Let’s Talk About Bathing Suit Anxiety

To the girl who feels way too self conscious to let your friends see you in a bathing suit, this is for you. I understand you completely. We may not be the same size, but it isn’t a matter of size, or weight, or what the number is on the label of our jeans; it’s about how we feel. You can be a size 0 and feel incredibly self-conscious about your body. Only two of my friends have seen me in a bathing suit since 2003. I have not been photographed in a bikini since 2004, and this was in the backyard of my parents’ house with my trusted dear friend and she took the photo on a Polaroid camera so that there would be no digital trace of it.

Depending on where you live, you may not even be in a situation where you’ll get/have to wear a bathing suit but living in Los Angeles, it’s an inevitability. It can happen at any time. I was invited to a pool party in February. I didn’t go swimming. I tried to come up with a good reason as to why, because everyone kept asking me why I wouldn’t get in the pool. Eventually I mumbled something about the economy and excused myself to make a business call.

Some of us do not feel comfortable in bathing suits for one specific reason: we don’t want to compare our bodies to our friends’ bodies but we know we will because we can’t help it. And we feel especially terrible, because they’re our friends who love us and just want to have fun hanging out by the pool or at the beach, and they’re not judging us, and even though we know this, we still sneak glances at their abs and get jealous and try to convince ourselves that this is ridiculous and isn’t even worth worrying about because we are worth so much more than what magazine covers try to sell us. We know this.

You can be a smart and successful woman and still be afraid of your friends seeing you in a bathing suit. I mean, come on, when it comes to women’s bathing suits, there’s not much that separates them from underwear. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling shy or feeling down on yourself. There is nothing wrong with feeling jealous of your friends. Some of us have awesome self esteem and some of us are trying to get there. I once got there halfway. Some friends coaxed me into a hot tub; I acquiesced only because I was wearing a tank top and high cut Spanx-y Lady Gaga-like underwear and was terrifically drunk. And they told me I looked great and even if they didn’t mean it, it made me happy. Because I don’t want to work up the courage to wear a bikini and then have a well meaning friend say, “See? You look fine.” Fine? I don’t want to look “fine.” I want to look great! “Fine” is reserved for situations like when a waiter asks, “We don’t have Coke, is Pepsi fine?” (Pepsi is never fine, but that’s not the point.)

So here’s the thing. The only one who can change this is you, and you’re probably going to have to do it the hard way by changing your way of thinking and your lifestyle. You have to figure out what scares you the most and how you can change it. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone on the outside, to get a sense of perspective, whether it’s a therapist or a parent.

You have to decide which is more important to you: having fun or missing out? Is your fear so great that it’s worth hiding for?

If you really want to change, then you have to be honest with yourself. For example, I realized that complaining about my body wasn’t going to change it. At all. So instead I started to eat a little better and exercise a lot more. I set a goal. And I see a difference from when I started and that makes me really proud. I’m not done yet, and sometimes I still get frustrated, but now the idea of being in a bathing suit around my friends doesn’t scare me as much.

I really struggle with the idea of the “here’s what you wear for your body type” bathing suit suggestions that have somehow become universal truths; that if you’re a “pear” you should wear high cut bikini bottoms or that if your body type is “boyish” you should wear a padded bikini top, or that if you’re any sort of fruit or object that can be classified as round, God help you, wear a one piece and a cover-up and please keep to yourself. I was trying to figure out what suit would best flatter me, and then I realized, there are certain places on my body where I carry fat and that’s just how it is whether I’m in a two piece or a one piece. There is no bathing suit that is going to make me look like Charlize Theron. So screw it. Flattering is whatever I want it to be.

Photo by Loomis Dean for LIFE.

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