The top three inches of my thighs haven’t seen the light of day for 15 years.

In May of 2001, my BFF Heather got married to a beautiful Frenchman who to this day has yet to lose his accent. A male friend who I happened to be in love with but who also happened to be gay (though he wasn’t out at the time) and I took a Greyhound bus from Maryland down to central Florida. My friend, freshly married and on her honeymoon, let us borrow her car for the week while we were down there.

We went to the beach. I wore a tankini. A skirtless, legs-proudly-on-display tankini. It was black and pink, sort of sporty. That was the last time those three inches of upper thigh were kissed by the sun.

In seventh grade, when the rest of my friends were trying lipstick for the first time, or choking down one of their mom’s cigarettes in an effort to be cool, I sat next to my mom at Weight Watchers meetings. In high school, I once caught a boy measuring how much my butt/thighs extended past the sides of my chair. My mom would routinely refer to our fleshy upper legs as “thunder” or “cottage cheese” thighs. In college, while I was standing in front of a museum, a boy leaned out of his car as he drove by and yelled, “Hey, Fattie!” Because I was having my picture taken at that exact moment, I smiled while he said it.

So I covered myself up. It was just easier to wear more clothes than try to be something I didn’t think I was – beautiful.

I haven’t been taught to love my body very much. And when I do try to, when I pluck up the courage to tell myself I’m beautiful, the universe invariably sends me a test to see if I will stick up for my newfound (and wobbly) confidence. A few years back, for example, in the weeks before I started teaching at a prestigious private school, I immersed myself in the works of Geneen Roth – self-love and emotional eating guru. I felt good about myself for the first time in months, if not years. I wore a cute outfit to the back-to-school night for my department; khaki capris and a blue top with a silk scarf tied in a bow off to the side – very 1950’s. After the parents had left, the school director pulled me aside – she was ancient, though pride kept her going back to the hairdresser every couple of weeks to keep her locks a fiery red color, and she routinely dressed like a retired nun – and told me that my clothes were inappropriate and distracting. That I should consider oversized shirts and long, flowing skirts. I was speechless. A couple days later, I overheard her asking another teacher if I’d gained weight since they’d hired me. Crushed and small, I had once again failed the confidence test.

So I covered myself up. I slump-shouldered my way through a couple of years under her narrowed, judgmental gaze, watched as she publicly belittled grown women and treated them – and me – like garbage. And then, somehow, I got the courage to get the hell out of there.

That was the beginning – a flicker, a spark, a moment – of Me sticking up for Me. Doing Me.

I’ve made innumerable small steps since then, in the direction of loving myself more. I wear dresses now. Show a little leg. I buy clothes that hug my curves. I follow countless plus-sized models and body positive accounts on Instagram, inundating myself with images of curvy women who look healthy, confident, and happy.

I try – I really, truly try – to believe my husband when he tells me I’m sexy, or beautiful, or worthy, or amazing. I can believe the “amazing” thing pretty easily – I am a pretty cool chick – but “sexy?” That still makes me laugh in that unbelieving, self-depricating way, like the schoolgirl whose thunder thighs always spilled over her seat.

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I’ve made huge progress, but I still cover a lot of myself up, especially in the summer. I’m still the girl who’s sopping, dripping wet fives times longer than all of the people in bikinis because all that extra fabric in the tankini top and modestly skirted bottom holds on to what seems like gallons of water. The girl who will only lift up the shirt of her tankini to tan her belly when she’s safely flat on her back in a lounge chair, with her rolls blessedly dispersed to the sides so her stomach has the illusion of being flatter than it is when she stands up.

But I really, really, really, really, really want to be a Bikini Girl.

I’ve been secretly trying to get up the courage to do it for years. Logged onto Swimsuits For All almost every day to gaze at the confidently curvy, bikini-clad models, wishing I could be that brave. I silently applaud the women I see at the beach that are my size – or bigger – but don’t give a damn about what a Bikini Girl is “supposed” to look like and wear a bikini and you can see all of their wobbly bits. All of them.

And I follow Ashley Graham. I double-tap her posts on Instagram, I cheer for her when she makes history, as she recently did when she became the first plus-sized cover model in the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I watch her spots on Good Morning America where she proclaims that you can be healthysexyhappysuccessfulfantastic at any size.

And then I watched this video of her walking – no – owning a runway:

And then, before my fear could talk me out of it, I logged onto Swimsuits for All and bought three bikinis.

They’re coming on Tuesday. I’m terrified. I’m ecstatic. I’m actually thinking about getting a bikini wax. Me. But why not me? Why can’t I strut around with my belly showing, my legs on display, and feel good about myself? Why not?

Why not? I can’t think of a good reason not to anymore. A good, valid reason, based on logic instead of anxiety. Love instead of fear. There are no reasons not to.

Well, except for the sheer terror I experience when I think about actually walking down to a pool, finding a lounge chair, putting my bag down, and taking off my cover-up. There’s that reason.

But what better way to debunk that reason, take away its power, kick it to the curb, than to take it head on? To hip-check it out the door with my lovely, thick, wide, beautiful hips?

Thunder thighs gonna bring a storm.