I’ve been putting off this post for a while. I prefer to come from a place of empowering other women to give no effs about the opinions of others, and being confident no matter what, but as I planned my post on shopping for swimwear for you all, I realized I needed to come clean about some things–primarily the struggle with that “confidence no matter what” part.
To walk in this truth, a few photos from the upcoming swim photo shoot are unretouched and shown in the post. And it’s a little bit freaky for me. In transparency, when the shopping post goes up, those photos will go through an editing process to better feature the PRODUCTS shown, not me. I love the way I look in these suits and am excited to share some tips and tricks about finding the most flattering suits, but this prologue was too important to not include.
How the Voices of Others Linger Forever
As a kid, I was teased frequently about my weight. I’m pretty tall and very solid in my build (don’t get me started on the bullshit that is the BMI), but waiflike and petite girls managed to make me feel like gigantor on a fairly regular basis. By high school, I had developed a pretty strong sense of style and built up my confidence fairly well. I dressed in a way that was pretty consistently flattering, and put (most) of those old comments in the rearview.
That said, I had two episodes in high school that really rocked my confidence. I share them not to call out the girls involved (they won’t read this and if they did, they won’t likely remember). Each sent me, at the time, into frenzied diets, self-loathing, and feelings that I was totally unworthy, no matter what I saw in the mirror.
The first was on my school’s drill team. I wanted more than anything to join this squad–they had cute uniforms, pom-poms, and darling dance routines. I did camps, practiced sooo much, and I made the team my junior year. When I put that uniform on for Friday pep rallies and games, I felt soooo great. A goal I had worked hard for came true! Two seniors placed right near me on the line spent the entire season whispering how I was an embarrassment to the squad while we were on the field. At points, I had an arm around one of them for a kick line and heard hisses about my size. The weight (pun intended) of their nastiness destroyed the unbridled joy with which I had started the season.
At the end of my senior year of high school, I found the most beautiful prom gown. It was strapless satin (with interior ribbing–relevant to the story) with a big tulle skirt and I felt rather like a princess. While at the prom, a classmate approached to compliment my gown. “Your dress is so pretty, I really like it.” After I thanked her, she followed up with “To bad it’s too small for you–see how it’s all stretched over your stomach?” Apparently the wrinkle across my waist from sitting in satin with ribbing was offensive to her.
While I sit here with a big “f*ck them, they were just mean” attitude, the reality is those voices live with us forever. Stares and pointing fingers at the beach or pool, biting remarks, and even unintentional shady comments have power over us and become our OWN inner voices. I can easily get pissed off about what others say and dismiss it, but when I get really honest, their comments float from corner to corner of my mind, undermining my confidence.
Working as a stylist and image coach has taught me that this is a universal reality. The most beautiful women come to me daily with complaints about some piece of their physical selves they feel the need to hide away under their clothes. The reality is they just need to replace those inner voices with positive ones.
The Swimsuit Edition
One thing I’ve been asked for OVER AND OVER is how to make the process of swimsuit shopping more pleasant. I posted a survey on Instagram recently asking how you all felt about the process and, while I didn’t give great answer options, 100% said it put them crying into the fetal position (the alternative was they’d rather get a mammogram than swimsuit shop).
The anxiety built up over this had me procrastinating for weeks, maybe months. It wasn’t until a friend, also a blogger, wrote a post about body positivity recently that I understood I truly HAD to do it. Nicky, to me, is strong, confident, and (yes, I’m going to say it) her body is amazing. She’s tall and athletic, and everything looks PERFECT on her. But her post indicated otherwise. While Nicky admitted to her own historical issues, she also had a powerful commentary about how we impose our OWN definitions of body positivity on others far too frequently. That doesn’t empower us if we still define what it should look like on others.
I started to think about my own mental shortcomings–have I sat on the beach and thought “oh I would never wear that suit if….” and the answer was a disappointing yes, I have. I spent a day at my pool pondering this and began to see how BEAUTIFUL these women of ALL SHAPES AND SIZES are and how confident they seem. I realized it was my own fear, my own internal voice that was talking to ME in negativity, not to them. Why WOULDN’T I wear a suit like that? And I got up the nerve to do the blog post.
The Voices of Midlife
Today’s mental anguish about image comes less from comparing myself to others (although I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t seem fair that some women can have tons of kids and their bodies just snap back), but more about comparing myself to ME. Pregnancy leaves the body a bit ragged. Hormones of midlife keep the body in a constant state of shellshock that is hard to overcome. The physical changes of this time play with our emotions making it virtually impossible to feel pretty some days.
There are (and will always be) times I long for the smoother skin and toned muscles of the past, but my body is a testament to my love for my family and friends as well–for the babies I carried and nursed, for the incredible meals I’ve shared in celebration, the dings and bruises from adventures of my youth, and I even have an epic scar left by a beloved family cat who used me as a spring board. It all tells a story that makes me proud and makes me smile.
We need to let THOSE voices sing out in our heads! To celebrate the journey that took our strong and beautiful bodies to this age, this time. Rock whatever makes you FEEL GOOD and look at yourself, really look deep within and love your story. YOUR body is a wonderland, no matter its size.
So here you have it friends. I’m really not looking for compliments and validation. I’m learning to embrace ME, every part of my perfectly imperfect self while I strive to improve her and find her joy. Maybe next time you see someone who looks strong, confident, and beautiful, you can tell her. You can be the POSITIVE voice inside her head. I guarantee you’ll feel prettier for it.
Swim shots by Julieanne Kahlbaugh