As I was planning for a vacation in the south of Portugal, I couldn’t stop thinking about the years that I spent saying no to beach trips or pretending I was busy during heatwaves. I had bikini fear. I didn’t want anybody to see me in a swimsuit.
During my teenage years the thought of revealing my body in a bikini, whatever the place or the occasion, always brought an obnoxious wave of worry. I was scared and afraid of undressing in front of other people. An irrational phobia that, especially in summer, made me experience intense anxiety and pain.
I remember when it all started. I was 12, at a public pool with some school friends. We were all enjoying ourselves until the brother of my closest friend at the time commented on my body and its changing shape. I remember feeling inadequate and ashamed. Soon after I started having a lower self-esteem and a distorted image of my own body. I kept looking for some physical defect (usually imaginary) and comparing myself and my physicality to the one of my friends.
Fast forward a few years and I became more mindful about my body and my body image. No pep-talk magically took away my fears and reservations about wearing a swimsuit in public. With patience and a lot of hard work (and also maybe a bit of maturity) I learned to love my body the way that it is. But I know that for many women like me, swimwear is frightening. The ‘bikini body’ is something to strive for and anything below it simply isn't good enough as people set unrealistic targets for how they want to look, and then feel like a failure.
The bikini fear can have several causes. It could be triggered by a traumatic event of the past, like in my case. It could be linked to other psychological problems, from low self-esteem, to social phobia or even eating disorders. But the bikini fear could also be caused by the continuous exposure to unrealistic beauty standards and images proposed by our society. The world we live in doesn’t make it easy for us to like and accept ourselves. Wherever we look we find a race for physical perfection. The ideal aesthetic images, the diet cult and the rejection of what does not belong to pre-established beauty standards can influence (even perhaps at an unconscious level) how one perceives one's image.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a nice and toned body, however you must be careful not to cross that fine line that leads you to be obsessed with your physical appearance. The concept of beauty has changed a lot over the centuries, and is constantly changing. So let's take care of our bodies as well as the rest of ourselves, without forgetting that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and no one should be deprived of enjoying summertime because of bikini fear. Remember, the perfect beach body is the one you already have.
Written by Paige Trimbly