A client told me that when she is out shopping and sees a message that is food or body shaming, she will flip it around so that others won’t see it. It is her own quiet demonstration of activism to push back on the guilt-inducing food and body shaming messages that are everywhere around us. I was so tickled by this. As a Health at Every Size® advocate, I love my client’s desire to say “No” to this line of messaging and to want to help protect others from it in the process.
About this time last year, I began my own quiet demonstration of activism that lasted all summer long. I wore a one piece swimsuit. Nope, that is not a mistype; I mean a one-piece swimsuit. I know right now you are thinking...seriously? You had me on the edge of my seat about activism and we are talking about a one-piece swimsuit? I’d love to share with you what this means for me and my body.
Body dissatisfaction comes in all shapes and sizes. As a thin-ish person, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve certainly struggled in this area. While I don’t experience the weight stigma and discrimination of someone in a larger body, I certainly don’t love my accentuated pear shape – small upper half, large bottom half. I carry more fat on my hips, thighs and fanny then I do on the rest of my body. With this comes cellulite, and quite a bit in my case. It also comes with some difficulty finding pants that fit both my hips/thighs/fanny, and also my waist.
I have spent most all of my adult life disliking this part of my body. Examining it in the mirror, squishing it, trying to figure out how to dress it, shrink it, and minimize its appearance. This became quite difficult during the summer when I wore a bathing suit. Fortunately, I was ok with one part of my body – my stomach. At times in my life, I even liked my stomach. So it was bikini all the way for me throughout my 20s and I just tried to ignore my derriere. I just didn’t even look at it.
In my early 30s after giving birth to my first daughter, this part of my body became signed with stretch marks. There were so many of them - and they were so wide and deep. At first when I saw this I gasped; then my heart sank deep into the pit of my stomach. I had already disliked that part of my body so much and I could not have imagined it looking worse, but here it was. So I did what every middle-age woman does - I bought myself a swim skirt. I found a cute one that didn’t make me feel like Little House on the Prairie, and I headed for the pool. I figured out a way to cover up my bottom half more, while showing the parts of me I was ok with.
From late in my 20s until well into my 30s, one-piece swimsuits were coming back in style and I admired my friends and other women in their cute one-piece swimsuits. But these weren’t for me, they weren’t for MY body. I would be out of my mind to cover up the parts of me that I actually liked (my stomach), and only show the parts of me that I did not (my hips/thighs). Through the years I had carefully navigated how to show my body just so, hide my imperfections and enhance other parts to look better. I was ok with this, until I was not ok with it.
If there is anything that the past few years of working with clients in healing their relationship with food and body has taught me, it is that this HAS to stop. Years of supporting one brave client after another while they bought new sizes and styles of clothing and swimsuits, and moved their bodies in ways that they never thought they would, growing in acceptance of what was and what may never be, and I was over here hiding my “imperfections” as best I could. How can I help women grow in acceptance of their bodies while at the same time, try to portray my body as perfectly as I could?
So when my body changed more after my second child, my cute swim skirts no longer fit. I was faced with searching for a swimsuit and it was time to choose my values over vanity. I invited two one-piece swimsuits into my wardrobe and they were the only swimsuits I wore all summer long.
Each time I shed my bathing suit cover-up I could feel my resolve grow. I felt anchored by quietly although firmly saying “No” to the suffocating and exhausting messages that we should do everything in our power to make our bodies look a certain way, especially when it comes to swimwear.
Who wins when we spend our time at the pool or beach self-conscious, unable to fully engage in the fun around us? Or worse, when we just stop going? Not us.
An article of clothing that at one time, as children, brought us feelings of joy inspired by memories of running through the sprinkler, jumping into the pool or splashing in the waves, now brings many of us feelings of dread, shame, and even exhaustion as we try to find “the one” that we can tolerate.
Ladies, this is scandalous, how did we let this happen?!? Swimwear should still bring us feelings of joy. It is the promise of a fun time in the yard with our kids, relaxing by the pool with a book, or a wonderful vacation. This summer, we need to find our own ways to say “No” by allowing our bodies to just be as they are while we proceed to have fun in them. Let’s not let the scandal of the swimsuit steal our joy, but rest in knowing that joy is a gift, made possible by God who says we’re perfect in His sight.
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Megan is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. Megan specializes in non-diet, heath at every size nutrition therapy for women and nutrition therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. She believes that difficult relationships with food and body image are barriers to women living life fully the way that Christ wants for us and she loves helping women find freedom in eating and acceptance of their bodies so that they can turn more attention towards living.