Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early in the semester, my friend invited me to take a saltwater kayaking class offered through our university, which consists of about a month of skills classes (once a week) followed by a weekend trip on the coast. I have done some canoeing and the trip seemed exciting. This class always fills quickly because it only has eight slots, but my friend and I paid our deposits on the day sign-ups opened and we both made it in. The instructor sent an email introducing himself and explaining the agenda.
It turns out that the first two class sessions take place in the gym pool and we are supposed to wear swimsuits. This sounds stupid, but I haven’t worn a swimsuit in years because I feel self conscious about my body, enough that I would have thought twice about signing up if I had known. That makes me sound repressed but the truth is that I just do activities other than swimming, and it has never been an issue. Maybe I should have known, but I pictured the class happening outside. I don’t even own a swimsuit. It sounds insignificant when I write it out, but I’m just not sure the best way to handle this. I wish I could forget about it like everyone else.
This doesn’t sound insignificant at all. Going into a situation where your body is more visible than usual—whatever that means for you—can absolutely be a big deal. And I suspect that more people are self-conscious in a swimsuit than not, and many folks who strike you as confident are just good at hiding it.
I’m glad you signed up for the kayaking class before encountering this swimsuit issue, because it sounds like a lot of fun and I think you’ll be happy you did it. I also think you should confide in your friend, because the experience will be way easier if you know someone’s got your back. If I were you, I’d sit down and tell your friend the same thing you told me: that you didn’t realize the class involved wearing a swimsuit, and you feel silly admitting it, but the whole thing’s got you anxious. (Even though, objectively, your feelings aren’t silly, acknowledging your insecurities about your insecurities is a) honest and b) cues your friend to be extra gentle in her response.)
Then ask your friend to help you pick a swimsuit.
This second part is key. You can either choose a day to go shopping together or order a bunch of returnable options online so that you can try them on in the privacy of your home, possibly while drinking wine, if that’s your thing. Try on bikinis, one-pieces, board shorts, whatever. If you want to cover more skin, look for a rash guard and a swim skirt. Remember that no decent person cares what you wear to swim. When you find options that you hate less than the others, model them for your friend so she can hype you up and remind you how gorgeous you are. Maybe your friend hasn’t seen much of your skin before. OK, then modeling for her might be scary. But it’s important. And it’ll be all right, I promise. Your friend has a pretty good idea how you look—and she adores you. You’re not alone in this process anymore. You and your friend are a team.
When the big Swimsuit Day comes, meet up beforehand so you can go to the pool together. Coming out of the locker room—or dropping your towel, or whatever the moment is that you and your human body become publicly visible—may feel absolutely terrifying and it will also be over quickly. Smile at your friend. She’s already seen you like this, and she’s the only other person in the room that matters. Other people will probably turn to look, because that’s what we do when someone walks into a room, but that doesn’t mean they’re judging you. They’re probably not. Or they’re noticing your smile, or your neat swimsuit. There is, of course, a small possibility that someone in the room will look at you and think to themselves, “I do not like that person’s body,” which is a shitty judgment that has zero impact on your life whatsoever and reflects that person’s own unresolved issues and/or generally lousy personality. By the time a few seconds have passed, the worst will be over. People know what you look like now, and they’ve gone back to thinking about their own homework or love problems or wet-exit technique, and it’s time for kayaking class to begin.
Getting through one day in the pool won’t make your self-consciousness go away. But it will make swimsuit-wearing just a little easier next time, and a little easier the time after that. Take it one class at a time. Each day, bit by bit, you’ll be taking power from your insecurities and putting that power back into your own hands.