Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ “I Don’t Feel Comfortable in a Bathingsuit”

Dear Dr V,

I feel kind of dumb asking this question, but it’s something that’s really bothering me. I don’t feel comfortable in a swimsuit. I know I’m not morbidly obese, and maybe even I’m not that overweight, but I just don’t like how I look in a bathing suit. The problem is, I’ve started seeing this guy and now that the summer’s kicked in to full swing, he always wants to go swimming with me. I don’t think there’s anything weird about that, we get along great, I really like him and I can tell he really likes me; he also really likes to go to the beach or even just the pool at his apartment complex. I’m starting to feel stressed as I’m running out of excuses for why I can’t go. There’s no way I could diet or exercise my way in to a comfortable shape before the end of the summer. Can you suggest any diets or workout plans? What do I do?

Fishy Out of Water

Dear Fishy,

There’s no need to feel stupid about how you feel or the question you’re asking. I think the worst part of it is that a lot of women probably feel just as you do, and also, from how you make it sound, without really deserving to. I don’t say that to minimize or invalidate what you’re going though, but more to let you know that as this problem could be one of personal perception, it might be something more easily solved by the end of the summer than getting into a “comfortable shape.”

I’ve railed on the industries that force women into these head spaces where they grapple with body-image issues in the past, so I won’t re-hash too much ground that we’ve been over before. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of people out there whose bread and butter is making sure women are unhappy with how they look. So the first thing I would do is ask yourself, where are these feelings of dissatisfaction with your body really coming from? Has your doctor told you to lose weight? Perhaps someone you know made a thoughtless remark that cut you and left this worry in its wake. Or the culprit could be the barrage of unreal images depicting a standard of beauty that is both ridiculous and impossible to achieve, which we all endure on a daily basis.

Now, of course if you were advised by a physician to lose weight for health reasons, then by all means it is something you should follow through on. I expect your doctor would be able to suggest a weight-loss program that would be most appropriate for you. Yet, in your letter you all but came out and said that you were reasonably sure you didn’t need to lose weight and that you were unhappy with how you looked in one particular type of clothing. So let’s focus on that.

To my way of thinking, likes and dislikes are essentially opinionated perceptions. As they are perceptions and not objective realities, I’d like to think that, with some effort and concentration, they could be malleable. Ultimately what you’re talking about is a lack of self-confidence. We need to build up that self-confidence so the next time your sweetie asks if you want to go for a dip you’ll be running in to do a cannonball before he finishes the question (alright that’s a bit extreme but you get the gist).

I am not a fan of fad diets or workout regimens, especially the more extreme kind. I personally think if we make such drastic changes in our lifestyles, many times we end up miserable because we have gone from overindulging our pleasure center to completely depriving it  (truly addictive or destructive behavior would be the obvious exception). So on that third day of the Gulag Diet, eating only fist-sized portions of carrots and a glass of skim milk for lunch, we go totally nuts and have a Big Mac with a Twinkie chaser. This binge is of course followed by a downward spiral of crushing self-loathing and defeatism, leading us to resolve to really suffer and make ourselves look like a life-sized Barbie doll this time, and the next day it’s back into the prison-style rations for lunch and trying to exercise like a Marine recruit.

Doesn’t sound like fun, right? Certainly not like something that you will easily stay motivated to keep doing. So here’s what I suggest: eliminate the obvious stuff from your diet like the fast food, the processed food, the crazy high-salt, high-sugar, high carb stuff. Go whole wheat instead of white bread. Steamed instead of fried. And most important of all, I really think the key is balance. Learn to eat until you’re not hungry, but not completely busting. Eat slowly. And every now and again, indulge. Once a week have a cheeseburger with a milkshake or whatever it is you really dig on food-wise. The key is to keep the pendulum moving back and forth, not stuck completely to one side.

Exercise is the other important component. As I said, don’t try to emulate the extreme workout that Arnold Schwarzenegger followed to prep for Conan (the Barbarian, not Late Night). A gym membership might be a sensible investment for you. Many times health clubs will offer some sort of free personal instruction in the use of the facility, and may even help you develop an exercise program tailored to your personal goals. In this way, working out can be something you know you are doing for yourself in the best way possible, something enjoyable that relieves stress so that, most important of all, it is something you want to do. Because as we all know, it’s often far easier to go after what we want than what we need. It is a wonderful thing when the two overlap, however.

All of this brings us back around to your original question: “What can I do?” I think if you make these simple but important modifications to your lifestyle, your worry and insecurity over this “swimsuit issue” could very well be assuaged. Partially because of course, in a few weeks of taking optimum care of yourself and loving to your body, you will start to see physical results. But more than that, in your heart and mind you will know that you are being proactive. Positive action very often yields strength and self-confidence. It is my deepest heartfelt hope you are able to get yourself on a healthy, balanced path to physical and emotional wellness as soon as possible. It sounds like you have a great thing going with this guy and once you resolve this obstacle for yourself, I would think things could only get better.

Also, it’s way too hot this summer to stay out of the water.

With Love and Light,

Dr. V

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