How To Not Obsess About A Swimsuit or How You Look In It

This is one of those posts that is a Danceswithfat tradition. Enjoy! 

Pink Argyle Bikini
Fantastic art by Jodee Rose

Several years ago the amazing Golda Poretsky (of Body Love Wellness) tweeted;  “Rec’d a link to “How Not To Look Fat In A Swimsuit”. Wld ♥ to see “How Not To Obsess Abt Looking Fat In A Swimsuit & F-ing Enjoy Yourself”

Golda’s wish is my command!

Seriously, let’s talk about this.  It seems that a lot of the women I know, of any size, start to panic the first time they see swimsuits out on the floor of their favorite store;  their pesky cheerfulness belying their seemingly actual  purpose of prodding us into paying the diet industry for products that don’t work, and considering a move to Alaska.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because I’m about to start doing a lot of outdoor swimming which isn’t something I’ve done a lot of in the past – I’m more of an ambient temperature controlled, swim in water in which no creature is a permanent resident kind of girl (I’m not high maintenance, I’m highly maintained.)  But I have, in the past, strutted around my gym in a bathing suit with no worries.  Here are a few reasons why:

1.  It’s my BODY.  I live with it 100% of the time.  It does awesome things for me like breathing, and heartbeat, and swimming and I decided long ago that I am not going to allow anyone to convince me to hate or be ashamed of  something that I am with 100% of the time for the rest of my life.  I get to choose how I feel about my body – nobody else can make me feel good or bad, it’s on me.

2.  Because it’s a pool and when you go to the pool, you wear a swimsuit. It’s not for vanity – it’s practical.  Once I was at the gym ready to make use of the pool and there was a “thin to average size” (probably a size 8 or 10)  woman in a large t-shirt with a towel wrapped around her legs and all the way to her ankles.  She scooted to the edge of the pool and threw the towel behind her as she jumped into the water as fast as she could whilst grabbing a kickboard off the side. The move was impressive for it’s flexibility and quickness and I was admiring it when I saw she was wearing control top pantyhose under her suit.  She looked at me and said “Nobody should have to see these legs without hose on”.  Before I could reply, she realized that her shirt was caught on the side railing, then her pantyhose got caught on her kickboard.  While I swam laps she spent most of the time dealing with being in the water with a giant shirt and pantyhose. That is her right, I have no judgment about her choices.  I am simply not willing to put up with, what to me seems to be a massive inconvenience, or have my technique interrupted by a ginormous swatch of cloth which, when it is wet, hides nothing anyway; and pantyhose which I will not wear under any circumstances in the world, ever because some people suggest that only some bodies should be seen without them.

3.  I do not care if people are offended by my body.  People are allowed to be offended by whatever they want and it’s really none of my business.  I’m offended by people who are offended by my body, but it turns out nobody gives a damn which is as it should be.  It is my BODY, if we all treated each other with basic human respect it would be impossible to be offended by the mere existence of people because of their body size.  The very idea is ludicrous to me. Regardless, it is not my job to protect people’s delicate sensibilities – there are at least three alternate cardinal directions in which they can look if they don’t want to look at me, they are free to choose one.

4.  Hypocrisy is an ugly thing.  It always seems like the same group of people who are telling me that because I’m fat I have some obligation to exercise (which is bullshit by the way) are subsequently offended by my body in a swimsuit.  The message apparently being that they want me to exercise, but in my house with the shades drawn and under some kind of tarp.  Screw that.  Don’t like it?  Take some advice from the band Chicago and Look away, baby. Look away.

5. It is maddening to me that the diet industry makes over 60 BILLION dollars a year convincing women to hate themselves.  They create fear and uncertainty by saying things like “Swimsuit season is just around the corner, are you ready to wear a swimsuit?”  Well, let’s see here…  Swimsuit?  Check.  Body to put it on?  Check.  Yup, I’m all set thanks.  Plus I think I’ll keep my money you bloodsucking leeches.

6.  People can see me.  So they know how big I am whether I’m in a swimsuit, or jeans and a t-shirt.  If they are shocked at my size in a swimsuit, they should have been paying better attention.  That’s just a big flaming sack of not-my-problem.

I realize that my swimsuit preferences are not everyone’s which is awesome.  Not everyone, regardless of size, is comfortable with how much skin a swimsuit shows.  There is no obligation to rock a bikini or a swimsuit of any kind in order to love your body.  Here are some more ideas to help you stop obsessing and start having fun in the sun (or the oh-so-lovely incandescent glow of the overhead lights at the gym).

1. Alternative Swimsuits.  These are often created for women who want to keep to specific religious clothing guidelines or who just want a more modest look.  I did a quick Google search and found  I’m not affiliated with them at all so I make no guarantees, but it will give you an idea of what’s out there (and some of their plus size swimwear is actually modeled by plus-sized women.  Woot!)

2.  Fabulous Cover ups:  If there’s a particular part of your body that you prefer to keep covered for whatever reason, an (aptly-named) cover-up might be just the thing.  Here are some examples (again, no affiliation, check out the vendors before you buy!)

3.  Safety in numbers.  Go with a group of people who make you feel good about yourself and focus on the fun and not on any body insecurities you might have.  Think about how fantastic your body feels when you are swimming, or going down a water slide, or splashing in the waves.

4.  Reality check.  One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain “I’ve had thousands of problems in my life, most of which never actually happened”  When I’m worrying about something I try to remember that I am wasting energy on something that is not actually part of reality.  So instead I…

5.  …Expect the best, plan for the worst.  Think about what your true fears are about going out in a swimsuit.  Write them down and then create a plan to deal with each of them.  Are you afraid people will say something mean to you?  Create some scripting and practice it until you feel comfortable. Afraid of chaffing?  Hie thee to Google and read up on the various lotions, powders etc. that can help with that, or look into swimsuits that can help. Worried people will talk about you behind your back? Maybe that’s the best possible outcome since you don’t have to hear it!

In the end of course it’s your choice.  For my part,  I’m not willing to allow my options for fun, activity, movement etc. to be controlled by what other people might think or say.  If my own fears or insecurities are getting in the way I try to find a way over (modest swimsuit), under (cover up), or through (F this, I’m wearing a thong) the fear and insecurity because I’ve found that very often the pure joy lies just on the other side.

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31 thoughts on “How To Not Obsess About A Swimsuit or How You Look In It

  1. I just love your blog post! I wish I could be as strong as you but you are changing my thinking. My biggest issue is actually my husband. I don’t care as much what strangers think of me. The one time we went to the beach and I’d bought a new full-length costume which I really loved. There was another group of people near to where we sat and the woman had a bikini and she was skinny and firm. I’d just been on the paleo diet – the pits and thought I looked great, until I saw the photos taken of my butt in the costume. Now I know why the people sitting near us had looked at me with this pitying stare, especially seeing my hubby kept on glancing at the bikini-clad woman. (He loves me but also likes a pretty, skinny woman.) So, I’ve decided I’d never go to the beach again without wearing something to cover my butt and thighs, purely to make sure he keeps his eyes on me with pleasure and not comparison.

    I am learning that no matter how much our partners may go for the skinny, “perfect” look, deep inside they want a woman who loves them and treats them right – also a woman who believes she is sexy no matter the size of her body. I’m learning but the lesson is painful. I don’t want to be like that woman at the pool who had to wear hose!!

  2. You’re so right in everything you say. I’ve put on 80lbs in the last few years, and I have avoided going to my local pool because of how awful I feel when wearing a swimsuit… I love swimming, and I miss it. I’m going to read this over and over, psych myself up and just go. Thank you.

  3. When I was younger, I totally fell for it – when bikini season comes, you MUST want to lie at the pool or beach in a bikini, but also you MUST feel too fat to do it so you MUST do some new diet program …
    Now I love the lesson that everybody has a perfect bikini body, just put a bikini on your body (if you want to).
    But I also had to learn that I just hate to lie in the sun at the beach or the pool, no fun at all for me, my perfect day on the beach would mean gallopping along the shore on a horse or doing some sort of trekking.
    But for a long time I thought I had to want to be at the pool or beach in summer and therefore had to want to wear a bikini and therefore had to want to diet …. It’s mad how often I try to comply to social norms without noticing and even if I don’t want to …

    1. I’m the same way with what I’d want to do at a beach. And I burn very easily so lying in the sand ain’t gonna happen.

      1. I come in two shades: lily white and lobster red. There is no middle ground when one is of the Transparent Peoples. Laying out on the beach or by the pool was never an option for me, even if I had wanted to do that.

        But I never wanted to do it. I prefer swimming under the water in a pool. It’s like I’m part dolphin: I only come up to breathe.

          1. Yeah, me, too.
            As for the beach, I prefer to wear a T-shirt, to protect my shoulders, and make sandcastles. The water has THINGS IN IT!!! Seriously, I have freaked out from some toe-nibbling fish.

            Although, I do enjoy riding the waves, as they bob up and down. But I like doing that at a wave pool, in a water park, without the fish.

            When I’m at the pool, I like to do the “lazy river.” I can go around that thing for hours. Or until I turn into a lobster.

    2. I take an umbrella outside and sit with my feet in a kiddy pool while I read. Sometimes while wearing sunblock. (I burn really easily lol.) I like the ‘I’m outside!” bit, but the reading makes it better.

  4. Beautiful article and well thought out. You are an idol for so many of us 🙂 I am still coming to terms with my post-pregnancy body, so this is very helpful.

  5. Regarding swimsuits, I tend to prefer a one-piece or a Tankini. I admit to not being comfortable with the stretch marks on my stomach.
    I love swimsuits as swimming is the way I prefer to get my exercise. It annoys the living hell out of me whenever I go shopping for new ones and inevitably see things like “Tummy control” and, worse yet, “Suddenly Slim.” (I’m looking at you, Catalina Swimwear.)
    I weigh 275 pounds. No matter how tight the shapewear, I am not going to be “Suddenly Slim.” I will still be fat, I will just feel like I’ve been stuffed into a tight tube. No thanks!
    In point of fact, I find that the swimwear that I don’t have to struggle to get on as if it were Spanx actually makes me appear thinner (not that I give any actual fucks) than the “Suddenly Slim” nonsense.
    When I’m swimming or otherwise working out in the water, I want to be comfortable, and I want a little support for my boobs so they aren’t slapping me in the face. I don’t want to feel like I’ve been stuffed into a sausage casing.

    1. So with you on this! I absolutely refuse to buy a swimsuit that is engineered to control any part of my body in order to make it look less fat. I hate how they feel. I hate how I feel in them. And if there’s one thing I learned from all the fashion history I’ve studied over the years, it’s that corsets don’t make you thin. All they do is redistribute where the fat shows. And if there’s one thing I learned doing that Restoration comedy where they laced three inches off my waist every night, it’s really hard to breathe well enough to engage in a lot of normal activities when corseted.

      When my body is doing something it doesn’t do every day (say, swimming) the last thing I need is even the least restrictive corseting effect.

      1. Yeah, corsets and other “slimming” garments don’t really make you look slim. They make the “controlled” portions look thin, and all the rest fatter.

        So, put a corset around your waist, and suddenly you have boobs and butt. That’s great, if you didn’t have them before, but if you already had bodacious boobs and butt, then you’ll look fatter, just hourglass shaped.

        So, if you’re after a certain shape, then the control garments can be helpful to achieve that end. If you want breasts, but only have butt, then Spanx on the bottom, and a corset at the waist, and you won’t be able to breathe, but you’ll have some boobs! Sort of. Not necessarily two separate boobs, but beneath clothes, you’ll have the bulge in the desired location.

        But you’re never going to look “slim.”

        I find that I like the feel of a corset IF it is laced up only to the point that I feel well-supported (I like the type of high corset that supports the breasts, as well as waist), and no further. I don’t like them to be tight. I just like having the support coming from the bottom, rather than bra straps digging into my shoulders. But if I can’t breathe, and sing, and walk and dance, and pick up a pencil, then it’s too darned tight, and the stays are too restrictive.

  6. I am one of those women who just prefers not to show a lot of skin–I’ve had Muslim co-workers ask me if I’m Muslim, because except for the uncovered hair I apparently dress a lot like a western-raised convert to Islam. (The kicker is that I’m actually an atheist.) The recent widespread availability of modest swimsuits has saved me from the awkward shorts/t-shirt combo, which when wet seems to weigh a TON.

    1. Try lighter fibers. Cotton T-shirts get really heavy when they soak up all that water. They are very absorbent. But something like polyester or rayon isn’t so absorbent, so maybe it won’t weigh so much.

      Also, those modestkinis that are actually designed to get wet are really great, aren’t they? I like how they look, too. Even without religion, they are great for people who don’t want to show skin, for various reasons, from being afraid of sunburn, to not wanting to show off scars, or just wanting to avoid the leers of people who think that skin=invitation.

  7. I prefer to swim au naturel, thanks, but it takes a bit of hiking to find a place where I can do it in a relaxed atmosphere. And then it usually feels like fresh meltwater, because I live in Oregon, but I have enough insulation I can enjoy being water-cooled like a carrot.

    Never mind bikinis–I often think people look best naked, without the strictures and creases and artificial lines of clothing.

    Reminds me of the “Summer I Went Swimming” song: “last summer I swam in a swimming hole, and a reservoir to boot/ In the former I dressed casual, in the latter I wore a suit.”

  8. I admit I always worry when I wear a swimsuit because I am constantly worried that my boobs are gonna make a run for it. Finding a swimsuit tht works for boobs the size of canada is a nightmare. *sigh* If the selection was better, I’d feel a lot better about the season because I am not body shy but I’d rather not floof around in water minding my own business only to find out my buoyant chest fruit have plopped out of my suit!

    1. Oh, man, that happened to me in high school in front of some male classmates, and I changed my swimsuit style from then on.

      Strapless may look nice, but it’s NOT good to wear when jumping off the high-dive.

  9. This is a real issue for me. I haven’t been swimming in something like 20 years now, and I used to love it. But I just can’t bear the thought of putting on a swimsuit any more — and I have male-pattern-baldness thinning hair so I’d be very, very self-conscious about the way my hair would look if it got wet and then dried without benefit of dryer and careful positioning and brushing and spraying. But I used to love swimming (I grew up in Florida) and it makes me very sad that I’m too self-conscious about my body and my hair to do it any more. I will keep working on it. I don’t think it’s going to happen this year, but maybe next year …

      1. I have … but once I put a cap or a hat on, I have to keep it on until the next time I’m in a bathroom with a brush and a blow drier and a bottle of hairspray so I can redo my hair. My hair is VERY thin on top, and after I’ve worn any kind of cap or hat my bald spots are very, very conspicuous. I can’t get caught in the rain; I can’t wear a hat even in the coldest winter; it’s really discouraging.

        If I were either male or much, much younger, I’d just shave my head and have done with it. But I don’t have strong enough self-esteem to be a bald 50-something lady.

        The obvious thing, I suppose, is a wig, though I hate how hot they are.

        1. Mayve you could try scarves? There are a lot of different styles and ways to wear those, and they aren’t so heavy. I’ve even seen people cover just the scalp, and leave the ends loose. That can be really cute.

          I also was recently reading a random blog where the blogger had sewn-in hair extensions to add thickness to her hair, because she had trichotillomania, and it often left her with large bald patches/very thin hair. Perhaps looking up the experiences of people with that, and maybe alopecia could be a good idea?

  10. I wear a 2 piece suit from Woman within. I am a big lady. Around 340 right now. In the past 10 years, the lowest weight I had was 275. I love swimming and being on the beach. I have huge social anxiety…not because of my weight. …but I’ve never felt anxious putting on my swimsuit to swim. Go Figure.

  11. Last year, it was decided the family was going to go on a cruise for Thanksgiving. It was the end of summer & I was going to need a swimsuit in NOVEMBER! I ended up getting a “work out” shirt & shorts. It turned out GREAT! I was comfortable walking around in my “swimwear”; bonus was the work out clothes dried fast (no having lunch or sitting around in a wet suit). It also worked for going to lunch. Where you can’t go in a swimsuit. Shirt & shorts are fine! Can’t find what you want? Look in the “active wear” section!!

    1. That’s great, if the active wear section has actual active wear clothes in your size. Fortunately, more retailers are starting to add such a section. At last!

      Way to be creative, Lauren! I like the whole thing where you can go from the pool to the restaurant.

      Changing out of a wet and clingy suit can be a challenge.

  12. I love this article. I live near beaches, and I’ve found it interesting how differently people behave at different spots.
    Around the less popular surf beaches, it’s a lot more about doing stuff, and I’ve never overheard nasty comments directed at me and my friends (we’re a fabulous small group of very diverse sizing), whereas at the “sunbathing” beach, people roll their eyes or even laugh.
    Guess which beach we’re going to exclusively!

    One of my big frustrations with buying swimsuits to get “beach ready” is that I want a functional swimsuit I can, you know, swim in. It seems that once you’re above a certain approved size, you can only get one style in any of the shops: big, floral, with built-in bra and skinny straps that don’t want to stay on me when a wave hits.
    Not the look I was going for!

    I love all kinds of outdoorsy sports, but for some reason, people who make clothes for those activities think someone my size shouldn’t do them in appropriate, well-fitting gear.

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