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Boost Your Bathing Suit Confidence

How to Feel Your Best When You're Baring It All
  -- By Ellen G. Goldman, Certified Wellness Coach
While training one of my clients, we had a conversation that left me thinking for days. Elaine has been exercising with me for over 10 years, is in her seventies, and truly one of my role models. Her high energy, devotion to staying fit and healthy, and positive attitude towards life—along with her trim and toned body—were things that I admired.

I mentioned how happy I was that I had bought some new bathing suits before a winter vacation, and thus could avoid the dreaded bathing suit shopping that we all embark on come spring. (Yes, I too, put bathing suit shopping on the top of my list of things I prefer to avoid.)

Elaine replied, "I haven't worn a bathing suit in over 20 years." I was shocked and confused. This is a woman who travels to Florida a few times each winter, has a beautiful pool in her backyard that her grandchildren play in all summer, and has a body most 70-year-olds would envy. Why in the world would she deny herself the joys of swimming and playing in the pool or lounging on the Florida beaches?

Her answer: "I can't stand to have my body that bare for the world to look at. It's wrinkled, flabby and old!" Her response was upsetting. If someone like Elaine, a self-assured, confident and smart woman, has body image issues, is there hope for any of us? And, will these feelings follow us through life, into our 70s, 80s and beyond? How in the world did it get like this?

At this time of year, the warm weather can dramatically affect our body images. We shed our bulky sweaters and jackets, no longer able to hide our bodies from the outside world. Shorts replace pants, spaghetti straps replace long sleeves, and of course, a visit to the beach bares even more!

Media headlines all share a common theme, promoting quick weight loss, summer shape-ups, and choosing the right bathing suit to hide your flaws. Their message is loud and clear: You can't possibly be thin enough, toned enough or strong enough. Even the most confident might begin to doubt their body is ready to be exposed to the world. And if you have been working on weight loss or improving fitness, whatever progress that's been made is quickly forgotten when the focus is on how far from "summer ready" you are. Many end up dreading the season that should be filled with fun!

Your body is the vehicle that carries you from place to place, and allows you to do activities that you enjoy and that make life exciting. Your body does not define who you are as a person. Of course I advocate that you do all in your power to treat it well by eating nutritious foods, exercising, getting the sleep you need and controlling stress so that you stay healthy and strong. However, we shouldn't let worrying about how we look effect our ability to engage in life and enjoy what's going on, no matter what the season or mode of dress.

With some thought and awareness, it is possible to begin feeling better about ourselves, quiet the inner critic, and enjoy bathing suit season. There are loads of tips to help you choose a bathing suit that fits you well, accentuate your best features and put your best presence forward, some of which I will share. But first, let's take a look at how you can begin to not just look better, but feel better.

Body image is a funny thing; it is not based on facts, but on emotions. And it is ever changing, sensitive to our moods, the environment, circumstances, and our physical experiences. Our body image is a learned behavior, shaped by our families, peers, culture, and most definitely by the media.

Interestingly, body image is affected more by your self-esteem than your actual physical attributes. So the best place to begin improving how you feel about your body is to work on how you feel about yourself. The first step is to become aware of your self-talk. Start noticing the things you tell yourself throughout the day. What you say about yourself ultimately is what you feel, and greatly affects your self-esteem.

If the constant chatter in your mind is sending messages such as "I'm not good enough", "I look so fat in this", or "I'll never accomplish this goal", then that is what you will believe. Keep in mind that everyone has feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt at times. But those with a stronger self-esteem learn to quiet those feelings, talk back to their inner voice, and reframe thoughts to ones that are more positive and encouraging.

Stop the negative self-talk. Rick Carson, in his wonderful book, Taming Your Gremlin, tells us:
You are not your body. Bodies are constantly changing masses of matter. You are not your personality. Personalities are networks of behaviors that emerge from a matrix of beliefs we hold about who we are. We're not our beliefs. Beliefs are just opinions we develop loyalty to. And we're not our thoughts. We have thoughts.
So what are we? Carson says we are our life. And, "You get the consciousness to appreciate your gift of life and respond to it however you would like, moment to moment and day to day." Now I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty exciting. It means we get to rewrite our story every day, and we should strive to make it one we love!

To become confident and self-assured, act confident and self-assured. Work on building your self-esteem everyday. Look in the mirror, smile at yourself and send yourself an abundance of love. Take a moment to acknowledge all you have done that's been good, no matter how small. "I am a kind and caring person. I called Mary to see how she was feeling after her operation." "I am organized and efficient, and was able to put a healthy meal on the table for my family even after a hectic day." "I am a great accountant and my clients appreciate the work I did for them this tax season."

Start your day with the right mind-set. Believe that you will have a good day and be able to handle all that comes your way, no matter what's on your calendar. Walk tall, smile, and allow the best of you to shine through. Think of the things others like about you: your sense of humor, your ability to be objective, your listening skills. Look for opportunities to utilize those attributes daily.

When you find yourself feeling embarrassed and worried that everyone is looking at you and your imperfections, stop and remind yourself that most are too busy worrying about themselves to even notice your concerns.

Take time to appreciate all your body does for you. Your legs carry you up the stairs, your thighs give you a lap to bounce your nephew up and down, and your arms lift groceries from your car and carry your children. No matter what size or shape, your body is miraculous.

Work on setting and accomplishing small, realistic goals. Our confidence soars when we complete tasks, and do what we promise ourselves we set out to do. If you've set a goal to exercise twice this week, and you did, acknowledge your success, even if the ultimate goal is to be exercising four times a week.

And, speaking of exercise, research has shown that self-esteem improves as individuals include exercise into their routine. Even a single bout of exercise has been shown to make people feel better about their bodies and themselves. So perhaps a power walk would be a great way to feel better before putting on your swimsuit and heading out for a day in the sun.

Now that you are in the right mindset, thinking positively and appreciating all you love about yourself, you will still want to make the effort to look your best. There is no doubt that when you take the time to appear put together, you end up feeling better.

Here are a few tips to put the best you forward during bathing suit season.
  1. Shop for the bathing suit that fits your body well. Swimsuit technology has dramatically improved, allowing you to accentuate your most likable features and minimize those you are the most self-conscious about. There are loads of two-piece suits available which let you purchase a different size for your top and bottom. If you are lucky enough to have a bathing suit specialty shop in your area, skip the department store and head there. The sales personnel will be well trained in helping you find the best fitting and most pleasing suit.
     
  2. Buy a suit you love, not just one you think makes you "look thinner." Rather than black, pick a color or pattern that makes you happy, and shows off your eyes and skin color.
     
  3. Choose a cover-up that fits beautifully. Hiding behind a big tank will make you feel frumpy and actually make you look larger. There are wonderful wraps, swim skirts and dresses that you will enjoy wearing.
     
  4. Have fun with accessories. Purchase fabulous sunglasses and a colorful floppy hat to shield you from the sun's rays. These will draw attention to your face, not your body. If you love fun jewelry, don't be afraid to wear it to the beach or pool. Inexpensive colorful, waterproof watches are all over the stores these days.
     
  5. Pay attention to your grooming. A great summer haircut, manicures, pedicures, leg waxing, faux tans, and waterproof make-up will make you feel better and put together.
Don't let worries of how you look in a swimsuit spoil your summer fun. We are at our best when we are engaged in experiences that make us happy. Feel the warmth of the sun (but don't forget your sunscreen), bask in the coolness of the ocean or pool, relax in the comfort of family and friends around you, and be grateful that the lazy days of summer have finally come around again.

Sources
Bouchez, Colette. "Skinny or Not, How to Look Hot at the Beach," accessed April 2011. www.medicinenet.com.

Canfield, Jack. The Success Principles. 2005. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Carson, Rick. Taming Your Gremlin. 2003. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Lightstone, Judy. "What is Body Image and How Do You Improve It?," accessed April 2011. www.healthyplace.com.