Summer has finally arrived here in Northern Minnesota. Which means it will be light sweater weather for the next eight weeks, followed by one scorching hot five day period in which we will all collectively submerge ourselves in the abundant fresh water that surrounds us.
The women of the Northland have begun to set the mental wheels in motion, the wheels that remind us that we looked truly awful in last year’s swimsuit. Those machinations that turn out phrases about cellulite and flabbiness and sagging and skin tone and things that are too flat or decidedly not flat enough. Whisper campaigns that originate in our own minds about WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS GOING TO THINK.
Oh, man. I get it. I have never been one of those taut and tan types. My own genetics landed in me in the pizza dough category — pale, mushy, stretched, and enjoyed by children. It’s a hard thing for a young woman wrap their mind around: that you will never look like the prevailing cultural standard of beauty no matter what you do.
I love what writer Anne Lamott has to say on the subject:
I had decided I was going to take my thighs with me proudly whenever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach, that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.”
Most men devote zero mental energy to how they look in a swimsuit. Maybe they work out. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they have back hair. Maybe they don’t. In preparing to write this article, I asked my husband:
“Do you ever worry about how you look in a swimsuit?”
“Was there ever a time that you weighed more than you wanted that you felt uncomfortable in a swimsuit?”
“Do you worry that others will judge you when you are wearing very little clothing at the beach?”
“What about a group of super buff, young men or women? Would you care if they were criticizing your physique?”
“Why are you asking me this? I care about none of these things. I care about being smart.”
AND THAT IS JUST IT, MY FRIENDS.
Most men devote so little energy to how they look in a swimsuit that it does not even register on the scale of things they are supposed to care about.
Women, on the other hand, are busy inventing scenarios in which we find ourselves entirely unfriended on Facebook and a website devoted to our heinous appearance, complete with closeup paparazzi pictures of each dimple or roll should we dare to show the world that we are not a clone of Giselle.
Here is the part of the article in which I am supposed to tell you to love yourself just as you are. That you are beautiful and a worthy human, and that the least interesting thing about you is your (alleged) saddlebags.
And that would be true.
But I have always found this self-love message a little lacking. I mean, yeah, we should absolutely view ourselves as beings of infinite worth, and I really hope you do.
However, telling me to love myself has never once made me stop feeling bad about my thigh problem. It’s like yelling, “CALM DOWN” to a child. It never makes them calm down. Not once in the history of the world has a child said, “You know, you’re right. Now I’m calm,” because someone told them to.
I’ve started interrupting myself instead. And you know what? It’s actually working.
Normal me: “Sigh. That swimsuit is just… why… why does it do that in the back… no. You can’t wear this. Everyone will think you are—“
Interrupting me: “Who cares what they think.”
Normal me: “True. I do not care what a 20 year old male stranger has to say about anything.”
Normal me: “These pants make your (insert body part) look—“
Interrupting me: “Who cares if they do. Are they comfortable?”
I have started practicing the art of interrupting, and reminding myself that I do not actually need or want to care about what other people think about my body. If someone doesn’t like me because my stomach is not flat after giving birth to 40 lbs of children, then I don’t really care to know them. Goodbye.
I don’t really care what strangers in public think about other aspect of my life. I don’t ask their opinions about my job, my family, the car I drive or the names I chose for my (many, many) children. Why am I supposed to care what a stranger thinks about how I look in a black Lands End tankini?
If someone doesn’t like me because of the genes I was born with, then I don’t care to know them. Adios.
If I am thinking poorly about myself, then I am going to quickly remind myself that I do not need a dimple free body to live a happy life. Au revoir, weird, random thoughts that don’t belong in my head anyway.
During the one week this year it is warm enough to wear a swimsuit, I am going to slather on the SPF and take these aunties out to see the world. And I am not going to care what you or anyone thinks about it.
Who’s with me?