So here we are, summertime. That dreaded time of year when we face the harsh reality that we will, at some point in the very near future, have to wear a swimsuit. No longer can you avoid the invites, events or traditions where water is involved — you know, the activities that require swim appropriate attire and a mostly bare body. If you are anything like me, the mere thought of the many swimsuit-related issues simply makes me want to curl up in a corner somewhere and hide until the fall sweater and jeans season is upon us again.
Fun In The Sun
We have a few summer traditions in our family. One in particular is our summer vacation to a water park resort, The Wilderness, in Sevierville, Tennessee. It is perfect for our family of six. We usually try to splurge and get the suite with a kitchen so we can have the option to prepare healthier and less expensive meals instead of eating out for every meal. The Wilderness has an endless supply of activities that appeal to the wide age range and interests of our children.
The most popular activity is, of course, the water park. It has indoor and outdoor features like surfing and water slides, a lazy river and wave pools, and yes, plenty of lounge chairs so we can relax and enjoy the sunshine and laughter. Sounds like heaven right?
I love everything about this time with my family — getting away from the routine of life and watching my husband and children squeal with joy. I even enjoy the times I feel like a child myself. The only thing that holds me back from experiencing the fullness of joy in those moments is my own personal struggle with imperfection. For someone who is freaked out at the thought of wearing a swimsuit, it can be a weekend of personal torment.
I will be vulnerable here for a moment and share with you some of the crazy thoughts that run through my head, just in the course of one day. It starts with packing. I put it off until the very last moment because, no matter how much I plan and look for the perfect swimsuit, in the end I am never really happy with what I get. Nothing seems to fit right. I struggle with wanting to be “hot mom” and hoping to fit into swimsuit styles I know I have absolutely no business wearing. Instead, I choose the soccer mom look and go for a sporty tankini, but I stress that my rear end is too exposed. So I move on to “modest mom” and select the tankini with board shorts, which makes sure I am covered up, but man, can it be uncomfortable walking around in sticky, wet clothes all day long! There’s really no perfect answer, but in the end I go with the modest mom look.
Once I have my suit picked out, day one of vacation begins, and we head to the park. As I walk toward the water, I feel like I’m on the runway. I’m sucking in my gut, thinking about my posture, trying not to let anything jiggle, and looking at the audience around me. Then I start comparing. I see the fit bodies and think, I wish I could be like that. I look at the not-so-fit bodies and tell myself, “Well, at least I don’t look like that.” Then turn my attention to the ones who, in my opinion, chose the wrong swimsuit style for their body type and worry. “I wonder if that’s what I look like and don’t realize it.”
I know these comparisons are harmful. Not only do they show me how awful I am to compare myself to others in an attempt to feel I am somehow better, but they also show me how wrong it is to pass judgment on people for the swimsuit choices they have made. What right do I have to pick them apart? Who am I, anyway?
I will tell you who I am. I am just like most women who have let the typical-beauty standards of the world tell me what is beautiful, and where I should find my confidence. Blogs, Facebook and Pinterest tell me I need to be everything to all people, and that I must be perky while doing it. Movies and TV tell me that my body, my real life, everyday ponytail, and face with little makeup will never be good enough. Commercials, books and, let’s face it, a lot of everything now a days tell me my body is just an item to be used and objectified.
Well, to quote a popular brand, I am “Not of this World.” In the moments where everything is screaming, “Not good enough!” I have to remind myself that I am a child of God. He has made me and those around me in His image. Even though our bodies can be obvious billboards that display the sin in our lives, our hearts can and should be obvious billboards for the grace God gives us — starting with grace for ourselves.
Now, I recognize that I am a child of God and that He created me beautifully, but does that mean I don’t struggle with insecurities every time I go to the water park? Absolutely not. I struggle every single time, and not just at the water park. It’s something I have to pray about daily and ask God to teach me to find my identity and beauty in Him alone. Some days are better than others, and quite honestly the struggle is much less intense now than it was when I first identified it years ago. But just like any other struggle, it rears up its ugly head the second I become distant from Christ.
Reflecting on this, I review a couple of practical things I can do to maintain focus and sanity. First, I identify and confess my struggle. I am broken and find identity in what the world says I should be. Second, I turn away from the struggle. I choose to seek my identity in Christ by pursuing a relationship with Him. That means I study Him. I learn what He has planned for me based on what the Bible says and prayer. Through that process I become more distant from the temptation to judge others and myself harshly.
I am a personal trainer. The fitness industry is tough. As a trainer, there is a lot of emphasis on how my body looks. I know I am called to work in this industry, and I am called so that I can hopefully make a difference by teaching people to pursue health and well being instead of vanity. My hope in sharing this struggle with you is that you realize even personal trainers, who know how to achieve worldly success in making their bodies look a certain way, also struggle with the insecurity that comes from seeking the ever elusive, and fickle, worldly approval. In the big picture, it doesn’t matter if the world thinks I’m beautiful in my “modest mom” swimsuit or not. I will continue to pursue Christ and seek His approval, and slowly but surely those feelings of worldly inferiority fade.