As we moved father away from January 1st, I had been noticing a drop-off in gym traffic and was feeling disappointed for everyone who started the year out ready to tackle their fitness goals only to lose momentum and get waylaid by everyday things. But lately I have been happy to note an uptick in gym attendance and see unfamiliar faces furtively sneaking glances at other exercisers (I know what you’re doing, you furtive glancers, you! You’re trying to figure out how the machine works! There is no shame in not knowing how a metal contraption that looks as if it could have been used to torture Theon Greyjoy works- just march up there and read the directions or ask for help) as they navigate the gym for maybe the first time or maybe just the first time in a long time.
It is that time of year again. The time when we strip off our bulky winter coats, our heavy sweaters, layers of scarves, and leggings and look down at our bodies and think “oops! I thought all that was just the 700 fill goosedown in my puffy vest!?” Yes, folks, this is the prelude to swimsuit season. This is the time when we realize that extra bowl of warm, comforting mac and cheese took up residence on our left hip, the delicious holiday gingerbread on our right hip, the King Cake that we found the recipe for on Pinterest and made to celebrate Mardi Gras is playing a permanent game of ring-around-the-rosie on our midriff, the St. Patty’s day green beer cheerfully waves from beneath your tricep every time you reach for something, those Valentine’s chocolates are clinging to your thighs… and the season of near-nudity cometh.
There is a certain desperation in the eyes of the person struggling to get in shape for swimsuit season, a desperation that I totally understand. It’s not like trying to get fit for your health or even fit for a wedding- you can always find everyday clothes that hide your weak spots and highlight your strengths and wedding dresses are big and poofy making every bride look like Cinderella, but there is no such thing as a flattering swimsuit. And if you are about to tell me that “some suits have lower-cut leg holes and they kinda hide your thighs” or “a tankini covers your mid-section without giving you a permanent wedgie like a one-piece” or “some suits have a skirt-thingy at the bottom and it covers YOUR bottom” just stop and save your breath. There is nothing that a thin layer of spandex-swimsuit material can do to cover anything even if it is fashioned into a skirt-thingy. The only way you can go swimming and hide your body is if you wear a wetsuit….under a sweater.
Swimsuit shape is not just about slimming down, it is about total and complete control over every part of your body that wobbles- arms, legs, butt, belly and, for some of us, boobs- and I say, forget about it! Nobody looks perfect in a bathing suit, not even bathing suit models (that’s why air brushing was invented) and, honestly, our ideals of swimsuit fitness are a little, well, unhuman (that’s why we have lately seen some embarrassing photo edits circulating on the web.). My favorite bathing suit (and the one my husband detests) looks like a neon orange/pink/yellow/and blue version of something the Hippo in the original Fantasia would have worn (with a top of course), and last year, I actually kind of resembled a hippo when I wore it, but wear it I did. I wore it sunbathing in my backyard, I wore it to the thermal baths in Budapest, I wore it to the lake, I wore it to the public pool, I even once wore it to dinner under a dress and nobody ever gave me a second look, nobody told me to cover up because I was assaulting their eyes with my hippo-esque physique and nobody arrested me for public indecency.
At all shapes and sizes, even at my slimmest, I have never felt completely at ease in a swimsuit. There is always a certain amount of fidgeting (usually with a leg hole that’s riding up your bum) and you can’t help but feel exposed when wearing a thin piece of fabric that barely covers your unmentionables. Its not that the suit itself is really all that uncomfortable, really, it’s that wearing a swimsuit is sort of a sign that you are ok with your body and, in wearing it, you open yourself up to judgement. I’d like to encourage us all to relax a little about Swimsuit Season; it is possible to simultaneously be ok with your body and also see room for improvement. The goal of fitness should be to feel great in general, feel great about how you look, and be healthier; the goal is not to be so terrorized by a spandex garment that you miss out on a fun beach adventure because you failed to drop the ten extra pounds.
The only advantage to being guilted into going to the gym by swimsuit phobia is that perhaps this pre-summer fitness mania will lay the groundwork for a consistent and healthy workout routine that can be continued. If you have started to kick it up a notch in honor of the summer, you might as well stick with it the rest of the year, right? For sure. So, if you are running your little legs into the ground trying to make a beach vacation deadline, its time to cut yourself some slack; instead, try making a workout routine that you can incorporate into your lifestyle and work toward your goals in a way that won’t make you burn out and never want to see an elliptical again. Chances are, if you stick with it, next year you’ll be super psyched for swimsuit season.