Summers as a family-free NYC teacher can be pretty sweet. You might not have the cash of Wharton-graduated peers to go play in Manhattan, but you’ve got time. Summertime. Even the temporary feel embedded in the sweaty, lethargic hours of teaching summer school feels like a vacation after juggling teenagers and administrivia and department politics and fluorescent lighting for ten months. And if you’re not teaching or serving drinks or painting houses over the summer, Ooh La La! Those summer months are heavenly.
A fellow teacher and I spent a lot of afternoons on Coney Island in bikinis. Not the Coney Island of the Wonder Wheel and Nathan’s — we went farther west. The high-20’s in the land of senior housing were perfect for us. We had a clean and lesser-used bathroom hut and free parking on the street. Away from the goggling and gorging of the boardwalk, there was nothing flashing or thrilling to tempt teenagers who might recognize their teachers. And the Fudgie guy still came by at least once every couple of hours. Perfection.
Waking up past 6 AM was delicious. And soon we’d be on the beach with frozen grapes, PB&J, and foil-wrapped water bottles. Hot sand and blazing sun disinfected and relaxed us. Instead of being inspected by critical teenaged eyes for seven hours a day, we melted into towels and blended in with the other sun-worshippers who didn’t care about seeing or being seen.
These summers early in my teaching career were the only times I ever wore a bikini. During my high school years on a swim team, I never considered wearing a bikini; it made no sense to me. I loved diving and dunking and swimming hard without feeling self-conscious. Bikinis slip and slide and move over a few awkward inches, hardly conducive to water sports. But the Coney Island West beaches were different. Lounging and reading and wading in the waves is made for bikinis. And even my self-conscious body awareness felt pretty darn good when surrounded by octogenarians and retirees on low beach chairs.
I also learned to stop giving a damn about jiggling bellies and wobbling thighs from the strutting women who hailed from Italy, Gravesend, Puerto Rico, Russia, Canarsie, and more confident locales both near and far. Bodies were meant for mobility and soaking in the sun. Bellies were meant to grow warm and brown under the sun. And thighs propped up magazines or gurgling babies; size didn’t matter.
It was during those long, lazy, hot, belly-jiggling summers that I gained a self-confidence in my body that I’d never found during seasons of swim teams and short spans of a belly flattened (temporarily) by diets. I’ve heard that comparison is the thief of joy, and I believe that in many cases, it’s true. But on the beaches of Coney Island during the late 90’s, comparison taught me to appreciate small moments and helped me to love and accept bodies of all shapes and sizes. Including my own.
image from korpita on etsy.