Confession: I Won't Wear a Bathing Suit in Public

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Swimsuit season is almost here, and while I love summer, I downright DREAD the skimpy clothes that come with it. I can handle sleeveless shirts. I'll even sport shorts on occasion. But I am too uncomfortable with my own body to wear a bathing suit in public. Call me prudish, but we don't parade around in our underwear in front of strangers, so why do we wear bathing suits that leave about as much to the imagination as a bra and panties? Doesn't anyone besides me think that's a bit odd?

I admit though, I don't avoid the pool or the beach because of prudishness (although that could be a tiny part of it). The real reason is that I'm embarrassed to wear a bathing suit in public, and that self-consciousness has kept me from doing so for 8 years!

While I have come a long way, after struggling with an eating disorder in college and learning how to treat myself better without expecting perfection, I have to be honest. I haven't fully accepted my own body yet, and I'm definitely a long way from really loving it. My friends and family think I'm CRAZY to not wear a swimsuit. They assure me that I look great and that no one will be analyzing me. My best friend (who has a pool in her backyard, that I won't jump into unless it's dark outside!) confidently says that bathing suits don't offer any surprises—that you can pretty much tell what a person's body looks like, even when they're fully dressed.

None of this helps me. First, all the people in the world can tell me that I look good and it won't matter—what matters is how I feel about myself. Second, in my head, everyone IS analyzing and silently judging me, and I "know" what they're thinking: Her stomach doesn't look very good; she has cellulite on her thighs; she should be more toned since she's a fitness expert. And I can counter my best friend's claim, too. I strongly disagree that you can tell what a person's body looks like when they're clothed. I feel great about myself in clothes because I know how to dress well for my body shape. Plus, clothes hide those imperfections in skin tone, and the lumps and bumps of a less-than-hard body.

What's more likely is that I'm projecting my negative feelings about myself onto others. I think that I should look better because I'm a fitness expert, but others probably don't think that (or even care). I think that I should look perfect to be "allowed" to wear a bikini, but there are no rules about that. And I feel safe and confident in my daily wardrobe, but that's probably just because it's normal and habitual whereas wearing a swimsuit is not. Most likely, I've built this event up to be something more important and powerful than it really is. I know it's silly. I know that many people would trade in their bodies for mine in a heartbeat. I know that there are way more important things in life than worrying about how you look. Still, it's a source of struggle for me, and I can't really explain why.

All I know is that I've missed out on fun opportunities (going to the pool with my friends, relaxing on the beach with my family) and I've been hot and uncomfortable on unbearably warm summer days. All because I'd rather cover up than wear a bikini in front of others. I've decided that I'm too young to have avoided a bathing suit for nearly 10 years, and I'm sick of sitting on the sidelines over something as trivial as the shape of my body (which I only have so much control over). Moreover, I'm extremely concerned about passing my negative thoughts or body issues on to my future children, especially if I have daughters. Even though I'm years away from that, it's motivation enough for me to get used to wearing a bathing suit, say good things about myself, and focus on the positive traits that REALLY matter because I'd never want my own kids to deal with the unrealistic body and eating issues that I've dealt with.

So I've set a goal for myself this year, and I've started to tell others about it. My goal is to wear my bathing suit in public, at the pool, on vacation—anywhere that it's appropriate. And I'm going to do it this summer. It's been a long time coming.

Two catalysts helped me arrive at and set this goal once and for all, and I hope that they'll help you, too.

First, Coach Dean blogged recently about exercises he wouldn't do in public because he felt too self-conscious about his body. One of his comments in particular resonated with me (emphasis added):

"These days, I rarely worry enough about how other people might see me to let that restrict my activity. And it's not just because I've lost a lot of weight. It's because I made myself do the things that made me feel uncomfortably self-conscious, until it was no longer a problem. I think that's much more powerful than simply trying to talk yourself into accepting your body."

I've decided that's exactly what I'll do. Like my bathing suit phobia, I didn't wear shorts for several years—in fact, I just started wearing them last year. While I was uncomfortable and felt almost naked at first, the novelty wore off and now I can do it comfortably without feeling weird. It gets easier each time and I realize that no one cares about my legs or pays attention to them as I once thought. I think that by wearing my swimsuit enough, I'll get over my fears and feel more comfortable, even if I haven't accepted my body; if I waited for that fateful day, it might never happen.

Second, one member (GRANCY) left a comment on that post of Dean's that offered some of the best advice I've heard in a while. In fact, I've turned it into my own personal mantra, one that I'll surely tell myself once swimsuit season arrives. She said (emphasis added):

"If people have a problem with you, it's THEIR problem, not yours. You're doing something about improving yourself. That's AWESOME! Please, for the sake of YOU, take a big breath, hold your head high, and try that something that you've been avoiding. I have a feeling you'll wind up having fun and wonder what all the fuss was about."

I hope that this confession has been eye opening for some. Body image is a real issue for people of all shapes and sizes, and it's not a problem you can solve just by losing weight or toning up. It has to come from within, regardless of what you look like from the outside, and it's something all of us should work on improving no matter where we are in our lifestyle journeys (myself included). So who's ready to conquer their fears and hit the beach with me this summer?

Have you ever let your own self-consciousness stop you from enjoying certain aspects of your life? How do you feel about wearing a swimsuit? Have you learned to accept your body, just as it is right now?

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I went to Hawaii and for some reason was on the beach myself. I definitely didn't want to be in a suit. I hadn't been in many years. Well, I decided to go for it. People always tell me "no one cares" and it shouldn't matter etc. I walked to a little space in the sand and it was really crowded. I took off my top and heard some Australian men in their 20s yell "a great white whale' I was absolutely mortified. I laid down but as soon as they went in the water I slithered away.

I don't think I've been in a suit since. That was 25 years ago. So I get annoyed when people tell me that no one notices. Being 25 years older I understand they were shallow young men and I would give them a tongue lashing now. But, nothing can take away that humiliation for me. I never told my husband what happened. It was our 25th anniversary trip. Report
VHAYES04 5/21/2020
Ty Report
I'll bet you look beautiful in a bathing suit, Coach Nicole! Report
I wear bathing suits with skirt bottom Report
I would label this one, "True Confession!" Report
I'm too self-conscious to be seen in public in something as skimpy as a bathing suit. I have a pool in my own backyard. I just wait till it gets dark and swim naked! Report
There are three reasons I haven't worn a swimsuit in years: 1. I don't like how I look in a swimsuit. 2. I sunburn too easily, and there are just too many places I can't reach to put sunscreen on. 3. The bloody pool at my apartment complex closes right about the time I get home from work. Report
Nope will not wear a bathing suit Report
Great article Report
I do wear swimsuits (almost 60, under 5'4" and 30 lbs. or so overweight. HowEVER, my bathing suits tend to look like skating costumes or tennis outfits, LOL! (I think they call it a "swimdress"?) ANYway, hides a MULTITUDE of extra pounds! Report
I love pools and beaches but have not donned a swimsuit in ages because I haven't been able to find swimsuits that would fit me- very short, overweight, and over 70. If I were young I would start a plus size petite company. Report
I do not like myself in a bathing suit. I have excepted my body for the most part. I keep working at it. Report
I can't even remember the last time I wore a swimsuit. My goodness!I It's proabably been almost 40 years...maybe longer Report
Some of the tankinis are more like shorts and a tank top, just made of material that can take water/swimming. The shorts even have an inner underpants, so there is not fear of exposure there. The top has a bra inside and is tight enough above and below the bust so that stays in place even with activity. You would not be showing anything more than you are on an everyday basis in regular clothes that you might be wearing for hot summer weather. Or wear shorts with underpants under it, a sports bra and a tank top. Report
I also haven't worn swimsuits for a long time even around family until last summer when I realized they don't care what I'm wearing they just want to have fun with me. Report
Being bigger most of my life, I hated swimsuits. Having lost more than 100 lbs has given me loose skin, but I decided to celebrate w/ a bikini! It's a high waist bikini, but it's not something I imagine I'd ever wear. When I did my big celebration trip to NZ, I wore it and no one stared. Not being a fan of showing myself in general, whether it's a bikini or a cleavage revealing top, I don't really enjoy it. There's nothing wrong w/ preferring to cover up, neither is flaunting it is you want. There are ways to enjoy whatever you want to, despite what you're wearing. Report
I recently met my "goal" weight, and went to Walmart and bought a swimsuit. I am modest anyway, unrelated to my weight, so chose a one-piece--plus chose some "shorts" kind of things that were also there, and matched the bathing suit. That solved the problem for me! It seems a lot of people don't want to bare it all just to go have fun in the water... Report
I don't go out of my way to wear my one piece bathing suits for basically the same reasons everyone has mentioned, modesty, etc. plus I actually can't handle that much sun in the middle of the day. I love the beach though and am happy to go in early morning or later evening and get clothes wet even if I'm not wearing a bathing suit. The bikini thing - yea - no more wear that than I would in my underwear...but the one piece or the tankini and longer short/skirt type two pieces that are very covering and modest, I wear one of those. That usually means I'm on vacation far away from home, so I am probably less hung up about being on the beach with "strangers" than with the judgmental flatlanders who flaunt themselves at a local public swimming pool with their tanning-bed tans... Report
I refuse to wear a bathing suit (bikini or one piece) in public for the exact reason you've stated - it's not different than appearing in public in my underwear. I'm not comfortable with exposing so much of my body - attractive or not. Report
I realize it's been a few years since you wrote this, but it's a wonderful essay. Well done! Report
I love going to the beach and I always wear a swim suit but I have always worn a shirt over it to cover up with shorts (before it used to be a big t-shirt but now it's just a tank [so I'm getting more comfortable with showing more skin?]). Even when I was my goal weight years ago I never felt comfortable enough to wear a bikini in public (and don't think I ever will). But I do want to be comfortable enough to at least just wear a swim shirt and a swim suit bottom because I am training for an open water sea swim and the less baggy the clothes I wear the easier it will be for me to swim. Besides most of the time I'll be in the water, who is going to see me? Report
I don't wear a swim suit in public, but not because I'm self-conscious. It's because my wearing a suit in public is just obscene. Due to my less-than-standard body composition, one piece suits don't fit me. I'm not the same size on top as on the bottom. Two piece suits are designed, apparently, to flaunt. I have 40GG breasts. There are kids at the pool. NO. I hate girls who show that much cleavage at the pool. My 11-year-old son is there! Cover at least half of your bosom, please. I can't do that. I wear a suit with a swim shirt over it unless I'm swimming at night with my husband and no kids around. It leaves me with a lovely farmer's tan, but what can you do? Report
I love the comment about bathing suits not revealing any surprises! I feel that way even if I don't feel comfortable in a bathing suit! Report
This is so odd to me because I've NEVER not worn a bathing suit. I've been everything from a size 4 (edging close to a 2) to a size 20 in my adult life. I've worn everything from a bikini to a skirted one piece but I have never not worn a suit. I LOVE the water. Worrying about what I look like never crosses my mind there. Report
I see you wrote this a few years ago. I hope you've changed your mind since then. While I can certainly understand your lack of enthusiasm for bikinis, not wearing a bathing suit is not hurting anyone but you. At my heaviest, I weighed more than 300 pounds. Never once did I think twice about wearing a suit or swimming. It's my life and I'm going to enjoy it any way I can. Trust me, almost no one cares and the one or two that do generally have their own problems. Stop thinking that you are so noticeable; most likely no one even pays attention to your suit. Report
I get really frustrated that all the swimsuits in the uk have been cut with high legs and low tops for years. It's almost impossible to find anything that covers you adequately or looks flattering unless you pay really high prices. I have generally worn long mens swim shorts over my bikini which I can remove once I lie down on the beach to sunbathe surrounded by pop up tents, rucksacks etc to screen me. I hate people staring at me but I love the sun and the sea on my skin it helps my health. Report
As a guy, it pains me to read articles like this and the comments. I know what guys think isn't even a concern in most of these cases, but if it helps in the slightest - I think most women look terrific in bikinis, regardless of your size or shape. I don't have any "ideal" and believe any woman should be able to wear a bikini without some kind of ridiculous "standard" set by fashion magazines.

A bikini is just an outfit. You don't have to be a certain age, height, weight, skin tone, etc. regardless of what any magazine says. When I see a woman uncomfortable at the pool, wearing shorts or some big frumpy suit with a cover up and are self-conscious, it's a shame.

From what I see, Europeans have the right attitude - you see big guys in Speedos and women of all shapes and in their 60's and 70's all in bikinis. They don't wear big one-pieces. And "Boy Shorts" are for boys, that's why they're called that.

The best quote I've seen: "How to Get a Bikini Body - Put a bikini on your body"

Frank Report
Given your history, it does sound like a phobia. But I've never liked revealing swim suits and was really happy when surf shorts for women started showing up in stores. Bonus: no more chafing at the elastic line from razor burn... Report
I'm in reasonably good shape but I still don't - and won't - wear a bikini because they're just too bare for me. I am perfectly comfortable in a one piece suit with a skirt so that's what I wear. I agree with others who have suggested starting with a more modest suit instead of forcing yourself to take on the most extreme challenge at the outset. Report
Can't say that my weight has ever been a factor in wearing a bathing suit it public. I live in CA and not far from the beach and I love going to the beach, especially in the summer.

However, my weight has always been a factor in the kind of bathing suit I wear. It wasn't until this summer (after losing 52lbs) that I felt comfortable in a 2pc suit. For years, I have always worn a 1pc and for many years, I wore the skirted kind of suit that covered my hips and tush. Wearing a smaller 2pc was such an incredible feeling! And I looked hot too!!! Report
I can also relate to this post. I was even heavier when I was in highschool and always felt self conscious about swimming in front of anyone that wasn't close family. It was a big bummer because I LOVE to swim.

Over the years I've gotten more comfortable with myself and it's been a slow upgrade process with my suits. I used to wear those bathing suit/shorts combos, but now I wear a short skirted tankini. Next year I plan to drop the skirt part. And while I agree I always felt bikinis were no different than parading around in your underwear, it would be nice to eventually not feel unhinged wearing one. Report
I would suggest that you buy a swimsuit, that is similar in style to the shorts and tops that you wear. To get ready for swimsuit or going to the pool, I desensitive myself by walking around my house in the swimsuit. I do not have a lot of people watching me, but it is a good warm up for me. Report
I can really relate to this thread. I literally have bags of skin hanging from my inner thighs, and believe me, exercise does not help. Surgery is just not an option. I do love to swim, though, and deal with the bathing suit issue by purchasing the cutest suit that comes in my size (this year it's a zebra print halter from Torrid) and covering it with a knee length coverup skirt (Lands' End sells one that can be worn into the water). Junonia Online also sells separates in extended sizes, including a knee length swim skirt. I am still less than comfortable with the way I look, but refuse to let that restrict my activities. Report
that is definetely one thing i need to work on .. i have never ever liked any part of my body..i am to ashamed of myself to even be seen in anything but a tent. Report
I have been avoiding situations that make me uncomfortable for years now. I recently started working with a trainer who keeps pushing me beyond my comfort zone and each time he does it, it gets easier and easier. I can run in front of people now and I can ALMOST use the weight room - a few more weeks and I should be good to go. Report
I completely agree with you about wearing bathing suits in public! I, too, have always felt like I was simply in my underwear in public (and it didn't matter how fit I was or wasn't). Report
I used to not walk to class with my friends on campus because I was just too out of shape to keep up with their pace. Instead I would wake up a half hour early, eat breakfast alone and then walk to class alone.

I refused to wear a bathing suit in highschool gym class, there was no way I was going to subject myself to any possible ridicule. Now I feel that I am in the best shape of my life I feel fine wearing a bathing suit, not so much because of the weight loss itself but how proud I am of myself for finally taking control of my life. I still have 20lbs to go but I truly don't hate my body anymore but not in love with it just yet ;o) Report
I finally have at 52 years old embraced my body (thanks alot in part to SP) and I wear my plus size swimsuit proudly.

WOO HOO! Report
I am in the same boat! I have just started wearing shorts and I will say that they are pretty awesome. Hopefully soon I will be able to conquer the scary BIKINI!!! Report
Throughout my childhood, in fact, until I was in my late teens (before college), I lived in a swimming suit every summer. I had more swimming suits than pairs of shorts. My body was always very athletic looking. I have no hips, so they were always narrow and I have broad swimmer's shoulders. Even then, I wouldn't wear a bikini because it felt too much like underwear--lol. Plus, I was too active to risk the "dangers" of a bikini riding up or down at inopportune moments. Now, close to 2 decades later and a much bigger body, I hate that I no longer enjoy the water because it requires showing my body. However, part of my exercise plan is to swim for about 80 minutes a week (in addition to my other workouts). So, I bought a pair of men's swim trunks to wear over my swim suit to hide the dreaded inner thighs. Women's board shorts just don't offer much coverage (aothough they're certainly cuter) for people with monstrous inner thighs. While I want to lose weight, etc, I truly want to attain what Coach Nicole has: peace with my own body and to h*ll with what other people think. I've put my life on hold and let my best years pass me by because I'm petrified of what others will think of me. I literally "shut down" in places with large numbers of people. I go into fight or flight mode and just want to run for safety (i.e. someplace with no one to judge me). I'm finally, albeit slowly, getting into the "stay and tough it out mode." But, crap, it is hard fighting myself. One day at a time.... Report
Oh, how familiar this confession sounds. I was a slightly chubby teen and added 15 lbs my freshman year in college ( I hadn't worn a swimsuit or shorts in public in years). I worked off 20 lbs that summer, and gradually took off more weight until I was a size 3-5 when I got married at age 23. I bought a black 2 piece bathing suit for our first summer vacation. When we got to the beach, a stunning, tall blonde woman was wearing the same suit--and I wouldn't take off my cover-up. Now, some 34 years later, I still regret that.
Your confession got me thinking about my current attitudes towards my body. I'm a very short, stubby 57 year old--with spider veins and cellulite--which I tend to cover up even at the beach. How silly! The other 57-year-olds look pretty much like me (but taller) and the younger folks on the beach certainly don't care about me. Report
Great blog! Am I self-conscious in a swimsuit? Yes, to some degree, but I do not let it stop me, I was in a tankini in March. Report
This is great blog.
I lost a lot of weight and now am dealing with the muscle and body areas that are just excercise resistant. I was so happy when I first lost weight that I went to Florida with a family member and she really upset me. She said "That isn't for you wait until you have plastic surgery. TSK TSK. " Now I do not wear string bikinis I wear 2 piece boy short tankinis (sometimes with shorts over them) and if I could wear biker shorts to my knees I would. My thighs are my worst area. I hide then with a sarong, but you have to take that off too to swim. AND BOY DO I LOVE SWIMMING!!
I am very scared of post weight loss surgery as I have had necessary surgery before and just don't want to go through the trauma unnecessarily. Of course I just can't afford it financially either and trying to get insurance to cover this is a major hassle! So currently I am down to a size 4 and just wear my 2 piece with a tshirt and shorts. A good tan and being toned helps too! Report
Good for you! I made a similar commitment to myself 2 years ago, before going on a cruise vacation. I decided I was going to wear sleevless blouses, shorts and a one piece swim suit. I told myself,"What the heck? I'll never see any of these people again anyway. So why should I let them dictate how I enjoyed my vacation?" I had a great time and even inspired 3 other "big" women to join me! This 2 week trip left me with the confidence to continue to wear shorts, etc in front of friends and family back home. I know you can do it, your head is in the right place. MT1 Report
I enjoyed reading this and it sounds alot like me..thanks pj Report
Great article. What has worked for me - buying a suit from that is essentially shorts and a halter. This allows me to be active, keep up with my kids but not feel self-conscious. Report
I would never wear a bathing suit in public EVER! Back in the day of my thin times I would. But Im always afraid people will laugh or vomit when they see me now. Report
Hi Coach Nicole! Your confession is a real eye-opener to me. I hope you can meet your goal and overcome your fear of wearing a bathing suit in public. I'm not a big fan of the whole public-showing-of-skin thing, either, but I forced myself to wear a bathing suit on our vacation early this year (yeah, all 280-some-odd pounds of me), and my main motivation was that I wanted to go snorkelling to overcome another great fear: swimming with fish bigger than a minnow. Don't laugh. It's ridiculous, but true. I figured if someone mistook me for a whale and tried to harpoon me, then I'd just get GreenPeace after them. Seriously though, it was quite liberating to be in 30 feet of crystal clear water off of Grand Cayman and seeing all the beautiful fish and feeling the wind and sailing on that catamaran across the bay, and by the time we were done, I just didn't care any more. I thought "I may not be perfect, or even close to being beautiful, but by golly I kept up with the rest of you lot and even stayed out longer than most, and I overcame my fear of bathing suits and swimming with fish, ha ha!". I know it's hard, but try to focus on the things you want to do instead of those mean little voices in your head trying to hold you back. Hope this is at least somewhat helpful. Report
Back during my college years, I wore two piece swimsuits, not exactly a bikini but I showed some belly even had my belly button pierced. With that being said, I realize now, that I’m not the 18 year girl I used to be. I have become a mother and I have the marks to show it. My goal is to wear a two piece for our summer vacation. It may not be like the ones I wore back in the day that showed more skin, but there are plenty of two pieces that show a little middle that are really cute. Like she said above, if people have a problem with me, it’s their problem not mine. As long as you are confident enough to wear it, you should. Report