Let’s talk about that “itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini.” Like so many others, I have struggled for more than eight years to wear a swimsuit comfortably.For the better half of my adolescence and early 20s, I was consumed by eating disorders and body dysmorphia. After seeking residential treatment in 2013, I am now recovering remarkably well. Yet, this summer I found myself thinking I’m not toned enough to wear a swimsuit.
While I’ve made great strides in learning how to communicate and assert my negative emotions, body image continues to take work.
In the past, I would never — repeat NEVER — wear a bikini and walk around in public. All summer, I told myself I was going to break this milestone — slowly. Setting realistic goals for recovery has been a big part of keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” and I knew that allowing myself to finally “be free” and wear a bikini in public was going to help me move forward.
While I enjoy a good run, I don’t lift weights consistently. While I love a good kale salad, I also enjoy a slice of red velvet cake. I’m human, and after two years in recovery, I’m finally learning it’s okay to be just that.
I did what I set out to do recently and it wasn’t easy (and it didn’t last long) but it was incredibly liberating. That being said, here are the eight stages of wearing a swimsuit even though you aren’t perfect:
1. Invest in the perfect suit.
Don’t settle. Choose the swimsuit that makes you feel like a trendsetter. The one that will allow you to strut around with Marilyn Monroe glam. One-piece, tankini, bikini — whichever will invoke that little feeling inside that says, ‘’This is me.”
2. Ask someone you trust for a little support.
Someone who will smile with you and understand that this experience is a vulnerable one for anyone recovering from disordered eating and body-image dysmorphia. Go with a person who makes you feel human and who can help you laugh at the anxiety a swimsuit can cause in people.
3. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish from this experience.
Do you want to swim in the ocean? Lay on a float in the pool? Water ski behind a boat on a lake? You don’t have to wear a swimsuit to do these things, but for so many years you probably let your anxiety take away from the experience of going to the beach, a pool party, or a lake event. Embrace who you are today and what you’re going to do in your new swimsuit.
4. Get there and commit.
You’re at the beach now. You’ve committed, but you’re unsteady. You’re not ready. You’re hanging out for a while — towel around your waist, cover-up button-down hanging off your shoulders.
You’re thinking: Are they looking at me? Are they wondering why I’m not getting in the water? I should, but I can’t. They’ll stare. They’ll see cellulite. My stomach isn’t as flat as they might think it is. Does my butt jiggle more than I can see in the mirror?
You understand today that you’re putting yourself out there in order to stop living under the blanket of fear of your own body.
5. Focus on feeling confident in your bathing suit.
You know what you came to do. You’re taking the plunge, but it doesn’t mean it’s not scary. You’re standing there with your confidante as he or she encourages you to remember what is it you want from this. The sense of vulnerability hasn’t left you.
6. Push through the panic.
You drop your towel and think there’s no going back now. Your legs are exposed. You can’t remember the last time you let the world see this much of your body.
7. Accept the vulnerable feeling.
You’ve wanted this. You’re almost there. All summer long you’ve worn athletic shorts over your swimsuit bottom so that you’re skimming the line of baring it all. You’re recovering, and recovering means pushing. You remind yourself you want to swim in that ocean today. You’ve watched people do this for so many years — the ease with which they wade in completely untethered to the social anxiety of what their body looks like.
8. Bare it and own it.
You’re standing there and you’re exposed. You notice that no one is stopping and staring at you — the world keeps moving. No one is shielding their eyes from your stretch marks. Now the entire world can see your skin as it was fashioned to be.
Be proud and embrace yourself for getting outside of your comfort zone. You don’t have to hide your skin from anyone.