As swimsuit season arrives, so many of us sweat the small stuff. We take out the microscope or magnifying glass and fixate on our “flaws.” Or just throw our hands up in the air and decide that everything looks like a mess.
I’ve been there far too many times, and living in Florida, where essentially swimsuit season is 10 months out of the year, only made things tougher. Often, I avoided the beach and most activities requiring a bathing suit.
And if I didn’t avoid them then I spent a lot of days beforehand being nervous.
In our culture, swimsuit season isn’t something we gloss over. We know it’s coming.
Thanks to articles such as this one, we’re told to freak out about wearing a bathing suit – that some scary “countdown” has begun and we should “panic.”
And suddenly any shred of positive body image starts to slip, and body anxiety takes over.
Here’s an excerpt from that Women’s Health editor letter (it was from a few years ago, but these articles are everywhere still):
You’d think that as an editor I’d have deadlines mastered, but there is one that sneaks up on me every year: the countdown to bikini season. Right about now, the nerve-wracking Jeopardy! theme song is playing full-blast in my head.
I know I’m not alone in my pre-summer panic. Stressing about peeling off the winter layers—in public, no less!—is practically encoded in the female DNA. But here’s the miraculous part: Even if you’ve slacked off since the holidays, there’s still time to get into amazing shape. In fact, having a rapidly approaching cutoff date—whether it’s Memorial Day weekend or your girls-only getaway to Miami for the Fourth of July—can actually be a huge advantage, because it spurs you into action. And telling your friends that you’re embarking on a mission to melt the extra pounds you let creep on will help even more. Though it may spoil your “big reveal” come beach day, making a commitment out loud pushes you even harder to meet your goal.
But of course, these articles are to be expected in magazines packed with “health” advice. And when you’re already super nervous about baring your body, it’s hard to ignore them – and they can put you over the edge.
But here’s the thing: In the midst of being nervous about my body and wanting to make some good impression (on whom? I don’t know), I no doubt missed a lot of fun – and most importantly, carefree – days in the sun.
Even if I went, my focus was on my body and making sure my stomach didn’t protrude too much or my thighs looked thin enough or I didn’t look like a monster.
I recently read an inspiring story in my Gurze newsletter written by Melanie Figaro. Melanie, who has recovered from an eating disorder, talks about the challenges of summer:
When I had an eating disorder, summer was always the hardest time of year for me. Just the smell of summer approaching brought on sheer terror that I would have to go another hot season hiding out in my house isolating because I was ashamed of what people would think about my body. I missed many BBQ’s, beach parties, and other outdoor activities in heat that required less clothing than I felt comfortable with…
Can you relate?
What’s interesting is that it’s not so much about the bathing suit. It really isn’t. It’s what the bathing suit represents.
And if my body didn’t look “right,” the bathing suit represented rejection (and the fear of it), of not fitting in, of being judged, of being made fun of. Of one more time, not being popular or worthy.
I was so terrified of criticism, which I thought would be much worse than the negative chatter swirling in my head. If I could think of such horrible things to say to myself, what would someone else utter?
Realistically, I don’t think anyone was judging or scrutinizing me (never ever to the extent that I was scrutinizing myself). And even more so, if they were, who cares? If someone didn’t think I looked good enough in my suit, so what?
Kim Brittingham in her recently published book, Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large, writes about her struggles going to the beach and captures beautifully what it feels like to finally enjoy yourself, in all your glory. She writes:
I was weightless. I was the water and the water was me. I arched my back like a porpoise and dove under a coming wave. I emerged laughing. Somehow, here, in the ocean, I existed in a state of high energy and complete tranquility, all at the same time. I could feel the space inside my body turning a serene pale blue as I merged with watery surroundings…
When I returned to the beach, I was smiling. I walked with ease. Maybe I even sashayed. Droplets of cold water on my skin evaporated quickly under the streaming sun…
Maybe this is what they call being in perfect harmony with nature. At the very least, I can confidently call it bliss.
Some fat girls avoid going to the beach because they don’t want to be seen. They don’t want to expose themselves to harsh criticism, even when it’s unspoken. I used to be one of those girls, too.
There were other people on the beach with me, and in the water. I was aware of them. I even talked with some of them. But the whole gorgeous, invigorating experience of the day at the beach was entirely mine. It had nothing to do with those other people, or what they were thinking or feeling in the same moment. Nor did the experience have anything to do with my cellulite, the thickness of my arm, the protrusion of my belly, or my double chin.
I walk the beach in a bathing suit because I want to immerse myself in the entire sensual environment. I want to feel the sand on my skin, stuck to my sunscreen in gritty, exfoliating bits. I want to see the salt dried in little white rings on the tops of my thighs. I want the coolness of the water rushing between my legs, I want the heat of the sun freckling my shoulders. I want the vapors of coconut suntan lotion in my hair. I want a wedgie full of pebbles. I do.
And I’m not about to swaddle myself in towels, sulk under an umbrella, and limit my personal joy because of what might be going on in somebody else’s private mind.
I absolutely love this passage. And it’s also the absolute truth.
There’s so much beauty and enjoyment in life, and it can’t be found in the muscles of a six-pack or a slim silhouette or the perfect bathing suit.
As Melanie writes:
After spending the day in the ocean, I lay on the sand in the warm sun feeling tremendous gratitude that my body survived an eating disorder and could still do the type of activities I use to dream about, but not let myself enjoy. If it wasn’t healthy and strong, I wouldn’t be able to have those experiences. It fought to keep me alive no matter what I did to it when I was sick. We are in sync now, and I refuse to miss any more summer days punishing myself for no reason at all.
I hope you, too, can give yourself permission to enjoy the summer and play in warm-weather clothes. Let go of the fear that others are judging your appearance, grab a couple good friends or family members, and let yourself do an activity that you only let yourself dream about. You probably have a “to do” list of all the goals you are going to accomplish, big or small, when you are recovered…why not do one right now?!
Give yourself the permission to focus on fun, family and friends. Give yourself the permission to have a carefree, calming and wonderful experience. Soak it all in, because you do, in fact, without a doubt, deserve it.