When You Hate Bathing Suits

When I was a freshman in high school, I had the cutest pair of size fourteen jeans.  It took months of pre-made Nutri System meals before I could fit into them, which made them feel like even more of a reward.  I loved putting together outfits to go with those pants. They opened up a whole new world of clothing options and feelings for me.  As for bathing suits… I even don't remember having one in high school. In fact, I remember being freaked out by a pool party my senior year. Our senior class had great chemistry, and there was so much amazing energy that surrounded us that year. I was excited about the invitation, but also nervous as hell. I didn't own a bathing suit but didn’t want to miss the party. Luckily, I had a broken foot at the time, so I used my cast as an excuse for why I showed up wearing jeans and a tee shirt.

After we graduated, a group of us went on a senior trip to Hawaii. I didn’t have a bathing suit for that trip either. But, I’d just gotten my cast off so my doctor’s orders were my excuse for wandering up and down the beach in shorts & tennis shoes. The shorts ended up being my “bathing suit” in college as well.  I finally broke down and bought a bathing suit for a vacation in Mexico. I chose one of those tankinis with a skirt on the bottom.  This style became my go-to suit.  The bottoms had to be black or brown, with a bright/printed top to draw attention away from my problem areas (cankles, cottage cheese thighs, wide bottom). I was always extremely nervous when I had to wear the tankini in public. I was constantly adjusting the skirt or the top so they camouflaged as much of my problem areas as possible. When I had to exit the water, I would hightail it to my towel or chair. And of course, I wore cover-ups to and from the pool… whatever it took to keep as much of my body covered as possible.

Even when I lost 100 lbs, I still bought a black bathing suit (although I finally got a one-piece). I was still incredibly nervous about wearing that suit in public.  I found that even though I was much smaller, I still had the same problem areas.  And I still hated them and tried to cover them up so I wouldn’t make other people feel as disgusted as I was.

I ended up getting a ton of compliments on that one-piece, and continued wearing it as I began gaining weight again. As I stopped obsessing over diet/exercise, and focused instead on overall health and wellness, my size slowly got bigger and the bathing suit stretched and stretched. After a while, the suit got that telltale stretch in the back where you could see through the material… it just wasn't decent to wear in public anymore.  I finally owned up to the fact that I was no longer the same size as the suit, and threw it out. 

That was the end of Summer 2014. In the fall of 2014, I got really clear on my desired feelings thanks to a Desire Map workshop. In February 2015, I attended the second level of Desire Map workshops - Goals with Soul. This workshop challenged me to focus on one dream, one secret desire I’ve had for years that I never thought was possible to achieve. For me, that secret desire was to rock a two-piece bathing suit in public – and absolutely love it. I never, in a million years, thought this would be possible. Even when I got to the smallest size of my adult life, I chose to wear a one-piece bathing suit because I didn’t have a “bikini body.”  I believed that in order to be ready for a bikini, I’d need to lose at least sixty pounds and spend a ton of time at the gym. Yet in this workshop, surrounded by loving and adoring soul sisters, I said out loud, "I want to wear a two-piece bathing suit in the body I have right now." And they didn’t think I was crazy!  In fact, they hugged me and cheered for me.

Their love helped me feel hope.  Hope that I could actually put a two-piece on the body I have right now and be beautiful. So I started down that journey. And it was hard. For so many years my body was a separate entity from my mind and soul. I spent many years shaming myself over it, having guilt about it, trying to control it, thinking it was the least lovable part of me.  But then I realized that my body is the physical manifestation of my soul. So I started to look at myself in the mirror every single morning and repeat, “My body is the physical manifestation of my soul. My body is my very favorite thing about myself." Every day, I thought about the amazing things my body helps my soul achieve: giving warm hugs; wiping away tears; brushing my daughter's hair; snuggling my son at bedtime; finishing a half-marathon, even though I was hobbling in pain for every foot of the last three miles. In short, my body supported me through three decades of a wonderful life; it deserves to be treated with respect and love and honor.

So as I was repeating these endearments every morning in front of the mirror, a miracle occurred. One day I came across a sponsored post on my Facebook feed; a vlog from a Women Empowerment Coach. This woman used to be a trader on Wall Street, was extremely successful in her career, and made herself sick because of the stress. She was a size two when she quit her job and started down the path to spiritual enlightenment and empowerment. In her vlog, she told the story of shopping for a dress that was a size ten.  I was shocked to hear that she had an incredibly loving shopping experience, trusting that her body knew what she was doing.  This woman had called her body a SHE!!  As if her body was a dear friend that she loved, honored, and respected. I went absolutely comatose on my couch. It was all I could do to stay present. This woman was saying things like, "My body knows what I need right now. She knows what is going on in the deepest parts of my soul. There’s a reason she wants to be this size right now. She is taking care of me every day. When I give in to feelings of fatigue, and sleep instead of working out, I feel better and accomplish amazing things because I listen to her."

I couldn't move for thirty minutes after hearing that. What a fascinating, miraculous concept!  That our bodies want to be our friends? That they want to take care of us? This was a natural evolution of the spiritual, intuitive work I’d been doing for several years – and the final puzzle piece I needed to begin loving, honoring, and respecting my body. After this puzzle piece locked into place, my morning mirror routine got an update. My new daily saying was, "My body is my very favorite thing about myself. She is a physical manifestation of my soul. She knows exactly what she's doing. And she looks awesome in a two-piece bathing suit!"

After a month of saying this every day, I realized I didn’t actually have a two-piece. I set out to remedy this via the wonderful land of Instagram. I began following a few plus size brands with adorable two pieces. The suit I fell in love with had this awesome tribal print halter top (my favorite cut of summer anything), along with high-waisted bottoms in several different color options. I started stalking this bathing suit. I had the product page saved to my home screen, and once a week I’d go hang out with different variations of the suit. Part of the reason for the stalking was cost.  It was expensive, and we didn't have the funds at the time. But I thought it was appropriate to invest in a secret desire I've harbored for years, and trusted that the money I needed would show up at the right time… because my body knows exactly what she needs and when she needs it and she knows how we're going to achieve this goal together.

On the fifth of July, I noticed a bunch of swimsuit sales on Instagram.  I visited my suit again, and realized it was 40% off! And of course, the new cost of the suit was exactly the spare cash I had. So I hurriedly got online, and the black bottoms I’d convinced myself I needed were no longer available. I was so nervous to get anything but black bottoms, because all I’d ever heard was that you must wear black bathing suits to cover your problem areas.  I had to get over my fear quickly though, if I was going to snag this suit on sale. So I bought hot pink - because I love this color, dammit!  And I was finally ready to ignore years of fashion advice for curvy women.

When the bathing suit showed up, it sat in my mailbox for a few days because I was so nervous to get it. I had to call a girlfriend, take deep breaths, and listen to calming music before I was ready to walk to the mailbox. As soon as I got home I texted my girlfriend and she was so excited to get a picture of me in the suit.  But I couldn't even bring myself to try it on, I was so nervous. I took a picture of the suit in its packaging and sent her the photo, saying, "This is the best I can do in my current emotional state."

I had to spend a couple of days preparing for the “try on” moment. I decided I needed to honor this milestone, so I waited until a morning when I had washed and done my hair, had eaten a healthy breakfast, and was feeling happy. While my husband and the kids were running errands, I tried on the bathing suit and fell in love. In the secret, safe, sacred space of my bathroom I fell in love with my very own two-piece bathing suit. At that point, I made the decision to do a photo shoot in this bathing suit.  I called a good friend, a member of my Desire Map tribe with mad photography skills, and asked her to do the shoot during her planned visit in July.  Of course, she said, "Absolutely. Just tell me when and where and I'll be there." I chose Portland’s Salmon Springs fountain. It’s my favorite “water” spot in all of Portland and seemed like a natural fit. The fountain is right on the riverfront and frames the city of Portland in a beautiful way.

It wasn't until after I fell in love with the idea that I realized this water fountain is in one of the busiest areas downtown … but I couldn't change my mind after I had already fallen in love with the idea.  Then, as our plans started to take shape, we decided to do the shoot at 5:00 on a Friday – just about the time when all of downtown Portland leaves their office buildings and drives right by the riverfront leading to the highway.  The stakes were getting higher and higher, but I didn't back down because I felt so strongly that this moment needed to be honored.  As part of this vision, we made sure to include prep time at the fountain, before any pictures were taken. I’d made a playlist and listened to it as my friend got comfortable with lighting.  We meditated together – slowing down our racing hearts and listening to the language of love that was coming from everything around us –just generally getting into the right head space.

The photo shoot was everything we dreamed it would be. I felt extremely humbled and powerful and beautiful and full of wonder. I didn't pay any attention to the minutia of details that were going on around the fountain. I understood that there were kids playing in the fountain, adults watching the kids, wandering around the area, but I wasn't worried about it at all because I was so focused on connecting with myself and my friend who was on the other side of the camera. The only comment I overheard during the whole shoot was, "I think that lady is a model." I just giggled to myself. Because even though I wasn't getting paid for the photo shoot, I felt like a model and I looked like one in the resulting photos.

All photos courtesy of Lani Catherine

But the story doesn't end there. In August, I had a chance to wear the bathing suit in real life (i.e. not an amazing photo shoot where I had done my hair and makeup and meditated, etc.).  I took the bathing suit on a lakeside camping trip. I wore my black dress as a cover-up, and I purposefully slowed myself down as I was taking the dress off. I removed the dress. I put it on my chair. I stood there for a minute. I did not adjust my suit. I just stood there and let the memories of the photo shoot and resulting photos come into my head, then course through me – filling me with so much joy and gratitude and love.

I worked so hard to carry those feelings with me along the lake. As I was playing in the water with my kids, as I was wandering up and down the beach, my mind really wanted to obsess over the people that I was walking by.  Were they were looking at me? What they were thinking?  But my heart was saying, “Don't even think about it. Remember the feelings of joy and love that came from the photo shoot. Remember, remember, remember.” It was like I had a mental white board and the photos were a repeating slide show So I chose to focus on that slideshow instead of analyzing the people I was walking by and dreaming up all the negative thoughts that may or may not have been in their head.

The next time I took my bathing suit out into the wild, we were headed to an indoor water park a month after our camping trip. When I was getting dressed for the water park I put the bathing suit on and then some layers, because it was a windy day.  My pants and a sweatshirt were tight. The tight clothes triggered all of the old beliefs: You're so ugly, you're so fat, you're not good enough. But again, I chose to tune in to my heart, which was saying, “Don't listen to those yucky words. Turn to me.”

So I took the tight clothes off and looked at myself in mirror.  My two-piece was reflected back at me, and I was like, "Whoa!! Hello gorgeous." I decided to screw the cold weather. I was going to wear my black cover-up and feel the feelings that I had been experienced at the fountain and the lake. When I got to the water park, I hung out in my two-piece bathing suit for four hours with no cover-up, wandering between water slides… and up and down stairs… and in the wave pool.  And I had ZERO shame or guilt or hate about the way I looked. Instead, I had all kinds of love and joy and pride because this thing that I was wearing was no longer a bathing suit. It was my super hero costume; it took me from only dreaming of wearing a two-piece to completely owning it for hours upon hours.

If I could, I’d wear this suit every single day.  But instead, I think I’ll just invest in clothes that love my shape as much as I love them.  Who’s with me?

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