By Carly Anderson, as told to Jennifer Clopton
I've spent most of my life feeling uncomfortable in a bathing suit. For as long as I can remember, any time I’d put one on, the material felt too tight, my hips felt too big, and my thighs rubbed together.
So I stopped wearing them. I avoided pool parties and beach days, and in the first 3.5 years of my daughter’s life, I only wore a bathing suit two or three times. That’s especially crazy because I live in Southern California, where truthfully I could probably wear one every day.
Another brutal truth – I cried each time I put a suit on. That may sound silly. It’s just a bathing suit, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. For many of us, our body image and self-image are wrapped up in what we see and how we feel when we put on a bathing suit. I know this because I talk about body positivity a lot as a family, style, and fashion blogger. And while I’d posted pictures of myself online in just about every kind of outfit you can imagine, I’d never posed in a bathing suit.
One day in 2017, while recording an Instagram Story, I started talking about my avoidance of bathing suits. I explained that I was starting to feel like I was missing out on fun at the beach and pool because I refused to wear a bathing suit. I was also wondering about the message this sent my daughter, and I knew I didn’t like the negative internal thoughts I was having about looking "bad" in a bathing suit.
So I made a joke – suggesting that perhaps I should just take photos in a bathing suit and post them online. Maybe if the Internet saw them, I wouldn’t care so much what anyone at the pool or beach thought – I said with a laugh.
I was just kidding. It truly was an off-hand remark. I had no intention of putting a suit on – much less taking a photo in one and posting it online. But over the next several days, a tsunami of messages poured in, and hundreds of women shared that they too had this deep-seated fear. I’d never gotten a reaction like this to anything I’d ever done, and I felt a responsibility to do something about it.
So I decided I would, in fact, take a picture in a bathing suit and post it online. I assumed it would just be one time – to say I had done it. So I searched long and hard for a suit I felt great in. Once I found a hot pink one-piece that I loved, I called up a friend who’s a photographer and asked her to take some pictures of me by her backyard pool.
When she sent me the photos – I cried. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that now. But I did. I think it was because I could see that I looked just fine in the suit. The images certainly weren’t as bad as what was in my head. Then it felt a bit overwhelming to realize I had been holding myself back for so long over this.
Even so, I didn’t post the pictures right away. I held onto them for about a month and finally published them in a blog post along with a few style tips about how to choose a bathing suit that makes you feel comfortable. "My point ladies," I wrote. "Just do it. Wear the bathing suit, drop the cover up, and jump into the pool."
Let’s just say – the post made quite a splash. The reaction was the biggest I’d ever had. Hundreds of women cheered me on, and it became obvious that I had touched a nerve. I clearly was not alone in my insecurities. It turns out, a ton of us have been hiding at the pool and beach – or not putting on a bathing suit at all - and nearly all of us are sick of that.
Posting those pictures brought me a sense of freedom I never expected. My insecurities weren’t magically erased, but I did realize I just didn’t care anymore what someone at the pool might think. I also decided I wasn’t going to hide anymore if my daughter wanted to go for a swim. So I started putting on a bathing suit and heading to the pool and beach with family and friends. And the more I did that, the more comfortable I got.
Online, the positive messages kept coming, so I started buying more bathing suits, taking photos in them, and posting them with the hashtag #justwearthesuit. Over time, my bathing suit collection has grown to nearly 100, and my mindset has shifted. I no longer feel trapped in my own body. After about a year of this, I decided I wanted others to experience this kind of transformation too. So in the summer of 2018, I asked other women to put on a bathing suit and post pics of themselves using the hashtag #justwearthesuit.
My biggest fear was that nobody would actually do it, so I had a few friends help me launch the effort. But I didn’t need to worry. The campaign quickly took on a life of its own. One year later, women from all over the world are still posting pictures of themselves in a bathing suit and with the #justwearthesuit hashtag. So many have participated that it’s actually created a community centered around body positivity where women of all ages, body types, and walks of life cheer each other on and share openly about the two things they all have in common - insecurity about their bodies and a desire to get rid of that insecurity.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from all of this is how much we all limit ourselves. Society does present a certain image of beauty, but too many of us allow it to take root in our heads and fester and grow into toxic insecurity about our bodies. This campaign is about realizing you don’t have to let that happen.
The amazing part of taking a picture in a bathing suit and posting it online is the discovery that you’re not waiting to see what others say. This is about taking a step in your own life to change what YOU see. There are certainly lots of other ways you can do that. If you don’t want to post a picture online, how about letting a friend or family member take a picture of you in a bathing suit and simply put that in a family photo album instead of deleting it. Or maybe you don’t take a photo at all and just put on the suit and hop in the pool the next time your friends or children ask you to.
A bathing suit is just a symbol, but it’s a powerful one. It’s also a great reminder that there is a very real and beautiful freedom in letting go of the insecurities that hold you back. There’s a hunger out there for this kind of courageous release. Our children need us to model that we feel comfortable in our bodies, and truthfully, as adults we need to send that message to ourselves as well.
Carly Anderson is a former elementary school teacher turned full time blogger and family and body positive style influencer. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughter, has more than 90,000 followers on Instagram, and was the Iris Awards 2019 Winner Instagram of the Year. You can follow her at www.lipglossandcrayons.com or on Instagram and use #justwearthesuit to connect with the community on Instagram.