All my life, I have been in a battle with my body.
Though I never suffered from an eating disorder or anything of that severity, my body image has never been positive. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that for a long period of time, I probably struggled with body dysmorphic disorder. The way I saw myself was not even close to the way others saw me. I saw my flaws, and when I saw them, I exaggerated them and honed in on them.
It has only been in the past few months, through rigorous exercise and self-awareness, that I have made peace with my body. I still have work to do, but for the most part I now see my body for what it is: something strong and capable and yes, still imperfect. But that’s OK. For the first time I can remember, I have absolutely no qualms about wearing shorts. Or tank tops. Or even bikinis.
But I recently had an experience that made me feel shamed for being comfortable with my body. I took part in a competitive event on the water, on an 80-degree day, and wore a bikini. I made sure this was OK ahead of time. I was told it was. At the finish line of the event, all the participants were told they’d have their photos taken.
Though I started the event with a swimsuit coverup on, it eventually became soaking wet and I took it off, leaving me in, yes, my bikini. It was hot and humid anyway, so being in a swimsuit made sense. When I crossed the finish line, I smiled for the photo and didn’t even give my attire a second thought.
A few days after the event, I received an email from the organizer including my photo from the finish line, stating that bikini photos would not be posted on the event’s Facebook page along with all the other event photos. I was immediately puzzled by this statement, but decided to let it go and not comment.
But over the next few days, it continued to weigh on me. I felt I was being shamed for wearing a bikini, shamed for being a woman comfortable in my own skin. The photos of nearly everyone else in the event were posted, including women who were wearing a bikini top and shorts or men who were shirtless and had swim trunks on. Why that attire was different than a bikini, I’m still not sure.
By not posting the photo of me at the finish line, it was if I was being told there was something wrong with the way I looked or the way I carried myself. I felt as if from that point forward, I was being told that I should think twice before deciding to wear a bikini in public. I felt like I was being judged for being OK with my body, something that has literally taken me my entire life to achieve. I realize this may not have been the conscious intention of choosing not to post bikini photos, but that is how it come across to me.
In the past, I’d have kept quiet about this situation and let it feed into my negative thoughts about myself, second-guessing whether I should ever wear a bikini again. But I’m different now. I’ve fought hard to get to this point of self-acceptance, and I know other women have, too. So I don’t want to ignore this and sweep it under the rug, making it even more normalized.
The unfortunate truth is that as women, society so often tells us we need to look attractive, but not too attractive – because there’s an issue with that, too. There’s this fine line we’re supposed to walk, and I’ll just tell you, it’s a line that’s impossible to balance on. So why even bother?
If you are someone who is uncomfortable with your body or sees it differently than others do, I challenge you to consider why this is. Chances are it’s because someone has told you you should be uncomfortable, or that society has made you believe that anything less than perfection means you’re not allowed to be comfortable in your own skin. That’s a lie.
And if you are someone who is comfortable with your body, continue to wear what makes you feel comfortable and good, regardless of the experiences that try to tell you otherwise. Don’t let others dictate that for you. Don’t let ignorant people make you feel ashamed for being comfortable in the skin you were born in. At the end of the day, you are the only one who needs to be OK with what you wear and how you look.