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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