It’s that time of year again: bathing suit season. This year, the approach of summer and revealing clothing may feel more unwelcome than usual. After more than a year of holing up at home and wearing sweatpants, it may seem ludicrous to head out to a public space wearing basically your underwear.
For the record, I’ve always found it fascinating that some bathing suits are probably more revealing than underwear, but it’s socially acceptable to walk along a boardwalk in a swimsuit but would be scandalous to do the same in underwear.
So, how can you embrace bathing suit season with as little insecurity as possible?
Buy a Good, Comfortable Bathing Suit
It took me until I was in my 40s to have the disposable income and inclination to stop shopping for bathing suits exclusively at Target or Old Navy. It turns out, sometimes you do get what you pay for — although I’m talking about paying more than $40, not hundreds of dollars.
The sort of bathing suit you buy should depend on what you plan to do in it: Swim laps? Play with your kids at the beach? Lounge by the community pool? It should also be comfortable. This is where paying more money sometimes fits in; suits with a bit more fabric and better construction are likely to stay where they are supposed to and allow you to do what you want to in them.
When you aren’t constantly pulling the bottom of your suit down or the top of your suit up, you may find wearing a bathing suit a more pleasant experience. Treating yourself to the indulgence of a nice, comfortable bathing suit may also make you feel better about wearing it. Of course, you should look for what works for your body.
In the process of writing this article, I heard from more than one woman who felt the lure of social media advertising for cute suits that would never work for their body size or shape. These spontaneous purchases are likely to end up in the back of our drawers. Instead, give some thought to when you’ll be wearing a bathing suit and what’s worked for you in the past. It’s better to buy one bathing suit that you really like and is really comfortable than to buy five that are cute on the model in the advertisement and don’t fit you particularly well.
Be #BoPo for Your Kids
There are few things more compelling as a parent than wanting to set a good example for your kids. If you don’t have kids of your own, think of the next generation and what you hope to model for them.
Oona Hanson, who is an educator who works with families in eating disorder treatment reminds us, “For parents, it can be powerful to harness love for your children to help overcome — or at least put aside — body insecurities. Think about the message you want to send to your kids: Does the appearance of someone’s body determine what activities they can enjoy?
When I became a parent, I started to really think more carefully about not verbalizing that voice inside my head that offered intrusive thoughts: “I feel fat,” “Why did I eat that?” and “I’ll be better tomorrow” are thoughts most women have had. But, do we want our kids’ mental space crowded with these thoughts?
I want my kids to grow up to do meaningful work and have fulfilling relationships, not stressing about their swimsuit size. I knew that meant harnessing any inclination I had to shame my own body out loud, so as to not teach my kids that this was an acceptable way to view their own bodies. The amazing outcome of not allowing myself to say these things for over a decade is that I no longer (usually) believe them.
Live Your Values
We all grew up hearing about the importance of not judging a book by its cover. But, we also all grew up in a world that values people’s appearances. If we were to totally ignore our appearance, never giving a thought to what we wear (including our swim attire), we’d likely be viewed as eccentric or strange. We have a choice, however, in terms of how much energy to spend on our appearance. We should try to live what we value.
Nichole Wood-Barcalow, a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist who treats patients with body image and eating concerns and who co-authored ” The Positive Body Image Workbook,” suggests that we should take time to consider what it is exactly that we do value.
An appreciation of beauty or the adoration of others may be components of our value systems. However, maybe we value compassion, diversity and equality more? Although improvements have been made recently, the beauty and fashion industries have rarely promoted images and advertisements that embrace people of all different shapes, sizes, colors and ability statuses. It’s worth considering the extent to which we want to take our cues from industries that devalue so many of us.
[READ: Radically Inclusive Yoga.]
Get Social Support
One of my neighbors, Inés, whom I spoke with while writing this article exclaimed, “I’ve been trying to find a new bathing suit for about 10 years!” In other words, it is not necessarily uncommon to find the task of locating a bathing suit daunting. We all want to look and feel our best, and we don’t need to feel embarrassed about that. It may be helpful to bring a good friend shopping for social support — as long as it doesn’t become an opportunity to engage in maladaptive “fat talk” of the variety where one person insists she is fat and the other reassures her she is not. I’ve written more about the dangers of fat talk.
It’s also important that we don’t engage in unhealthy social comparison with the very people who may be able to offer us social support when we feel vulnerable. According to Wood-Barcalow, “it’s natural to compare ourselves to others and to feel badly about ourselves and our bodies when we think we don’t measure up.”
We may be especially likely to feel badly when we compare ourselves to celebrities and influencers we see online. It’s important to be aware of how these comparisons make us feel and do our best to avoid them — or at least to realize that another’s beauty doesn’t detract from our own.
I asked one of my friends, Lily, also a psychologist, for her thoughts about bathing suit body positivity. Her response, “I don’t know how to feel good in a bathing suit. I know how not to give a f*ck, but I don’t know if I’m capable of feeling good.”
Although Lily meant her comment to be somewhat funny, I think that she’s onto something. Confidence is often perceived as attractive and signaling to others that we don’t care or aren’t worried about how we look in a bathing suit is a way to grow closer to confidence. Plus, caring less about how we look frees us up to care about other things more. Chances are none of us actually have over a decade to find the perfect bathing suit.
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