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In Search Of A Sarong-Free Summer

Why am I so afraid of being seen in my bathing suit?

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L-R: Miracle Brands; Old Navy; Liz Claiborne
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I was relaxing on a lounge chair on the beach when I overheard laughing and chatting nearby. When I looked, I saw two women in their late 60s posing in their swimsuits and taking photos of each other on their smartphones. The three of us began talking. One of the woman was very fit and trim. She confided that as she had gotten older it became harder and harder to maintain her weight, but she refused to give up. She exercised consistently and ate healthily — although admitted to happily overindulging on vacation.

The other woman approached life differently. She didn’t believe in kale and preferred playing mah-jongg three days a week over going to the gym. Her body was jigglier and about 30 pounds heavier than her friend, but she appeared equally confident and beautiful walking around in her bathing suit.

They were both so comfortable. They felt good about themselves, and their joy that morning radiated as bright as the island sun.

I felt envious of their body positivity. I have always been self-conscious of my body, especially in a bathing suit. I hated trying on swimsuits in my own home, so forget wearing one in public. At pool parties, I rarely swim. When I do, I quickly strip off my shorts before sliding into the water, and I make sure to leave a towel right on the edge to grab immediately upon my escape. At the beach I instinctively throw on my cover-up before walking anywhere.

To paraphrase Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally: “I wanted what these two women were having!”

It had been well over two decades since I willingly took a photo in my bathing suit. Here they were gladly posing for each other with no internal body shaming, fear or insecurities. These women inspired me to embark on a sarong-free summer of my own.

To do this, I needed to take a two-pronged approach — starting with the outside. It had been several years since I bought a new swimsuit, which may have been part of my issue. Anne White, chief brand officer of Coolibar Swimwear, says, “Most bathing suits are not made for the mature women’s body.” She offers the following suggestions.

A ruche is your friend

Look for suits with an adjustable and strategically placed ruche at the bust and midsection.

Be wary of sheen

Certain swimsuit fabrics can highlight flaws. Look for matte finishes and fabrics with slight compression.

Don’t walk away from prints

Many older women think their best option is a plain black suit, but White disagrees. Color blocking can create a slimming visual and suggest curves in the right places, she says. “Prints make the eye wander, so these may be more flattering than a solid suit.”

It’s all about the fit

This means trying on a lot of suits to get it right. White says, “Grab a whole bunch when you head to the dressing room. Even if you haven’t worked a two-piece in a while, give it a try since separates can often be more comfortable and offer better support.”

Once I find a few suits that are better “suited” to my figure, the next change has to be in my attitude toward my body.

Randi B. — a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker and author — offers the following advice for women who want to feel more confident in their bathing suit.

No one is perfect

“Women need to remind themselves that most bathing-suit models are airbrushed to make it appear they have perfect bodies,” she says. “It’s an unreasonable standard for the average woman.”

Instead of flaws, see a life well lived

Having a less-than-flat stomach or cellulite can make you feel unattractive in a swimsuit, but not if you redefine what makes you beautiful. “My body is a map of my life,” Randi says. “I have stretch marks from giving birth to my two beautiful kids. I have scars on my legs from falls I took rollerblading. I am proud of these things my body has done and how my body continues to serve me.”

Nobody is judging you

Randi says, “People tend to be egocentric. They are worried about how they look and not about you look, and when you make that realization, it can be very freeing for women.”

Your sexy days are not behind

At just months away from the big 5-0, Randi, a mother of two teens, says, “I own a company. I’m a professional. I’m multi-degreed. I’m also a sensual and sexual being. I like to feel sexy— and getting a man’s attention has nothing to do with that, trust me. It’s simply who I am; and I’m old enough now to embrace who I am fully.”

For Randi, getting older has made her feel sexier and more comfortable in her body. I am hoping that with the right suit and the right attitude, I will feel the same. I’m ready to take the plunge and ditch the sarong. (But not the sunscreen! Not covering up still means wearing plenty of SPF to avoid the sun’s harmful rays!)

As Randi says, “Ladies, it’s OUR time to release what anyone else thinks. If you feel healthy, strong and vibrant — wear whatever speaks to you, because we have earned it.”