This is a story about a mistake. That wasn’t.
But it took a while to figure that out.
At business school some 15 years ago, I competed in a business case competition. My idea was a woman’s swimsuit that didn’t reveal your crotch or the particular shape of your ass. A swimsuit you could wear on a boat, for example, with your male boss, male VP, and male coworkers.
This was 15 years ago, when designs like this didn’t exist yet. It was a fabulous idea. I was absolutely confident we were going to win. I even had a letter from Eric Nordstrom endorsing my idea.
We didn’t get out of the opening round.
“I don’t have a problem with body image,” a female judge told me dismissively. She had missed the point – my swimsuit design wasn’t about fat or thin. It was about being comfortable, and neutral, and having fun in the water and sunshine without feeling naked and exposed and assessed.
For a long time afterwards I was deeply embarrassed by this failure. Maybe if I’d had a professional coach at the time, I could have come up with a more constructive perspective, but at the time I just felt crushing humiliation whenever I thought about it.
Fast forward 15 years.
I am helping my 11-year-old daughter pack for a beach vacation. She looks askance at the various one-piece swimsuits and tankinis in front of her.
“Why would I want to sexualize my body like that?” my girl asks me.
My partner and I are nonplussed. Where had she learned that? Certainly not from us — neither he nor I are that articulate or intellectually mature. I figure she must have picked it up from one of her friends’ mothers.
“No, Mama, it was you,” my girl tells me. “It was that business school competition you did.”
And I realize that my swimsuit idea back in school hasn’t been a humiliating mistake after all.
It fact, it is one of my greatest accomplishments. I couldn’t have known at the time, but I was doing it for this 11-year-old girl in front of me.
I would make a mistake like that again any day, all day.