Perspective... If I knew then...

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, August 2009

"Grab your bathing suit and join us in the hot tub!" I smile inside because that was me saying that to a girlfriend. It took me many years to come to a place where being in a bathing suit in broad daylight, in front of people I did not know very well, would belong in my repertoire of behaviors. I used to hate being in a bathing suit. I especially hated the three-way mirrors in the department stores where bathing suits are attempted.

As I take a good look into my past, it is hard to put my finger on just when the bathing suit fear raised its ugly head. I was a competition swimmer from the time I was 5-years-old. Swimming was a huge part of our family's life. My parents were an integral part of our swim team's leadership and my father was an official AAU announcer — one of the best. My older sister, Linda, and younger brother, Doug, both swam on the team, as well. We were a Junior Olympic bound team that took workouts seriously. We swam extensive workouts, often two times per day. I lived in a bathing suit. It was as comfortable as my own skin.

In my teenage years, my sister and I spent every weekend at Zuma Beach in Southern California. We wore 1970's bikinis that make me blush when I think of them now. I never gave a thought to wearing a bathing suit. It was not about me or how I looked, it was about what we were doing. We were having fun hanging out, sunbathing, bodysurfing and just being teenagers. We lived in bikinis and cut off jeans.

Somewhere between Zuma Beach and having two babies I moved into a place of extreme self-consciousness about my body. It became more about me hiding and not having to deal with feeling "fat and ugly." My inability to again weigh that minuscule amount that I weighed as a teenager meant that I was failing somehow. Failing whom? I had to come to terms with my disappointment in myself.

I missed way too many pool parties and, a larger number than I care to remember, swimming opportunities with my two girls. When I look back and put my life, and my body, into perspective, I know I would focus more on what I am doing, the people I am with and the fun I am having, then what my body looks like. I would have started way sooner to simply enjoy my life and think less about those unimportant things like what my thighs look like in a bathing suit.

Now, I do not hesitate to join in with friends and family in the pool, hot tub, on the boat or in the lake. Last summer I had fun picking out a new bathing suit, but I have to tell you, I still avoided those dreaded three-way mirrors.