As I plan for a tropical vacation, I am encountering many women on social media and among my friends who express disbelief that I, a plus-size woman, am so willingly going to an exotic island to spend days and days on the beach. They tell me things like, “I haven’t worn a bathing suit in 10 years!” and “I could never wear a bathing suit on a public beach!” Do those statements echo your feelings?
I lived in that exact headspace once. The process of conquering bathing suit anxiety took me a few years, and if you are experiencing this feeling, of not wanting to wear a swimsuit and take part in all the fun that the beach or pool can offer, let’s talk about it. We would like to help you with the basics of getting past this emotion that limits your experiences and can rob you of joy.
The first step toward feeling good in the skin you’re in is making sure your skin feels good! A big factor in getting myself over my initial fears and anxiety about going out in a swimsuit was making sure that I felt great about the details of my appearance. Nothing could make my thighs magically look like Christie Brinkley’s, but I did have the power to shave perfectly, moisturize with a glow-building lotion, make sure my pedicure was fresh and perfect, and get the most glamorous sandals and sunglasses I could find.
I would eat a light, healthy meal—not because it would miraculously make a difference in my behind, but because it helped me feel healthy and in control of my body. Pineapple salad is sweet, indulgent and also helps me feel like I am making great choices in putting fresh foods in my body. Food scientists and research dermatologists have determined that fresh fruits and vegetables help our skin look its best and can even provide the flush and glow of good health, so load up on fresh foods to help you feel great in the skin you’re in.
Bear in mind, shaving and pedicures and fruit salad are my confidence boosters. Different kinds of women probably have different points of pride. A beautiful head-wrap, a playlist of mood-building music or having your eyebrows “on fleek” may be just what you need to help yourself get in the mood for conquering those fears! One thing we do always advise against is tanning outdoors or in a bed. The advances in self-tanners and spray tans mean that they can look more natural than ever before, and allow you to spare yourself cancer-causing sun exposure. If a healthy glow makes you feel your best, make sure you get that glow in a health-protecting way.
Taking these practical steps toward feeling your best can begin your journey to conquering bathing suit anxiety. It’s much easier to behave as a confident person would when you feel like you are presenting your best self!
This is the hard work. No pep talk can magically take away your fears and reservations about wearing a swimsuit in public. Nothing any one person can say will instantly evaporate the years and years of indoctrination every single woman experiences as to how she “should” look in her swimsuit from your psyche. Most of us grew up under the relentless inundation of hurtful beauty stereotypes; the only way to be thought beautiful, it seemed, was to look like a photoshopped version of a magazine model. Right now, our culture is moving towards true body acceptance; that is a wonderful thing for young girls and it can be just as empowering for grown women! Body acceptance is not the glorification of unhealthy lifestyles—it is about realizing that there is a human being inside every body. No matter what it looks like or whether or not you personally find that body attractive, every human being deserves basic decency. Every human being deserves respect and love. Every human being deserves to experience fun and joy.
Part of that joy can be feeling the sun and water on your body! No body is barred from the active pleasures of the beach or pool. You do not need to hit the gym harder or starve yourself down a few sizes to earn the right to wear a swimsuit; you have that right, right now. The perfect beach body is the one you already have. The message that will give you strength is likely to be highly personal. Perhaps you will take strength from feeling loved by your partner. Perhaps a more assertive, “Don’t like it? Don’t look!” take on the issue will help you feel empowered. For me, it was realizing that lots and lots of people thought I was beautiful, and if anyone didn’t like the way I looked, it was no loss to me. I was lucky to come to this conclusion in my early 30s, but many women struggle with this for years, never finding their personal mantra of empowerment. If you think about what really causes you to feel nervous about wearing a swimsuit, perhaps you will figure out how to overcome that specific feeling and conquer your bathing suit anxiety.
I admit it, I have some bathing suit tricks that help a lot, and I’m going to share them with you! The first thing I advise is buying a little bikini. The kind you wore, or wanted to wear, as a teenager. Wear it in your home or backyard. Soak your feet in a kiddie pool while wearing your bikini. Water the plants while wearing your bikini. Wearing less fabric on your body will begin to feel good, not foreign.
Recognize if there is a specific feature or “not-happy-with-it” area making you feel like you must cover your body. If you are a new mom coming to terms with your changing midsection, you could try a blouson tankini; they offer great midsection camouflage and are totally cute! Maybe you share my issue, and don’t care for the appearance of your thighs. Have you considered a swimdress or even women’s board shorts? We are in a swimwear utopia right now—you can find an astounding variety of bathing suits and swim separates that all look perfectly festive and appropriate at the beach or pool even if they provide quite a bit of coverage. Thank our growing understanding of the effects of the sun’s rays and increasing sensitivity to personal comfort for that!
Build an expansive swimwear wardrobe. I like to swim for exercise, so I have athletic gym swimwear. I swim with my preschooler for fun, so I have practical, modest swimsuits that allow me to be active and look cute at the same time. I like to take beach vacations with my husband, so I have a few briefer, sexier suits for those trips. This also gives me complete freedom to dress according to my mood. Accepting my body and conquering my own distaste of wearing a bathing suit in public is a journey and there are days where I, who will wear a little bikini, just feel like covering up in a beach coverup. That is okay! It’s part of the work! Sometimes, I go to the beach wearing a bikini underneath a bathing costume comprised of swim capris and a long-sleeved rash guard and end up mixing and matching the pieces all day, according to my feelings, the position of the sun, or the activities my child wants to pursue. Strategically choosing swimwear can be a big part of conquering the anxiety you might feel around appearing in public wearing a bathing suit.
If you have not worn a swimsuit in years, you can change that. If you think, “I can’t go swimming in public!” you absolutely can. You deserve the joy of beach and pool activities. You deserve the pleasure of sun and water on your skin, and the rejuvenating activity of swimming and playing in the water. The perfect beach body is the one you already have. It really is as simple as that, and if it doesn’t feel simple, try our steps to help you overcome your bathing suit anxiety, and make this summer the best you’ve had in years. You’ll be booking a mid-winter beach vacation before you know it!