By Hara Estroff Marano, published on July 9, 2007 - last reviewed on May 18, 2011
My children love the beach and swimming in pools, but I'm overweight and don't like being in a bathing suit. I feel bad about denying them "water time," but I just can't get myself to put on a bathing suit. I know I have to lose weight but until I do, what can I do to get myself into the right mindset?
What a sad commentary on weight issues in America that any woman—and this problem mostly afflicts women—would avoid the beach and deprive herself and her kids of a fun and healthy experience. And this is because she doesn't feel worthy of wearing a swimsuit. You must assume others will be spending their time at the beach or pool staring at you and sharing with you the same negative assessment of you that you have of yourself.
Of course, this will make you feel even worse than you already do.
By all means, if you are overweight, do something about it. But don't put your life on hold. Start eating well for health reasons. And do it so that you can live up to your own desires and expectations for yourself. Change your eating patterns, beef up your activity level, and do things that keep you away from the refrigerator. Like... going to the beach.
Losing weight isn't easy for most people. But losing weight means changing your patterns of behavior, because the ones you're engaging in now are supporting the problem and making you feel unworthy of enjoying life. Spending time outdoors, especially at the beach, exposes you to sun and air, and just that exposure has a way of lightening your mood and attitude, as well as making you feel healthy. This makes it easier to summon the mental energy you need to stick to a healthy eating plan. There's something of a vicious cycle that makes you feel bad and hopeless about yourself: you feel unworthy of wearing a swimsuit, are inactive, eat in spite of your desire to be thinner, and you are away from the very things that will promote the behavior changes you want.
And there's something of a positive cycle that supports all your efforts at change when you take even a single step in the right direction. Doing something active—playing ball with your kids at the beach or exercising in the pool—will help you in many ways. Inactivity feeds two separate channels of body loathing—you're unhappy with the way it looks and unhappy with the way it functions. Activity will shift your feelings about your body into the positive realm and give you an active sense of accomplishment that will further motivate you. You may not feel like strutting down a fashion runway but the new respect for your body will encourage you to accord it its place in the sun.
If you are at the pool, get in the water, stake out some space along the perimeter, and try arm movements and leg kicks. Water provides resistance that makes exercising highly efficient. In addition, movement feels graceful, further boosting confidence in your body's functional ability. Position yourself so that you can monitor your kids while doing what you need to do.
Perhaps what is most holding you back from the beach or pool is your assumption that everyone there will be staring at you and evaluating you. I have some good news: That's a mistaken belief. Everyone else is out to have a good time. They're busy having fun doing what they want to do in spite of the way they look. You can pretty much count on the fact that every other woman there is self-conscious about the way she looks in a swimsuit. So there's one thing to remember: They're too preoccupied with themselves to worry about how you look.
You're already aware that you're letting your own emotional needs get in the way of your kids' needs. They also benefit from being around water. It brings out the kid and the playfulness in all of us. Now that you know your own feelings are based on false assumptions, take the small step out of your comfort zone. That will break the cycle of negative feelings that are holding you back from participating in life.