Thirty years ago today, Can’t Buy Me Love, the classic 80s rom-com, hit theaters. Cindy Mancini, played by the late Amanda Peterson, giggled with her girlfriends in her white VW Rabbit and found herself feeling like more than friends with Ronald Miller, a pre-McDreamy Patrick Dempsey.
Growing up, I watched this movie over and over again with my sisters. We quoted lines like “He went from totally geek to totally chic.” and imitated the pumping chest and high-five hands Ronnie made popular at the school dance.
I loved this movie, and each time I watched it, I wanted to be Cindy Mancini a little bit more. I wanted her easy beauty, the long, blonde beach waves and sun-kissed cheeks. I wanted the figure that peek-a-booed out of her denim, button-down cover up. I wanted her popularity and her natural ease around the other kids at school.
Most of all, though, I wanted the outfit at the center of the movie’s plot, the white suede, three-piece suit that Cindy steals from her mother’s closet for a friend’s party. I watched Cindy move through the house, the high-waisted pencil skirt shaping her hips and the cropped bolero open over my very favorite part, the soft-fringed bralette. The white suede fabric hugged her chest, and the long fringe dangled down to her flat, tanned stomach.
When I finally made it to high school myself, I wasn’t allowed to wear crop tops like Cindy’s. Once or twice, I pulled the outfit fake-out, wearing a longer shirt that I’d remove once out of the house, revealing my midriff top underneath.
For the most part, though, my stomach was only out on the beach and at the pool, and as I tried to find my own summer style, I forgot about the white, fringed fantasy. Instead, I went for tropical patterns and fluorescent neons.
As I grew older and moved through college, I chose floral prints or lace-trimmed pinks.
It wasn’t until I turned thirty myself that I began to shy away from two-piece swimsuits. I was older, and my body was changing. I was no longer thrilled with my stomach that had softened and widened with age. And now, instead of laying on a lounge chair in the sun, deliberately stretching my torso as I did, I was running after my children, bending down to fix their water shoes and slumping over a towel to change their diapers.
For the past six years, one pieces were my only choice of bathing suit. My favorite is last year’s find: a red, vintage-style, ruched all the way from chest to navel. It’s shapely and flattering and makes me feel smooth and pretty.
But one day this summer, I sat in my sister’s yard with a few of our girlfriends while our kids swam in the pool.
And I noticed something. They were still wearing two-piece bathing suits. Their bodies were not Hollywood perfect. All of their stomachs weren’t flat and toned, but they still looked awesome to me. Calm and comfortable.
I wondered if I could do the same. Sure, my stomach was different nowadays but could I embrace it anyway? Could I wear a two piece again? In front of people? Outside of my own house?
I went home and shopped online for an hour. I filled my cart with swimsuit after swimsuit, anything I felt could make me more comfortable: a boy short bottom with a little more coverage, tops with extra fabric that hung down or wrapped around.
As I stood in my bedroom two days later, I slipped bottoms on and off and lifted top after top over my head.
And then I found the right one. The moment I had put it in my cart, Cindy popped into mind. And when I pulled it from the package, tied the skinny strings around my neck and the thicker ones around my back, I looked in the mirror and smiled. A white, fringed bralette. The lycra fabric swooped around my chest, and the long fringe hung down, tickling my skin.
Saturday, I wore the top outside on the beach of the Jersey shore. My girlfriends and I sat on blue-striped hotel towels, the sand scratchy on our skin. I sat with my legs criss-crossed. I stretched my feet in front of me and leaned back on my hands. My skin felt soft. My hair was wavy and easy in the beach breeze. I felt good. I felt young and sexy. All the while, in white fringe.
I finally got to be Cindy! I fulfilled one of my preteen, pop culture fantasies. Sure, I would never move to Beverly Hills and win the heart of the bad boy surfer or meet a squat, old lady who revealed my secret magical powers. But I did get to be Cindy.
It was my stomach, bare and exposed on that beach. It was my body and my skin, and it all felt amazing.
We all idolize the perfect women on our screens. We want their contoured cheekbones, their long legs, and white smiles. But are we doing harm when we compare ourselves to these women, often representatives of the thin ideal? Plenty of research has been done to answer this question, and while it can’t be definitively said that idolizing or comparing ourselves to celebrities leads to lower self esteem, it does seem to be a contributing factor.
But what if we found a new way to idolize these women? What if we found a way to emulate them while celebrating ourselves? I am not really Cindy Mancini; my body and face are nothing like hers. But wearing that top made me feel like Cindy, and that made me feel the confidence and self-assurance that I always admired in her.
Maybe that’s the way to do it. If we just have a little fun. If we try out a hairdo we see on our favorite star or a makeup look from the red carpet, we won’t need to be these celebrities anymore. Instead, we’ll love being us, and we’ll start to see ourselves through the same beautiful lense through which we see them.
Guest Blog: Kimberly Rex
Kimberly Rex is a freelance writer and blogger at WhenMommyMetRosie.com. She lives in Staten Island, NY with her husband and two daughters. You can often find her breaking her new phone, silently correcting grammar (her own included), and overanalyzing all things. Follow her on Facebook.