There are only two ways to survive Mumbai’s muggiest summer yet: eat a watermelon a day and live underwater. Needless to say, the swimming pool I frequent is unusually crowded. Cleverly, the administrative staff has covered the pool with a giant green tarp that keeps the sun out and saves you from summer migraines. Nimbu paani runs on tap (yes, it actually is for free), towels are handed out freely and a lifeguard is always bobbing about young kids.
Last weekend I met a lady I hadn’t seen in a while. Anita is 60 and looks it. She has a pretty face, and is curvy in unflattering places. She greets everybody with a big smile. We became friends because of the most unusual of reasons: we were the only two women in the pool who wore bikinis.
As we got chatting all those months ago, I discovered a woman who was still such a girl in a conventional sense. She makes jewellery for a living, not ubiquitous Marwari jadau, but Cartier-Tiffany knock-offs in silver. She loves fashion, she regularly shops at my favourite spots in London’s high streets and gives me tips in great deals in Manhattan’s department stores. She goes out much more than I do (okay, that’s not saying much since I am a famous homebody) and hangs out at some of Mumbai’s swishiest addresses.
Of course age is nothing but a number. But I’ve always been a robust advocate of dressing according to one’s age and body type. Then why is this one woman making me break my hitherto-unflinching code of fashion ethics? I came to realise it is because I actually love her swimwear. Her bikinis are really pretty and stylish, and I have judged her entire personality based on something so, well, flimsy.
Turns out that isn’t such a big deal. I feel terrible for women who refuse to get into a pool because of their body-image issues. The brave ones who do will wear something hideous called a “jogsuit”, a swimsuit which ends at mid-thigh, like cycling shorts do. Then there is something equally frumpy called a “swimdress”, or a swimsuit with a skirt. This is equal to telling people, “Look at my dimpled/varicosed thighs please, I’m hiding them from you!”
Then there is the “tankini” which is such a clever device for women with squishy tummies, like myself. But once you’ve worn a bikini and made it work for you, whatever your size, it’s akin to discovering god. Nothing makes you feel as close to nature as the feeling of swimming in next to nothing.
Wearing a bikini is reclaiming your life. I loved Sonam Kapoor for wearing a two-piece in her last film, Bewakoofiyan, and announcing: “For a former fat girl, body image is a big deal. I did this for myself.” The secret lies in a good swimsuit. Wear one that is trendy, fits you well instead of sagging, and your jiggle-wiggles will matter less. You are, after all, what you wear.