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Swimsuit Anxiety

| Friday, May 5, 2006

Unlike many folks, Denise Sherry of Scott has no hang-ups about the dawning swimsuit season, which makes many women drown in self-consciousness.

Sherry lost eight pounds before a trip early this year to sunny Florida, where she wore summer clothes, so she got a head start on shaping up.

"Most years, Memorial Day sneaks up on me, and I feel ready by the Fourth of July," says Sherry, 43. "This year ... with pools opening Memorial Day weekend, I can honesty say I'm ready -- as ready as I'm going to be."

If more women approached the impending swimsuit season with such a positive attitude, experts say, they would save themselves a lot of unnecessary misery, angst and embarrassment. What is all the fuss about getting into swimsuits, anyway• Blame it on our waistline-obsessed society, fueled by media images.

"I believe that it's an American phenomenon -- that we have acculturated a hatred of our body as kind of one of the highest forms of addictions," says Rachel Caplin. She is the author "I'm Beautiful, Dammit! Waging Your Own Curvolution" and co-founder of Curvolution, a Los Angeles-based entertainment company that aims to put real women of all sizes into the media.

"It's really an insidious, rampant disease -- body hatred," she says.

So, you're not a bikini-perfect supermodel -- but really, how many women are• Every woman has some cellulite, and that's a fact, Caplin says. If you can't see any cellulite, fat or even a blip of imperfection on a woman's body, chances are, you're looking at a photo of an airbrushed model who is off-the-scale thin.

Dr. Susan Bartell -- a Long Island, N.Y. psychologist specializing in body image for women and girls, and author of books including "Dr. Susan's Girls-Only Weight Loss Guide" -- says that 99 percent of women will never look like bikini supermodels. Why should the rest of us be duped into thinking otherwise, and doom ourselves to an indoor summer?

"Why do women torture themselves to look like something that they physically aren't able to look like --- and wouldn't want to look like, because supermodels aren't at a healthy weight?" she asks.

Most women you'll see at the pool or the beach will be just like you, Bartell says, whether average-sized or overweight. And few will notice, let alone care about, other people's cellulite; many will probably be too busy fretting about their own bodily flaws.

"Some women feel that somehow, their friends have secretly, during the winter, worked on their bodies and they're hiding it under their sweaters," Bartell says. "Of course, that's not the case. ... Most women are in the same position of feeling not great about themselves because they hadn't done what they hoped they would do.

"I would never recommend to anybody that they hide inside and don't enjoy the summer. ... Nobody is going to be looking at them as critically as they look at themselves."

Whether you're an average size, super-skinny or obese, body image experts say there is a swimsuit for you --- and that you should put it on, go outside and wear it, regardless of worrying about your appearance. Why limit your enjoyment of life, and the summer, because of body-image issues• Caplin recommends starting "radical self-love," even if you don't feel it -- the emotions and comfort will follow in time.

"For most women who might consider themselves to be obese -- just to be out in a bathing suit feels like an accomplishment, and I think it's all baby steps," says Caplin, a native of Columbus, Ohio, who now lives in San Diego. "They can enjoy the pleasure of being outside in a bathing suit, and feeling the pleasure of the wind on their skin.

"In my experience, as trite as it sounds, it's kind of a 'fake-it-until-you-make-it' thing," she says. "Sometimes, we can't think our way into acting right. ... but we can act our way into thinking right."

Sometimes, Caplin says, just the act of putting on a bathing suit can motivate someone who needs to lose weight to make healthy changes in their diet and activity level. But people should only embark on a weight-loss journey when they feel ready, and not let timing pressure them, Bartell says.

"The fact that it's bathing suit season doesn't mean that this is the moment in time where you have to be what the season is telling you to be," she says. "You don't have to allow the time of year -- the fact that bathing suits are on the racks -- dictate your psychological readiness to make some changes in yourself."

For mothers, putting on swimsuits, regardless of their size, sets an important example for their daughters, says Dr. Elissa Gittes, an adolescent medicine specialist with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Oakland. If mothers are self-scrutinizing, their daughters are sure to be uncomfortable in their own skin.

"Mom's confidence is directly influential on how her daughter is confident about her body," Gittes says. "As moms, we have to really tailor what we say."

Teenage girls may have even more angst about their bodies and swimsuit season than adults do, because their young bodies are changing so much, and peers can be so judgmental, she says.

"They want to be perceived as attractive and fit, and really emulate some of the media stars that they see," Gittes says. "It's probably not a realistic goal for a lot of them."

So put on a swimsuit and invite your daughter to sit out by the pool, she says: both mother and daughter will benefit physically and psychologically.

And forget about the cellulite.

Find a 'suit that suits

Are you dreading shopping for a swimsuit• The task doesn't have to be so stressful, according to fashion and body-image experts. Consider the following tips.

  • Don't let magazines and the television brainwash you into thinking you must wear a tiny bikini; few women have the right kind of body for one anyway. You can be more modest and comfortable in a nice, one-piece bathing suit. If a store carries mostly bikinis, look elsewhere; smaller stores actually might have a better selection than large department stores. Some plus-size stores also carry swimsuits.

  • Seek out a nice saleswoman to help you find the right swimsuit, and/or bring a supportive friend to shop with you.

  • If you feel too uncomfortable going to a store in person, try catalog shopping. If the suit doesn't fit, you can always send it back.

  • Consider a darker-colored swimsuit if you want to look thinner. White or other light-colored suits sometimes only add dimension to slim figures, and can become transparent when wet. Swirling or "V" patterns also tend to be slimming.

  • Choose a suit with a sleek fit, so that it neither yanks up nor drags down. Look for a suit with a heavier fabric, because flimsy fabrics exaggerate lumps and bumps.

  • If you are top-heavy, look for a swimsuit with some structure in the bust, such as soft foam cups.

  • If you have short legs or a short torso, look for a suit that is cut high on the thigh; it will make you look taller.

  • If you are a plus-size, look for one-piece swimsuits with some draping around the waist or hips; this helps to conceal the tummy bulge.

    Sources: www.focusonstyle.com , fashion.about.com and Dr. Susan Bartell, psychologist and author.

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