Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Bathing Suit Blues: Coping With Self-Image

        Health | Women's General Health

Say the words "bathing suit blues" and everybody knows what you mean. Big butt exposure. Overhanging flab. Unsightly varicose veins. Botched-up shaving jobs. One woman said she hated wearing a bathing suit in public so much that she bought a house with a pool. Another is still haunted by the memory of a photo taken of her lounging in a beach chair, her thighs filling the lower half of the picture.

Isn't who you are more important than how you look? "I can't wave my Ph.D. in front of you and say it's okay that I look like a bowl of dough because I have a high degree," says Judith Waters, a New York city psychologist. Society, she adds, still judges people by the way they look and glamorizes thin women, despite the growing plus-size manufacturing industry.

The bathing suit industry accommodates you in ways that say, "You should be thinner, but we'll do the best we can. We'll put in spandex to hold you up and look better, give you artificial tanner so the flab won't look so bad."

No matter how successful we are in other aspects of our lives, the bathing suit strips us naked. And when the sun shines, those of us who feel our bodies fall short of the "American beauty ideal" run for cover. But don't despair! You can beat the bathing suit blues and better cope with your self-image by considering the following tips:

Recognize nobody looks like the models. We all know that dreaded bathing suit search ritual. "This is what happens," says Robert Thompson, president of the International Popular Culture Association, "you look at yourself with a bathing suit on in the mirror and gasp. You put something else on, you gasp again. Then you find something within the realm of acceptability. The sooner you recognize the tricks of Madison Avenue, the better off you'll be." The fact is, hardly anyone can meet the beauty ideal.

Buy a pretty bathing suit that fits. Horrified by the prospect of browsing through hundreds of bathing suits, many women just buy whatever they can squeeze into. If you aren't going to be winning any beauty contests, you might as well lounge by the pool in comfort! Check out plus sizes.

"I design colorful bathing suits that have much more room for your stomach and behind," says Janelle Bonlie, president of Love Your Peaches Clothing Company Find out your body shape. Should you minimize your thighs? Play up your bust? Show off your legs? Downplay your roundness? Do these questions baffle you because you never considered highlighting ANYTHING on your body? If so, visit to figure out whether your body is shaped like an apple, pear or hourglass. Then look at some of the styles recommended.

Embarrassed to try on suits at stores? Buy online. "Women don't like the way they look under store florescent light," says Claude Dauman, president of, whose site also includes fashion shows. "They see every imperfection. Plus, they often feel obligated to make a decision within three to five minutes."

Accessorize with robes, T-shirts and cover-ups. Cover-ups are chic. One woman bought a swimsuit with a matching pair of shorts "to cover my pouch." Another wears a skirt over her bathing suit "to cover the top of my legs so you can't see the shaving bumps."

Don't focus on how you look, think about how you feel. Alice Ansfield, publisher of Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women, swims laps daily at an outdoor pool. "I love being in the water," she says. "That's what I focus on. Shift your attitude, and stop looking at other people to try to figure out what they think."

Arm yourself with clever comebacks in case people make comments. If people jeer at you, get back at them with wit. Ansfield's magazine has a section on retorts to rude comments. One large woman, for instance, embarrassed a couple of guys who were staring at her by going up to them and saying, "Here I am. Get a good look now. I wouldn't want you to miss anything."

If you hate the beach scene, take a hike! Who says you have to go to the beach? If wearing a bathing suit is too painful, do something else that is enjoyable and involves wearing more clothes, such as going hiking. If you feel that your weight is really a problem, seek counseling or go to a nutritionist.

The following tips should help you get through the season:

  • Recognize nobody looks like the models.
  • Buy a pretty bathing suit that fits.
  • Embarrassed to try on suits at stores? Buy online.
  • Accessorize with robes, T-shirts and cover-ups.
  • Don't focus on how you look, think about how you feel.
  • Arm yourself with clever comebacks in case people make comments.