While I love summer and the opportunity to enjoy a vacation, it can also bring on the dreaded bathing suit season. I grew up with a swimming pool in my backyard — I love to swim, dive and feel the buoyancy of the water. However, I’ve historically been self-conscious in a bathing suit because, early on, I determined that my body didn’t fit the stereotype “Bay Watch” standards, and over the recent years, I’ve become more self-conscious because of the weight I’ve gained. If I had to guess, having confidence in bathing suits is something with which many of us struggle.

Last summer, my husband and I had the opportunity to meet one of his daughters with her kids and friends at Pony Pasture for an evening swim. These young women are in their late 20s and I determined they have perfect bodies. I was the only one who didn’t show up in a bathing suit. “Why?” you might ask, or do you already know the answer? What was I afraid of? That I would scare these women out of middle age? That they would think I had let myself go now that I am married? Or should I have worn a sign around my neck that stated – “Hey, sorry for the extra weight, but my thyroid decided to slow down and I am doing the best I can.” Was I worried they would feel sorry for me? Yes, all these horrible thoughts went through my mind.

Not only did I stick out, I totally missed out on the fun! The rocks were hot from soaking in the day’s sun and I really wanted to jump into the water. I sent a stronger message to those young women that I was insecure and uncomfortable with my body. They probably wouldn’t have had any of those demeaning thoughts and would have been glad I joined the fun.

I know I am not the only one to struggle with wearing my bathing suit. I think inherently women know their bodies are seen as objects and these objects better be perfect. The pressure to be “model-like” and fit whatever current beauty standard is trending takes away so much joy from our lives. I recently met a mother (who I determined has the perfect body – Have you noticed a trend? Everyone else has a perfect body) and she confessed that she won’t go to the pool with her young boys because she won’t get into a bathing suit. Just as I did at the James River with my husband’s family, she is robbing herself of joy. Happy memories are missed and she is sending a strong message to her boys.

I realized how ridiculous I was being by not wearing my bathing suit last summer. I, of course, don’t have so much power that I could scare young women out of middle age. Their experience will be different from mine. We put ourselves on center stage when there really is no center stage to be had. I’ve found that people are more concerned with themselves, which is exactly what I was doing.

I’ve come to realize, people like me for me. They don’t invite me to be their friend but say first, “Can you please fix this about yourself?” If I showed up tomorrow with really long feet because that was the latest beauty trend, they would be like “Is that Kim? What happened to her feet?” What other people think of me is really none of my business, but it has taken me awhile to understand and accept that. My internal dialogue says a lot more about me than anybody else. If someone wants to criticize my body in their head, that’s their decision and they probably have similar self-criticism for themselves.

This year, I decided to embrace all that summer has to offer. I was recently invited over to a friend’s for some pool time. Yes, I’m still working through my feelings of self-consciousness, but I am not going to withhold fun in my life because I think that my body isn’t perfect.

Extra Credit:

I’ve been listening to Brené Brown‘s book, “Braving the Wilderness,”  in which she talks about vulnerability and how most of us would do anything to avoid feeling it. Most of us feel so vulnerable when we wear our bathing suits because, after all, we usually don’t expose our bodies that much. This is a vulnerable post for me and I would rather you think I have it all under control, but in reality, I don’t. The truth is, most of us don’t. We are all struggling with some body part(s) that we perceive as a deficit instead of being grateful that we have it at all.

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“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” 

Brene' Brown