Her flat stomach, perfectly perky breasts, and tiny bikini had me staring from across the pool with envy. She had multiple kids and a swimsuit model body. I started to play my favorite self-deprecating voice over and over in my head as I watched her.
I don’t deserve to be in a swimsuit.
I’m lumpy, laden with stretch marks and saggy breasts.
My legs are hairy.
I haven’t lost the baby weight.
I forgot to shave my bikini line.
I don’t belong.
I don’t look good.
Over and over, I let these body shaming remarks absorb until I start to feel uneasy. I reach for my towel. I forget why I was at the pool or beach. I cover up and watch from the sidelines.
While I focused on my own inadequacies, the bikini lady focused on her kids—playing, splashing, soaking up moments that would never happen again the same way.
At the beginning of last summer, I realized I was wasting precious energy putting myself down and worrying about not losing the baby weight. So I wrote about my feelings about not losing the baby weight, and I pledged to have a great summer. I knew I would miss out if I let my negative comments consume me.
I decided I needed to change.
I didn’t go on a stringent diet or work out to the point of exhaustion until I fit into a bikini.
Instead, I put on my damn swimsuit.
All summer and at every opportunity, I wore my swimsuit.
I swam with my kids, went to the beach, scooted down water slides and, against my better judgment, went down a pool zip line—multiple times.
I’ve wasted too much energy in my life putting down my body and myself. The change I needed to make was to start to love my body—to really love it, see it, accept it. And that meant recognizing the power, strength, and gifts my body has provided.
I haven’t lost the baby weight, maybe I never will, and that’s OK. I belong in a swimsuit, and if I don’t put on my swimsuit because I’m concerned my body isn’t good enough, I will without a doubt miss out on fun memories and experiences.
My kids will never say, “My mom was such a good mom; she fit into size 10 jeans.” Instead, they will talk about how I was confident, how I loved swimming, and how I loved both them and myself fiercely.
Starting the journey to loving myself and putting on a swimsuit didn’t happen overnight. It takes constant effort to counter self-deprecating thoughts. I’ve played those thoughts in my head over and over for almost 40 years, so it’s going to take some time to heal.
I needed to teach myself how to love and appreciate my body. I needed to give myself grace. I had to come to the loving conclusion that I’m doing my best both with my body and motherhood.
I had to reevaluate what I valued about my body. I had to ask myself what I want my kids to value about their bodies. I had to treat my body with love, talk to it like I would talk to my children and friends. I found strength in running, being active with my kids, and finding value in clothes that fit and made me feel good, not in the size tags attached.
You have to constantly feed yourself supportive comments and thoughts about your body in order to combat the inevitable internal destructive comments that will surface. Don’t feed into the cycle of self-doubt.
Recently my husband and I went on a beach vacation. He was in the other room of the hotel, and I was looking at myself in the mirror in my swimsuit. I noticed as I moved that the sun would reflect the purple stretch marks that ran up and down my belly. I honestly, for a moment, asked myself why I was so confident with this body. I felt strong. I was happy. I really loved myself and felt good. The destructive comments still crept up, but I must not believe them.
A couple hours later, my husband and I were on our paddle boards and my husband cruised by my board and said, “Gosh, I love that swimsuit.” Yep, the same one that exposed my purple stretch marks.
But more important, it was the one that made me feel confident, strong, and fun. And I reflected that energy.
I’m done missing out. I’m done staring at other women and trying to measure up, because I’m really great the way I am and my body is strong and has done really amazing things.
Life is short. Time with my kids and husband is precious, and I don’t want to miss out. I’m going to swim and proudly wear my swimsuit this summer.
So put on your damn swimsuit. Bikini, skirt, swim shirt—it doesn’t matter—just put on your damn swimsuit. Swim this summer, make memories, stop comparing, and start the process toward accepting and loving your body.
This essay was originally posted on Scary Mommy.