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Trying to be Considerate

Dear Miss SmartyPants,

This is a weird question, but here we go.

I am really athletic and work out a lot and look great in clothes. The only problem is that once I'm in a swimsuit, I'm pale, cellulite-y, puffy in the wrong places, etc. I feel weird wearing a swimsuit in public, not so much because I'm uncomfortable, but because I'm wondering at what point one shuns public near-nudity for the sake of avoiding making others uncomfortable. Where is the line between making others' beach/pool trips unpleasant and letting others' judgments stifle my fun?

Trying to be Considerate

Dear Trying,

The line ... is the horizon. Just go swimming, and stop looking over your shoulder.

Talk about being hard on yourself. Jeez. And judging yourself harshly and cruelly - would you judge someone else like that? I don't like it that you describe yourself in such unkind terms.

If I understand the question correctly, you're wondering whether it's okay to wear a swimsuit in public because you don't want to make other people feel uncomfortable when they have to look at your body. This question sets off alarm bells for me, because it sounds you have some body image issues that you might need to work on.

So long as your clothing covers the parts of your body required by law and is appropriate to the occasion (e.g., wearing a bathing suit is perfect at the beach, but not at a formal dinner party), no one has the right to judge you for your body size, cellulite, skin tone, or any other physical attribute. Moreover, it's unlikely that anyone is actually looking at you in disgust anyway, because, frankly, most people are frequently self-absorbed and unobservant.

If you really are athletic and look good in clothes, I have a lot of trouble believing that you look so terrible in a bathing suit as to inspire shock and discomfort in others. But if other people were to become uncomfortable looking at dimpled thighs, that's their problem, not yours, and it's not your job to wear a muumuu to make them feel better. Wear what you feel comfortable in and what is convenient for you for the activities you're doing, and don't worry about whether other people like your body.

My guess is that you are something of a perfectionist, and are projecting your own insecurities about your body onto others. Other people are never judging us as harshly as we judge ourselves. If you believe that you are so physically disgusting that it would be impolite for you to wear a bathing suit in public, I would say you might benefit from some therapy to learn to like and accept your body better.

I have a friend who felt the same way about her body during her 30s (while raising kids and as her husband's interest in her disappeared) but one day in her mid-40s she stood naked in front of her mirror and focused on all the good things about her body. She swears to me that little event changed almost everything. Her husband's interest never revived, but now she's single and proud of who she became. She's in her bathing suit three days a week (swimming at the Y) and almost never thinks about the way she looks compared to the 20-somethings around her.

That lady makes me hoot and holler and do the wave. I hope you have an epiphany like my fortysomething friend.

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