Recently, someone wrote to me on my body positive blog asking me how to feel more confident in a bathing suit. This is something so many folks struggle with during summer so I wanted to take some time to really delve into how you can feel more comfortable in your beach body– whatever that beach body looks like. So first thing’s first…
Find a Suit You Feel Comfortable In
You might be reading this and thinking, Katie, I don’t feel comfortable in any suit, that’s the whole point! But bear with me for a sec. There are always going to be some pieces of clothing that make you feel better than others even on the days when you feel pretty badly in everything. We all have little things that make us feel more at ease. Maybe you always feel pretty in the color blue. Or you feel confidently about your shoulders and want to show them off. Or you feel more comfortable when people can’t see your chest. Or you’re more masculine and you wanna wear something that feels affirming of that. Whatever makes you start to feel even the slightest bit more comfortable, choose that option.
This also means covering as much or as little as you want regardless of what other people say. Maybe you’ve been nervous about showing off a lot of skin in a bikini but that’s really what you wanna wear. I say, go for it! Maybe you’re not comfortable showing off your whole bod and you want to wear something with more coverage, but you’re worried you’ll be seen as too conservative. You do you! You get to decide how much skin you reveal. It’s a personal choice and the only opinion that matters is yours.
Affirm Your Inner Self
I know I probably sound like a broken record ’cause I say it all the time, but loving on your body is a hell of a lot easier to do when you’re loving on your whole self. There are a hundred reasons we feel uncomfortable or upset with our bodies and let’s be honest about 99 of them are oppressive forces like misogyny, racism, fatphobia, transphobia, ableism, queerphobia, etc.. But personally, I want to keep seeking self love in the face of forces I can’t control. And for me, I always feel better about my looks when I’ve been caring for my heart and soul because I believe that on some level our emotional well-being is always linked to our body image. After all, if your emotional health isn’t being cared for, if your heart isn’t being nurtured, you’re not going to feel positively generally, so how can you feel positively about your outside?
So if you want to feel more confident about your appearance, carve out some time to not focus on your looks, just focus on how you feel, and what your emotional needs are. Spend some time writing yourself a letter or talking to yourself in the mirror, telling yourself the things you like about your personality. Reflect on a personal accomplishment that made you feel proud. Think honestly about what your loved ones have said they see in your character that makes them appreciate you (I also don’t think there’s any shame in asking them if you need some reminders, that’s what besties are for). Engage in whatever form of self-care your inner self is calling out for whether that is treating yourself to something soothing like a bubble bath, processing your issues by journaling or attending a therapy session, reaching out to a friend to talk & allow yourself to be cared for, or doing something proactive that gives you a sense of accomplishment. There are a lot of ways to self-care; find what feels best for you and leaves you in a more positive place.
Spend Some Time with Your Body
Ok, yeah, you’re with your body all the time, but I’m suggesting you really, intentionally spend time with it. If you’re in a place where it’s comfortable, get in your bathing suit, or wear more or less depending on what feels good for you. Look at yourself in the mirror, maybe take some selfies just for your self(ie). So often we hide our bodies from ourselves. We constantly cover up, we avoid our reflection, and then the only time we do really look at ourselves we do so to criticize. So my challenge is to spend some time looking at yourself with the aim to appreciate and compliment, not pick apart or disparage. Negative thoughts might arise. Let them. Acknowledge them, then set them aside. Say, “I hear you thought, but that’s not what we’re doing right now,” and dig for the positive. If you don’t genuinely feel appreciative of any part of your body, fake it til you make it. Compliment each part of yourself with the tenderness and kindness you would offer a close friend. Again, follow the path that works best for you. Sometimes when I’m feeling down on my body, I treat myself like I would a kid or a cat. I give my body cute nicknames, like calling my stomach my “tum.” I do the Pooh Bear dance of “I’m short and fat and proud of that.” It’s so silly and cutesy, it’s hard for me to get to that painful, self-loathing place. Maybe that would feel totally childish and unhelpful for you. That’s fine. Maybe you want to verbally affirm your body, maybe you’re only comfortable doing it in your head, or writing or drawing something would feel more powerful. Since this is an uncomfortable exercise, find comfort zones where you can. Put on your favorite lipstick. Listen to a song that makes you happy or encouraged. Be silent if silence comforts you or be loud if volume empowers you. The important thing is to really dedicate yourself to just spending a little bit of time engaging with your body in a positive and affirming way. Even if you’re not totally believing it, it’s establishing a habit and serving as a reminder that this is the way you deserve to be treated.
Ease into It
My dad always says I am not a rip the band aid off kind of person. I don’t like to do things I’m afraid of or think will hurt quickly. I tiptoe my way into it. I used to be terrified of heights. Now I’m pretty comfortable with them, I even love roller coasters, but that took baby steps. I had to get myself accustomed to lower heights in more controlled circumstances before I was ready for super high heights at lightning fast speeds. This is also how I got myself to be comfortable wearing a bikini. I took tiny steps there. I started wearing things that scared me or that I’d been told a girl with my body type isn’t supposed to wear. I’d go out dancing in a sleeveless dress and get used to watching my arms jiggle and fight the urge to hide them. I’d wear shorts that hit above my knee and adjust to the sight of my thick thighs in the sun. The road to feeling comfortable in a bikini took time, I’m talking years, and if you’re looking to feel amazing next week, that might feel discouraging. But I’m saying this for two reasons. First, because it’s a reason to give yourself a little grace. You have spent a lifetime developing your current relationship with your body and absorbing harmful messages about how a person ought to look. Changing that relationship and combating those messages is difficult, yes, but that means wherever you are right now? It’s ok. You aren’t a failure for not being head over heels in love with your body. You don’t owe a totally positive attitude about your body to anyone. You are allowed to be wherever you are with your emotions. But also second, if you want to seek a more loving attitude toward your body, it is possible. Where you are today is not where you’ll be tomorrow (or where you are this year is not where you’ll be five years from now). You have the capacity to grow and change and heal. And I think when we remember both those things, it is possible to find some hope and some strength to keep going with this journey.
There are also more short-term ways of easing into it. For example, if you’re scared of showing your arms, wear a short sleeve cover-up that feels a little outside of your comfort zone to the pool or the beach. Then ease into taking it off. If you’re gonna be at the pool all summer long, maybe just get used to sitting on the sidelines for a few days in something slightly revealing like a crop top or a tighter dress before you jump to being active and swimming in a bathing suit. Seeking body postivity often requires that we push our boundaries and explore outside our comfort zones, but you can do it at a pace that feels safe for you.
Contextualize Your Feelings
Like I said earlier, a lot of our negative feelings about our bodies come from outside forces. I know that misogyny and fatphobia and a culture which encouraged my disordered eating have a huge impact on how I view and relate to my body. Can I personally destroy those forces overnight? No, sadly, as powerful and mighty as I am, that is gonna take a little more time and a few more people. But sometimes just remembering that those forces are influencing the way I feel can be helpful. Knowing that there’s a few billion dollar industries that know they can make money selling products to ease women’s insecurity is knowing that my relationship with my body doesn’t exist in a vaccuam. It was manufactured so corporations selling diets and make-up and spanx could continue to profit. And once I know that, I can start to reason with my insecurity, and ask it, “hey, are my thunder thighs really a bad thing or do I feel that way because my whole life commercials have been selling me products to reduce and hide them?” Contextualizing your relationship with your body within the culture we live in can help you to understand why your body image is how it is and to more effectively combat the harmful messages you’ve received about how a body ought to look.
It can also be helpful to contextualize your feelings within your personal history and experiences. Starting in the fourth grade, I was bullied about my weight a lot. At thirteen, I developed an eating disorder. At seventeen, I was a victim of sexual violence. Those experiences aren’t static parts of the past. They’ve impacted me and they have an active role in how I see and treat my body today. That’s not to say I can’t overcome or heal from those experiences, just the opposite. Acknowledging and validating the impact past experiences have had on us can allow us to better understand our current emotions and struggles, and to begin or continue to heal. For example, as bathing suit season approaches, I know I’m going to be seeing a lot of messages and images in magazines, advertisements, and online that are similar to those that fueled my eating disorder. So I do my best to avoid that triggering media, monitor my emotional responses when I am exposed, and take extra steps to be engaged in my recovery during the summer months. Once you know what specifically contributes to you feeling negatively, you can make a better game plan for coping with those negative feelings and counteracting them.
Seek What Inspires You, Leave What Harms You
While a media fast (disengaging from certain forms of media) is something that specifically helps me as someone in recovery, it can be really beneficial for anyone. You don’t have to totally cut out all magazines or tv or the internet. Just think consciously about what serves you and what harms you. If reading headlines about how to get your best beach body or shed pounds fast makes you feel icky, take a break from the mags and/or sites where you see them. This goes for more than just media. If you have a loved one who tends to say things that make you feel negatively, you don’t need to be hanging out with them right now. You might want to explore cutting them out totally if it’s a truly toxic relationship, but maybe they’re just going through their own stuff that’s not helpful for yours. It’s ok to take a break from someone who makes you feel badly. For example, I have pals who are also recovering from disordered eating and sometimes I can’t see them when they are struggling and making a lot of comments about needing to lose weight or skip meals because it just isn’t healthy for me to be around. So if your Aunt Lauren always comments critically on your body? You don’t need to be around her right now.
Instead of engaging with media and/or people who make you feel badly about yourself, seek out those that make you feel affirmed, valued, and loved. I’m going to the beach next week, and I’m spending more time than usual on other folks’ body positive blogs, even reading through affirming posts that I’ve written, because that is content that makes me feel more positive and confident. I also really like to look at pictures of women who have my body type enjoying themselves & feeling fabulous in swimsuits. It’s a great reminder that the images of bodies I see on runways and in clothing ads aren’t the only bodies that exist and an opportunity to celebrate and find solidarity with girls like me. It doesn’t have to be so on the nose though. Reread one of your favorite books, play your favorite albums, engage in activities that make you feel joyful or talented, hang out with the people in your life who make you feel awesome. If something spiritual like yoga or prayer or reading a religious text makes you feel fulfilled, spend some extra time on that this week. Look for the things that make you feel energized, for the spaces you leave smiling wider than when you entered, for the people that make your heart sing. That’s where your confidence is. Don’t be afraid to chase it. You deserve to feel like the valuable, beautiful, lovable person you are.
Focus on the Fun
If you’re in a bathing suit, chances are high you’re in a situation with a big possibility for fun. When I’m on vacation with my family, I try to focus more on the fun and not on how I look in my bikini. I focus on the beauty of the beach and the nature I have the amazing opportunity to enjoy. I focus on the memories I’m making with my loved ones and how happy I am to be with them. I focus on the lovely feeling of sun hitting my back, of reading a book in the sand. I focus on how powerful and strong I feel when I swim in the ocean. That is the stuff that really matters to me. Body image matters (obvs, I run a whole blog about it), but in twenty years I think I will care more about time spent with my loved ones than how I felt about my thighs on a certain day. So when I actually get my beach body to the beach, I try to focus more on everything the beach has to offer and less on the body.
Now I should note that’s not always an easy thing especially in a world that critiques, shames, and even attacks our bodies for being too big, too brown, too trans, too disabled, too outside of all of the norms society has established. Obviously, various forms of privilege impact our ability to stop thinking about our bodies (and certainly being white, cis, and able-bodied makes it a hell of a lot easier for me to forget my body for a while). And I will never tell you that stuff doesn’t matter or to “just stop thinking about it.” I have a chronic illness and I know there are times we can’t not pay attention to our bodies. But I hope the world gives you moments when you feel safe and able to feel like more than just the body the world sometimes treats you as, moments when you feel like the complex, interesting, nuanced human being you are. Moments when you can turn your attention to other things, moments when you are so full of joy, or peace, or contentment, or curiosity, or fun that your body is the last thing you’re thinking about. Moments you get to fully experience and treasure. Whenever it is possible for you to choose to turn your focus in that direction for a while, I encourage you to do so. How do you do that? This is another great time to practice mindfulness. When thoughts about your body arise, acknowledge them, then set them aside. You can also ground yourself in the present moment by mentally noting physical stimuli: what you see/feel/hear/taste. Or you can draw in your beach buddies and ask them to distract you. Whatever helps you to feel present and happy and whole in the current moment, that’s what you wanna do.
I hope this helps you feel more confident and that you all have an amazing summer with your beach body. Whatever that beach body looks like, I know you’re going to look amazing!