My Swimsuit, Myself: How I Gained Body Confidence
It’s that time of the year again...swimsuit season. The sight (and mere thought) of buying one of the many bikinis and one-pieces lining store racks used to create great angst in me. That was when I was younger (and ironically slimmer and fitter than I am now after having three children).
I’d peruse the racks for the perfect suits, go into the dressing room with plenty of options— hangers all jumbled together—and spend at least an hour, or more, pinching extra fat, groaning over the merest hint of cellulite (and blaming those dressing-room lights), and wishing I had been born with a better body.
Those trips usually ended up with me purchasing nothing—but going home and avoiding all sweets and carbs in an effort to force my body into submission—and into a swimsuit.
Those were also the days when I was less likely to spontaneously jump into the pool for a refreshing splash, choosing instead to remain poolside (and safe from body judgment, as I thought) with a book and cool drink.
Well...no more. This is no way to live this one amazing life we have. And I never want my four-year-old daughter (who already mimics everything I do) to go through this kind of body bashing—ever.
So many women and girls today judge their self-worth, as I used to, by the size of clothing (or swimsuit) they fit into. This kind of thinking perpetrates low self-esteem and/or disordered eating. (The latest statistics indicate that seven million American women have eating disorders. This is seven million too many.)
It’s only now, years later, that I’m finally able to put on a swimsuit (a one-piece, not a bikini) without a second thought or much ado at the store. I just recently grabbed a simple suit off the rack in my size and bought it, without even trying it on.
It’s not because I’m now model slim—or toned all over. It’s not because I’ve now found a swimsuit that miraculously hides all my “flaws”. And it’s not because I’ve somehow stopped caring what I look like and let myself go. It’s because I’m finally happy, really happy, with who I am.
I couldn’t care less about the rest: the traces of cellulite that dot the back of my legs, the spider veins, my less-than-toned thighs.
My perspective about my body changed, I realized after thinking about it a bit, because of some distinct attitude shifts in my life:
1. I started living my life for me, not for anyone else. I think of all those years I wasted worrying about what other people thought of me (and my body). The energy spent! The anxiety! What a waste of precious time. There’s a quote I love from Dr. Seuss, which just about sums up why you shouldn’t care what others think about you: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” I wish I had understood this years ago, but I guess with age really does come wisdom.
2. I stopped putting off my life until later—and started living my life for now. I remember thinking, years ago, that as soon as I had that “perfect” body, I’d start_________ (fill in the blank with just about anything). Or, as soon as I had enough money, I’d_____________. Or as soon as I had a boyfriend (this was long before I got married), I’d _______________.
It’s crazy how much time I wasted putting off enjoyable things until a later, more “perfect”, point. Life passes way too quickly to approach each day with that attitude. Now, I’m all about living life for now and enjoying every single second; I don’t want to put anything off.
3. I exercise now because it keeps me healthy and strong—not because it’s going to help me lose weight. I switched up my workouts and started doing ones I really enjoyed—instead of ones I thought I should do. I remember pushing myself every day to get on the treadmill or the elliptical at the gym for a power workout. Talk about forcing your body into submission! I hated every single second of it, watching the passing minutes go by on the machine’s monitor agonizing second by agonizing second.
Now, you’re more likely to find me running around the park (or running a race), hiking or kayaking with my kids (it’s so important for children to learn that being active can be fun), swimming laps in the pool, biking, or playing tennis with friends. I have fun exercising now—and I look forward to working out, rather than dreading it. I love the fact that my body is strong enough to do things in the real world—outside the artificial atmosphere of the gym. Talk about body pride!
4. I stopped worrying about what I was eating...and started enjoying all kinds of food. Back in those days of being body obsessed, I would shun birthday cake and eat salad with the dressing on the side. (This deprivation-is-necessary attitude is still way too common today among women and young girls.) Now I enjoy the taste of good food. And funny enough, once you stop obsessing about the calories and fat in food and start eating what your body is craving in moderation (even hamburgers, pasta, and French fries), you end up eating less overall because you’re more satisfied—and your weight reaches its natural set point.
Now, when my daughter asks why she should eat the sautéed kale I cook or fresh fruit for breakfast, I tell her, “It’s good for your heart and your heart keeps you healthy so you can swim, bike, and scooter.” Eating cake, cookies, and ice cream—in moderation—is also okay. I never want her to obsess about food or label any foods as “bad”.
5. I realized that having an okay body, not a WOW! body that’s going to turn heads, is just fine with me. I stopped wishing I were somebody else and starting being happy with me, and this body I was born with. This body has given birth—and nursed—three children. This body has powered me through to the finish line in races. This body carries me through my day as a mom, a writer, a wife. This is the body I’m proud of, and I don’t really want anything else.
It’s only when I started taking charge of my life (that is, pursuing the things that made me happy and fulfilled instead of the things I thought I should be doing), I became a whole lot happier with who I am as a person—and with my body, extra inches to pinch and all.
It turns out that old saying is true: satisfaction with ourselves, and our lives, definitely does start from within.
So this summer, you’ll find me in my simple, not-so-sexy one-piece swimsuit splashing around the pool with my kids or doing laps. And you’ll find me indulging in a peanut-butter-cup ice cream cone here and there, too.
Life’s simply too short to put off its incredible pleasures...for even a single minute.
Valerie Latona is the former editor-in-chief of Shape — and one of the leading writers/editors on the topic of living healthy with confidence. Find more about Valerie, and read more of her blogs, at valerielatona.com.
Photo credit: © Copyright 2011 Carol Bean, FreeLargePhotos.com.