Ever have a love/hate relationship with a place that you enjoy so much, yet it causes you great anxiety when you are there?
In my experience, this place has been the water’s edge (i.e., the beach).
Being in the water makes me feel invincible – diving in and surrounding myself in such a beautiful place – why am I not doing this every day of my life?!
When I am swimming, I feel nourished and at peace. Immersing myself in this environment makes me realize how powerful my body is. I focus on my body’s strengths as it moves through the water; the belief that my body isn’t perfect never crosses my mind. During such moments I am at my best and truly accept and respect my beautiful self.
Even though I seek out opportunities to be in or on the water, starting the journey to get to the water was fraught with stumbling blocks.
When I was in my teenage years, I didn’t swim regularly even though being in the water brought me much joy. I wouldn’t go near the water as I was overcome with the negative belief that I didn’t look “good enough” in a bathing suit.
The form or location of the water didn’t matter; I brought the same fears, doubts, and insecurities with me whenever a bathing suit was involved.
These thoughts crept into my mind and tried to prevent me from getting in the water.
While I loved swimming so much, the beach or the pool deck were spaces I feared visiting as I would be seen in my bathing suit; being vulnerable in this way made me anxious.
Or, if I went with others to the beach, I felt they would judge my body or bathing suit choices negatively. I truly thought that you had to be perfect to be accepted by others. And that included how I looked in a bathing suit!
What if others saw my “imperfect” body? What would they think of me?
Showing up in public wearing skin-tight clothes can be scary. Exposing one’s vulnerabilities can leave you prone to judgement.
Since you are on display, you think others will analyze your body, find your faults, and take a picture to share with others to bring you down. I would think of those tabloid magazines where they devote whole covers to insulting people in their bikinis.
People have opinions for everything. When you put yourself out there in a big way by wearing a bathing suit in a public place, people think you are open to hearing their views. Comments hurt, and I got many.
If you cover up too much, you get told that you hate your body or are hiding something underneath. If you wear too little, you get called promiscuous. Whether you have an ‘ideal’ body or not, people will make comments about your weight regardless.
Their comments can get under your skin and stick with you long after the beach visit.
After a couple of comments about how I looked in a bathing suit in my early teens, I came to expect judgement.
Ways I prevented getting shameful comments about my appearance when I wanted to go swimming:
1) Covered up entirely by wearing a heavy t-shirt and long baggy shorts over my bathing suit.
2) Went at off-times when fewer people would be at the beach.
3) Went to secluded/less popular parts of the beach.
4) Wouldn’t go at all.
5) If I went, I wouldn’t go in the water, but would sit covered up on the beach.
6) I would run quickly into the water.
These all sound like ridiculous ideas for someone who clearly loves the water, don’t you think?
I tried hard to avoid being seen by others on the beach in my bathing suit as I cared too much about what people thought about me.
Throughout middle and high school, I was disappointed at myself for not being “perfect” by others’ standards, even though I worked out so hard, ate healthily, and took care of myself to be a certain shape. I desperately sought validation and acceptance from others.
One of the most challenging and courageous tasks I have done was valuing myself and knowing I am beautiful just the way I am.
Since my teens, through accepting myself inside and out, voicing my story, and building a supportive community around me – I now get in the water on a regular basis.
Yes, I still get insecure sometimes; but I have learned the strategies to push through it.
An important lesson I have learned is: You don’t need the approval of others to show up at “the beach”, whatever that place is for you.
Now, instead of expecting judgement, I expect kindness and compassion in my life. The sand reminds me of that.
It is my hope that through sharing my experiences at the beach, from the past and present, that you will work on the process of accepting yourself too.
Maybe for you, similar fears and insecurities are preventing you from showing up and being seen in areas of your life. For example, do silencing your voice, downplaying your talents, and not embracing your awesome self sound familiar to you? Let’s empower each other to stand tall & speak from the heart.
Since it is the start of summer and bathing suit season, by sharing our thoughts we can encourage each other to embrace our beautiful selves and show up at the beach. One way to start is by speaking your thoughts.
What or where is your beach?
Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.
See you at the beach!