I Found Body Positivity And Freedom At The Water Park

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
Two women posing for camera at the water park
Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

I’ve suffered from eating disorders and body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember. I hate the way that I look and I am constantly criticizing myself. Whether it’s a dimple here or a fine line there, something is always ruining my appearance for me. It’s exhausting.

Recently when my husband suggested we take our kids for a long weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, a chain of indoor water parks, I cringed. I hadn’t been in a swimming suit for a glorious six months and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to wearing one for two whole days. But alas, my four children aren’t getting any younger, and I can’t let my insecurities ruin their fun.

Within minutes of walking into the park, I was stunned. So many women, with so many body types, walking around proudly. There were tall women, short women, thin women and fat. And for every type of woman, there was a different swimming suit. They ranged from modest to probably inappropriate for a family place, but those women didn’t care. They exuded confidence, and they were there to enjoy their children. They didn’t give a shit about the rest of it.

They showed tattoos and funny moles and unshaven bikini lines. And they beamed. They were thrilled to see their children overcome a fear and come racing down a big slide filled with joy. They laughed as their littles splashed in the water and made bubbles with their tiny lips. They made faces at their husbands who were clearly not helping to corral the children. They were living in the moment and they were soaking in it.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

I realized that no one was looking at me in my new black Target tankini. They were watching their children. No one cared that my toes weren’t freshly pedicured or that my eyeliner was bleeding. They didn’t notice my belly that has carried four children and been redefined by two c-sections. No one gave pause to the fact that I’ve decided to go gray and my roots are to my ears. No one looked at me at all, unless to say “hi,” or “excuse me.” They certainly weren’t judging.

But I was judging them. How could they have such confidence? How could they just let it all hang out? How could they just say, “Screw the world! This is me!” I was jealous of them. I wanted to have just an ounce of their spirit.

That weekend I gained a bit of that confidence. Not because suddenly my body changed, but because my kids wanted me around. My 12-year-old son called me to ride slides and my four-year-old daughter yelled, “Mom! Watch me!” I stood in a crowd, soaking wet, without a care in the world. Those were my moments, and I wanted to cherish them.

We laughed and ate Dippin’ Dots and ended the day in the hot tub. We were happy. That’s what it’s all about. Not the swimming suit or the body that’s in it. Your children will never remember what your body looked like, but they will remember yelling and guffawing with you as you careened down a dark tunnel. That’s what matters, not what you looked like doing it.

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