It’s been 11 years since I’ve worn a bikini, but this summer that’s all going to change. I’m leaving all my insecurities behind me, and rocking a bikini like I’m Nicki Minaj in all of her music videos. Here’s the reason why I’ve stayed clear from the itty-bitty swimwear attire. After all, I’m 26 and it’s time to leave my childhood fears behind.
My earliest childhood memories include watching Michael & Janet Jackson music videos and trekking back and forth to different doctors who monitored my back, tracking my ever-worsening scoliosis.
For those of you who don’t know, scoliosis is an abnormal curving of the spine. If left untreated, it can cause major problems like uneven shoulders or leave you looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame. I was very familiar with the condition because my sister, eleven years my senior, was diagnosed with it when I was very young. As I watched her situation progress, worsen, and get corrected, I had many “Are you there God, it’s me, Brittny” moments. I hoped I wouldn’t have the ill-fated experience, but sure enough, it happened. My sister and I live the exact same life as far as illnesses are concerned. She’s me, only eleven years older.
I was seven years old when doctors became concern with my spine. I had to visit various doctors monthly. What started out as a slight bend, gradually turned into a major curve, a ‘S’ shaped curve. Then, to make matters worse, the words I feared spewed out of my doctor’s mouth, “We should look into a back brace.” Despite my apprehension and vanity, I tried to remain positive about the process. Kids wore braces in their mouths all the time. How bad could a brace on my back be?
When my mother gave the okay on getting the specialized brace, I remember having to rub a special cream over my body to create the brace. The cream was cool and apparently hypnotizing because I actually thought the brace would not be that bad. But, as soon as I had to wear it the first time, it was as if my mom had snapped her fingers and I was no longer hypnotized. I was mortified. Attached to my small frame and under my trendy clothes was a bulky monster.
My mother assured me that I was the same cutie patootie that I had always been, but I knew she was doing that things moms do to kids to cheer them up—lying!
I was in the fourth grade when I had to sport the bulky brace to school every day. It was supposed to correct my spine’s curvature, but it seemed like a friend repellent, a people repellent. Everyone called me “Plastic.” PLASTIC! My brace was made of that god-awful material and my super original (barf) classmates decided that the name Plastic was a better fit than Brittny.
As if the taunts from my annoying peers weren’t enough, I had to endure stares from strangers. The bulky plastic appliance made my clothes fit weird. People could always tell that something was going on under them. It was horrible. I felt horrible. I never felt comfortable wearing it. It was hot, sticky, and extremely uncomfortable.
Aside from the stares, the thing itself drove me crazy! Imagine wearing plastic all over your torso during the summer. I had to put cornstarch all over my body to fend off lots of sweating. I don’t know who thought that was the way to go, but there is nothing that can prevent anyone from sweating a pond when there’s a heat wave in New York City and you’re rocking a thick layer of plastic underneath your tank top. I hated warm springs and hot summers. What kid does not like summertime? I had so many complaints.
The only positive about the gross brace I did not have to participate in gym class. I got to sit on the bleachers while my peers got all sweaty playing kickball and learning to do-si-do during the square dance unit. I guess that was not positive enough because I still begged my mother not to make me wear it. She seemed to sympathize, but not enough. I was still forced to wear the brace.
My mom promised that if I wore it, I would not have to have surgery to correct my spine. I was a little leery about that claim because my sister wore had worn one for years and she still had to have surgery. Like I said, my sister is me -- in the future.
Eventually all of my complaining worked. After that school year of endless of humiliation, I told my mom I wasn’t wearing my brace anymore. I felt like a quitter, but I was done with that plastic fiery pit. I couldn’t deal with the bullying, my clothes being stretched out, and being overall uncomfortable anymore. My mom gave in, and I didn’t wear the brace the next school year. I did have to wear it to sleep though. I was not concerned about that. My stuffed animals were less judgmental than my peers.
By the time I was 13, the doctors decided to correct my spine with back surgery. I was fortunate enough to have a school counselor who had the same operation; she was able to console me and prepare me for the surgery and recovery.
After the operation, I would have screws attached to my spine. My counselor explained that I wouldn’t have any issues when going through TSA (except this was right before Sept. 11 and I did, in fact, have issues traveling that following year). She assured me that it wouldn’t take away from my beauty, but the recovery would take some time.
It was August of 2001 when I had the operation and it was a whirlwind. I’m not sure I had anticipated how intense the surgery would be until I woke up after the procedure and thought, HOLY F---, what did I get myself into? Words cannot explain the excruciating pain I had over the course of the month and a half.
And, I had to learn how to walk again. No one prepared me for that! I spent about a week in the hospital, hopped up on morphine, watching Lethal Weapon movies and episodes of the ridiculous soap opera, "Passions." It took about 3 weeks of physical therapy to get me back on my feet, just in time for my first year of high school! The timing couldn’t have been more terrible. But, I made it through. I was determined to enter high school leaving thoughts of Plastic far, far behind.
Leaving my past behind was not as easy as I had hoped. After everything healed, I should have returned to my pre-plastic self, but I didn’t. You see, the surgery had left an unsightly scar on my lower back. It was not as bad as the plastic death that I had been forced to wear, but it was bad enough to create a new issue with my self-esteem.
I became so self-conscious of my back that I threw away any dresses I owned that revealed my scar in any way, and I refuse to wear a bikini or go to the beach. From 2002 and on, I basically never stepped foot on a beach and, if I did, I was always fully clothed.
Despite going to great lengths to hide it, throughout the years, I’ve tried to convince myself to not be ashamed of my scar. I’ve repeated typical self-help lines over and over again. I’ve told myself that I’m beautiful inside and out and a scar, no matter where it’s placed, could never define me.
Still, I have been unable to turn those lines into action.. Even at 26 years old in 2013, I still cringe at the thought of wearing something “scar revealing.” Nearly every romper, jumpsuit, and dress on the market, is made to show some sexy back. I cannot escape it.
I wrote in my journal last month that this summer, while on my family vacation, I must wear a bikini at least for 20 minutes on the beach (start small) every day until I’m comfortable with my body. It’s going to be difficult. But, the only way to face your fears is to face them.
I bought a bikini two years ago that has been collecting dust in my dresser over the years. However, when I’m in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, I plan to face my insecurities and step foot on that beach the same way I did before 2002 and before Plastic.
If people ask questions, I won’t be ashamed. It’s apart of who I am. It tells a story of my growth and I accept it. Hell, maybe I’ll bedazzle it and draw even more attention to it! Who knows?? But, it’s finally time for me to show that I’m comfortable being ME!