Header image from xoJane’s “real beach bodies”

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Portland, OR

Every day, I see how deeply ingrained we are by body image standards. I work at a swimwear store.

In an aggressively progressive city, where “body-positive” is attached to every event description, the customers I work with don’t strike me as women who judge others’ figures. The store is almost a “sacred space,” where women step out of the dressing rooms and no one stares. Yet when it comes to their own bodies, the same non-shallow women feel besieged by age-old ideals. This includes women who embody those ideals! Dressing rooms grow hot and sweaty, and echo with declarations of, “I need a drink!” (We serve beer.)

Swimsuit season is here. No one should let the summer pass without getting in the water. So here are some strategies to combat self-loathing, and guide you to a suit that suits you!

  • Start shopping well before your outing or trip. You’d be surprised how many women put off shopping till the day before. The time pressure adds to their anxiety. No one wants to make more than one shopping trip, but leave yourself enough time so you can. That way you can hold out for a suit you really like, not just one that “does the job.”
  • Know your size. Dress size, band size, cup size. Swim sizes do vary somewhat by brand, but that goes for all the rest of clothing-dom too, so you should never get out of the range you wear day-to-day. The thing that makes me the saddest at work is when I clear a dressing room, and find a customer was trying on suits obviously too large for her. It’s amazing how our feelings can skew our perception.
  • Start with what genuinely appeals to you. Trying on everything that’s the right size is not an effective way of hedging your bets. It’s a recipe for overload. It’s also easy to simply lose track of how many suits you’ve passed onto me, the helpful sales associate, to put in your dressing room. Do yourself the favor of making your dressing room a curated gallery, not a museum. You can always branch out from there.
  • Don’t make concealment the point. When customers would say, “I hate my [part of body],” an old coworker used to respond, “What part of your body do you like?” Certainly go for that “tummy control” feature or that skirt to cover your thighs. But make sure you also choose something with an accentuating feature or design point of interest. This will keep you out of “granny suit” territory. You’re cooler than that. You’re still you!

swim2
Sarah Jane Adams reflects in “Me My Body” for Advanced Style, photograph by Ari Seth Cohen

  • Something to keep in mind: Do you spend your time at the beach, lake, river, etc. judging others’ paunches, sags, wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, and veins? It’s true we’re not used to seeing these things, they can be surprising. But you just think, “Oh, well there it is” and move on, right? Which is not to say you discount the person. Trust that others won’t discount you either. If someone is that shallow, you can feel bad for them. 

    “…those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”
    –Dr. Seuss

Finally, when you notice a swimsuited woman with your same symptoms of a life lived, don’t you kind of admire her and feel a little more confident yourself? You can be that woman to someone else.

swim3Jazzmyne shared her first bikini experience with the world.

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