Well, my friends, that ship has sailed!
As I watch my little girls run through the neighborhood in nothing but their swim suits, I smile with a touch of sadness when I think about the contrast between myself and my daughters. There is not a speck of insecurity in these little girls (whose bodies have come in all shapes and sizes, by the way.) I, on the other hand, can think of a million other things I would rather do than take off my cover up at the pool (including singing karaoke or letting the world see what would happen if I let my hair air dry – neither of them pretty pictures.) Strut down the street wearing my swim suit and knock on a friend’s door? Forget it!
So what changes in a girl from age 7 to 37? Our bodies, for one, but not as drastically as our perception of them. You can’t live in a society like ours, which, among it’s many virtues, also includes the unfortunate indoctrination of the idea that our personal value is closely tied to the size and shape of our thighs. It hurts my heart to think that one by one, each of my daughters will begin to lose her innocence as she is repeatedly exposed to the objectification of women’s bodies through various media sources. I remember the way that I began to compare my freckled skin to my friends’ tan skin, my square-shaped knees to more slender ones, and my skinny calves to the “bubble calves” I thought were so beautiful. I didn’t know it then, but with each comparison I was chipping away at not only my confidence but at the very core of my happiness. And I know I wasn’t alone.
Now, thirty years later, I like to think I’m not so shallow. I watch teenage girls and their developing obsessions with the way they look, and I think, “Hey! I’ve come a long way.” I can go out in public – even to the mall – without the ten-point inspection of years past. I start to think I have actually started to conquer that insecurity…until I have to put on a swim suit.
Some women say they don’t care about what others think about their bodies, and I want to believe them. I hope it’s possible to be unaffected by cellulite, stretch marks, and the mysterious disappearance of (a lot) of breast tissue. But when I take the kids swimming, the collective insecurity of the women at the pool feels so thick it’s almost tangible. And you know what? It’s just not fair. None of us knew we were buying into this body image game when we first entertained a critical thought about our bodies. But the first thought led to a second and then a third, until too many of us found ourselves entangled in a web of insecurity and self-loathing. And we can all pretend we’ve overcome it – until it’s time to take off the cover up.
The path to complete love and acceptance of self is one that we all traverse at a different pace. And while we are all on our own personal journey, there remains at the heart of the whole matter our sweet kids whose eyes light up at the mere thought of a swimming pool. As their mothers it is our privilege to create these summer memories with them…and it’s just not fair to anyone to infuse those moments with our own self-criticism and shame. After all, going swimming isn’t even about us – or our bodies. It’s all about the kids.
That long trek from the lounge chair to the pool without the refuge of my cover up might never be my shining moment, but I can forget about myself long enough to make this time be about the love I have for my kids, and the joy it is to be their mother. So here are five ways that I strive to love life and be happy – even while wearing nothing but my swim suit.
1. Stop judging others. I have realized that checking everyone else out is not an innocent preoccupation. On the heels of my judgments comes an automatic internal comparison about where I fall in. Sometimes I come out ahead, and sometimes I don’t. But either way I lose, because whether I am inflated by a false sense of self-worth or disheartened because someone else looks better in her swimsuit, I am not present with the people I came to be with. Which leads me to number two…
2. Be Present. This is the antidote to feeling insecure. When I find myself caught up in what other people might be thinking, I gently bring myself back to reality by concentrating on the warm sunshine, the fresh air, the cool water, the squeals and laughter of my children, and their arms squeezing tightly around my neck. Those are the things that happiness is made of…not some fleeting sense of triumph (or despair) because I look better (or worse) than the other women at the pool.
3. Be Grateful. Can I have one brief moment on my soapbox? OUR WORTH IS NOT REFLECTED BY WHAT WE SEE IN THE MIRROR! Okay, thank you. (Deep breath.) Don’t be fooled into thinking that your body can validate you or give you the confidence that you lack. Bodies can’t do that. What bodies can do is give you the ability to live a rich and fulfilling life. Be grateful for all of the ways your body allows you to do that. When I sense myself becoming critical of how my body doesn’t measure up to the media’s ideals, I remind myself to be grateful for the way it serves me. This is what it sounds like: “I am grateful that I am healthy. I am grateful that I have plenty of energy. I am grateful that I live pain-free. I am grateful that I can do all of the activities that I want to do…” and so on. Talk about a turn-around!
4. Act As If. This is one of my favorites. Often we let our insecurities dictate what we will and won’t do. We might avoid the pool, summer clothing, or activities with our families that would bring joy and meaning to our life. What would you do if you felt confident and comfortable in your body? As you begin to be the kind of person you want to be, you might notice that the harsh prerequisite of having a perfect body or losing a certain amount of weight really is less significant than you thought.
5. Get a New Swim suit. It’s hard to feel confident when you are wearing your old maternity suit or the one that you spent a lot of money on five years ago. Be kind to yourself and splurge on a really great new swim suit, and maybe even a cover-up and sandals. Get a pedicure while you’re at it! You’ll send a message to yourself that you are worth it. And once you are dressed in your new duds…let the criticism go. After all, you’re not on stage at a beauty pageant; you’re there to create memories with your family and friends.
Remember my motto? Life is short, and you get one shot at it. This summer is short, and you’ll never have it back again. So take it easy on yourself. Make this summer a happy one – even when you’re wearing your swim suit.
P.S. I have some strong feelings on this subject – probably because this has been a big part of my happiness journey. Please see some of my other posts about loving yourself and your body: