaked doughnut, every late-night Big Mac, clings to my frame, for everyone on the beach to see. Then I remember how hot I felt, and that makes it even worse.
Suddenly angry, I run through the photos again, scrutinizing every one as if they showed the Kennedy assassination. I feverishly click back and forth, looking for more details. Was it windy? Was the sun setting, resulting in some sort of lighting trickery? Maybe I was laughing, causing flesh to shake? Eventually I give up. I can find no other explanation for my looking like I belong on the cover of National Enquirer under the headline "Worst Beach Bodies." I'm not Gisele; I'm Rachel Dratch.
My boyfriend tries to help. "Hey, you already have a boyfriend, so who cares?" Sweet and well intentioned, but also confirmation that the pictures didn't lie.
Later - much later - I had to laugh. I'd thought I looked so awesome, and the photos were so bad. But I still had a great time vacationing at the shore. I kept wearing that same bikini as well, even after the paparazzi ambush. I'm no model, starving to stay at size 0. I am a healthy size 7, and I could kick any model's ass.