The eight-month-pregnant body I am squeezing into a bikini this summer is, needless to say, very different from the one I fretted over during so many summers past.
A spray tan, for one thing, is on the banned-substance list. I have also taken hiatus from the annual spring hunt for a new swimsuit. An old one, with adjustable ties, is doing just fine for my current proportions. But while I have an excuse for not looking my best on the beach this summer, plenty of other women are not so fortunate.
For many, there is instead an expectation that the flaccid flesh and pale skin that has spent the cooler months under tights and coats will somehow vanish, or at least noticeably diminish, when summer rolls around, revealing a thinner, smoother and browner version of themselves.
From September to December the glossy magazines trumpet the bikini body and the methods required to attain it, from seven-day diets and exercise plans to the pros and cons of salon and do-it-yourself tanning options and hair-removal techniques. Even the hair on your head receives attention - although rather than being removed, this must instead be protected from sun, surf and sand with conditioning treatments before it is styled with a sea-salt spray for that fresh-off-the-beach, tousled look.
Despite a nervous financial climate, Australians - let's face it, Australian women - are investing in their appearance like never before.
Overall, Australians will spend an estimated $6990 million this financial year on their personal appearance, up from the $5880 million spent in 2010-11, according to market research from business information analysts at IBISWorld. Such spending reaches a frenzied peak as the bikini body emerges from its cold-weather cocoon to be displayed and judged.
How it is judged depends, of course, on the standards of the beach on which it is revealed. It is a brave woman indeed who will join the body-beautiful crowds on the sands of beaches such as North Bondi, Tamarama or Wategos in Byron Bay this summer without having endured a lengthy, expensive and painful ritual of beautifying treatments. Hair removal is among the musts, as is a decent pedicure. Optional extras include cellulite treatments and eyelash extensions.
The Holy Grail of bikini preparation, however, is the spray tan. An all-over glow invested with other mythical properties such as making a woman look slimmer and more toned, it is a bizarre and logistically difficult procedure.
To start, all body hair must be removed before the spray tan. Waxing, particularly, must be done at least 48 hours before in order to allow the hair follicles to close and avoid skin taking on the appearance of spotty orange peel.
''The spray tan is particularly demeaning because you are naked and there is a woman with a hose who asks you to slowly turn around for her. It is like Silence of the Lambs,'' says a beauty writer for The Sun-Herald's Sunday Life magazine, Natalie Reilly.
''This is not a rare thing that just a few people who are obsessed with celebrity are doing.
''That is the thing about beauty - no matter how brown you are, you still want a spray tan; no matter how hairless you are, you still want a wax, because there is no greater terror than lying next to someone on the beach who has put in that bit more effort than you.''
While maintaining one's appearance might have long been a female concern, the effort, investment and reasons for doing so have changed.
''In the 1960s it was all fairly do-it-yourself,'' says Marion von Adlerstein, who worked in advertising in Sydney and London before becoming a writer for Vogue Australia. ''You did your best to get a suntan in the backyard using a bit of olive oil and then you would bake yourself to death at Bondi or Tamarama. Most women shaved their legs or used hair-removal creams.''
By the 1970s, however, the bikini had become de rigueur and, with it, the bikini body.
Shapely icons such as Brigitte Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor were replaced by the athletic proportions of Raquel Welch and co, and in the 1980s by supermodels such as Elle Macpherson and Cindy Crawford.
Genelle Walkom, who has designed for swimwear label Seafolly for 20 years, says that although the young women of today are less ''gym-obsessed than they were in the 1980s'', they are removing a lot more hair and using more treatments, tans and beauty products to prepare for the beach.
Today, she says, if you can't change the body, you can at least change the bikini.
''When I started, you had to be pretty thin and perfect and fit to wear a bikini. They were cut away with nothing much except a front or a back,'' she says.
''Now there are shapes with enhancements in them. It is not about young girls wanting that itsy-bitsy bikini any more; the triangle-bra styles with no padding in them are least-selling style. Now it's all about bra shapes.''
What has boomed, Walkom says, is the expectation for women to have a beachwear wardrobe.
''If you are a young girl at the moment, you are likely to have three or four bikinis in your drawer. You can wear different bikinis for different occasions, such as a barbecue or a pool party or the beach.''
The investment in the bikini, however, is minor compared with the cost of bikini-body upkeep.
Von Adlerstein says it used to be that women made themselves beautiful to get a man.
''You never bought your own perfume. The primary aim now is almost self-love and it is a very different approach to marketing. Women have more money and they are encouraged to spend it on themselves.
''When I was working in advertising, there wasn't this attitude of self-indulgence. Rather, there was supposed to be a bit of guilt about lavishing too much on yourself. Now it is all about me, me, me.''
Reilly, however, says there are more sinister forces at work. The time, cost and anxiety required for a beach-ready body have little to do with self-indulgence, she says, and much more to do with fear and self-loathing.
''It is the fear and dread of being the only fat, white, hairy woman on the beach,'' she says.
''We are living right in the middle of a celebrity raunch culture and to be a woman is to measure up with Kim Kardashian or a porn star. If you can make women feel inadequate, then you can sell them virtually anything.
''Because, if given the choice, there is so much involved. I think it would be hard to find a woman who says 'I like getting hosed down by a stranger in a dark room. I like getting hair ripped out by the roots.' That is not 'me time', that is terror time. It is not about being the prettiest; it is about not being the ugliest. You don't want to be 'the manager'.''
Or, in my case, ''the mum''. I am all too aware that come this December, the pressure to balance chubby babe on slender hip as I make my way to the beach will be only greater. My body must be among the thinnest, brownest and smoothest, for fear of being viewed as the one who let herself go. For now, I will wallow in the bliss of my viable and all-too-visible excuse for not looking my best.