I have to admit, I am writing this article as much for myself as I am for anyone else who might feel compelled to read it. Swimsuit season is upon us, folks. And that means a whole lot of self-loathing under those evil fluorescent lights in your local dressing room. It means hiding from the camera during family vacations. It means shedding the sweaters and jeans and wondering what in the world you were thinking when you said yes to that second helping of pumpkin pie over Christmas. It means being okay with that skirt you swore you would never purchase as a bathing suit bottom.
At least it means those things for me. I love the beach, the water, the summer months. But my love for all of those things is clouded, at times, by my struggle with weight and my own body image. Being smack dab in the middle of a stressful PCS move (is there another kind?) really doesn’t help the situation much. I have good intentions to exercise and eat right, not to derail any progress I made or goals I have. But then I end up three hours behind due to unforeseen traffic, the girls and I have been in the mini-van for 10 hours, I finally navigated my way (with the help of my obviously drunk GPS) to our hotel, in the rain, and the only restaurant for miles has a couple of glorious golden arches attached to it. Dinner is served…straight to my thighs.
The battle of the bulge has been something I have struggled with my entire adult life. I have made my way up and down the weight charts for years. I’ve had great successes and pretty miserable failures when it comes to fitness and weight loss. Right now I am squarely in a failure phase and not incredibly thrilled about it. But I continue to make good choices when I am able, get my body moving as much as possible each day, and realize that my worth has very little to do with the size of my jeans at any given time. But still, swimsuit season sheds a horrifyingly sunny light on the issues I currently have living in my own skin. But life is too short not to enjoy things like the beach, no matter how much space you are taking up on that beach towel in the sand. How can we stop focusing on the negatives and really enjoy all that swimsuit season has to offer?
1. Realize that most folks don’t love their bodies either.
We all have things we don’t like about ourselves. For women, many times we have a list a million miles long of the things we loathe. Our breasts are too big, not big enough, or have an unhealthy obsession with our armpits when we lay down. Our legs are too long, too short, have too many veins or too much cellulite. We have too much junk in our trunk, not enough junk, or the junk is in desperate need of a few million squats, yesterday.
When you are on the beach or at the pool, remember that we all have something we are most likely not thrilled about sharing with the hundreds of other half-naked people lathering on sunscreen. Most folks are too busy trying to pose for the camera in a way that won’t showcase their own faults for the family vacation album to notice all the things that are not perfect about you.
2. Cover it up…if it makes you happy.
If you are not thrilled about the current situation that is your mid-section, then wear something that covers it up. There is no shame in this. Suffer through those fluorescent lights long enough to find something that will accentuate the positive and hide, move the eye away from, or significantly squish in the parts that you are the most uncomfortable with. Who cares if you had to search the “Golden Girls” section of the department store for your swimsuit. If it makes you feel better and more confident, then wear that piece with pride, Blanche!
3. Or don’t. That is fine too.
Look. If that swimsuit with bright yellow polka dots but without a skirt is comfortable and makes you happy, stop caring what anyone else on the planet will say if they see you in it. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes and since no one has invented a portable filter device to follow us to the beach (seriously, someone needs to get on that), very few people look perfect in their summer attire.
The other day I was at the beach and saw a group of women walk by looking pretty amazing in their bikinis. No stretch marks to be seen, no cellulite, the right amount of junk in the right places. Then I realized that none of them could have been a day over 18. It was all I could do not to run after them and plead with them to enjoy their perfect bodies while they can. Before life, kids, and gravity decides to grab ahold. I am certain that a forty-year-old woman running down the beach at them in her Betty White suit would have made quite the impression.
4. Take in the beauty around you.
The other day I was enjoying the beach with my family. At the house, when I was getting dressed before we left, I was carefully avoiding the mirror so I wouldn’t chicken out and decide to stay home. But as soon as I stepped out of the car and could feel the breeze on my face, I forgot all about those flaws I tend to focus on at home. I am so grateful I decided to take in the beauty of the day instead. Hearing the squeals of my toddler as the waves crashed into her legs, watching my oldest daughter get buried in the sand to make a human mermaid, standing next to my dear friend as we looked out on the water…those are the things I will recall about that day, not the size of my thighs.
5. Let it be your motivation.
All this advice is fine and well, and having a positive body image is important. However, if you don’t like something about your body, if you are out of shape, if you are not healthy…dreading swimsuit season can be a powerful motivator. Denial of a health problem is never a good thing. For me, I will use my disdain at how I fit into my beach attire as a reminder to take an extra walk in the sand, to make better choices when it comes to nutrition, and to make more of an effort to take care of myself. It’s an ongoing journey, health and fitness. So go throw on that swimsuit and enjoy this season…while you continue to make progress towards your goals.
Read Next: Women Can’t Have it All