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Conquering beach season

It’s high time women ‘ditch the ideals that tell us we have to look a certain way’
For girls and young women, much about bathing-suit anxiety relates directly to the body shaming that bubbles up on social media. Three years ago, the millennial-focused women's site Refinery29 launched a campaign — Take Back the Beach — to fight back.

NEW YORK — Farewell soon to spring and hello bathing-suit season, for some an anxious time that sucks the fun out of summer.

Not everybody frets over their beach bodies, celebrating instead. For others, it’s a struggle, one that Heidi Wicker in suburban Dallas knows well. But the 41-year-old mother of two has come up with emotional workarounds.

“I really hated the way I look in a swimsuit. We have a pool and enjoy having friends and neighbours over during the summer,” Wicker said. “In Texas, that’s May through September.”

She chooses the “most functional” swimsuit possible and consciously counts her blessings.

“Bottom line is my kids aren’t going to remember how awful I looked in a swimsuit in 2017, but they will remember the fun times we had playing in the pool,” Wicker said. “This year, I have a pair of swim shorts and a halter-style top that is super secure.”

While Wicker said she could stand to lose 10 or 15 pounds, bathing suit stress isn’t reserved for those of us with curves or bulges we consider trouble spots.

Actor and former pageant queen Priyanka Chopra dodged the Baywatch bathing-suit bullet as the villain in the film version of the old lifeguard TV show, “but in real life,” she said recently, “we’re human beings. Our bodies change and it’s OK.”

A thoughtful swimsuit fit with plenty of support can go a long way in calming beach anxiety, especially for bikini wearers. Tops should feel as comfortable as your favourite bra, said longtime friends Emma-Jane Hughes and Ashleigh Hill.

They created an affordable line of swimwear last year, Lilly & Lime, specifically for women who wear D cups and up, ranging from 28D to 38HH, though bottoms size up to just 14. People with fit problems might do well to seek out pieces that can be purchased separately such as those at Lillie & Lime.

Numerous options along those lines are available.

“When choosing a bikini or swimsuit it’s most important that you have the right size, especially when you are bigger busted,” Hughes said. “To find the right size we recommend you get fitted as you would for a bra and choose the bra size and bottom size you would normally wear from a brand that offers tops in cup sizes.”

The two also recommend taking into account what you plan to do in a bathing suit.

“If you’re going to be lounging and want to avoid tan lines then go for a bandeau or a balconette [shelf] style,” Hill said. “If you plan to be active or are running after little ones at the beach then a halter with underwire is best for extra support and security.”

As for colour, Wicker goes for darker hues. Hughes and Hill don’t buy into the black-is-best mentality for women looking to hide.

“Choose a colour that makes you happy and suits your skin tone,” Hughes said. “Bold colours keep the focus on fun and away from the bits of our body we don’t love to be exposed.”

For girls and young women, much of the issue relates directly to the body shaming that bubbles up on social media, intensifying during beach season. Three years ago, the millennial-focused women’s site Refinery29 launched a campaign, “Take Back the Beach,” to fight back.

“We and our readers were really fed up with the messages that young women were receiving when it came to beach season, the idea that you have to look a certain way or take some kind of action to achieve a bikini body, when going to the beach and wearing a swimsuit should just be things that you do to have fun and relax,” said Anna Maltby, deputy editor for health and wellness at Refinery29. “We wanted to ditch all the ideals that tell us we have to look a certain way.”

This year, the campaign focuses on the idea of “body talk,” challenging the way people talk about their own bodies, but also other people’s. As for dealing with beach season, focusing on “what your body can do as opposed to what it looks like can make you feel so much better, whether it’s running a race or giving birth,” Maltby said.

Practically speaking, trying on bathing suits takes a lot of time and energy, she said, so be mindful of who you bring along for a second opinion, or take advantage of free returns available online and go it alone.

“We tend to put ourselves in boxes in terms of our ‘body types,’ or what works for us or what doesn’t, or what we’re allowed to wear or not allowed to wear. Trying to break out of those boxes and trying on a huge variety of styles and colours and patterns and things you wouldn’t think would work for you is a great way to discover something new that you may feel great in,” Maltby said.

Dale Noelle spent 20 years working as a “fit” model, helping major fashion brands work out sizing. She also did swimsuit work for catalogues. The work came after she battled anorexia as a tween. After recovery at about age 13, her self-consciousness carried through to her 30s.

“The more I did it the more comfortable I became,” said Noelle, now the mother of a young girl and founder of her own model management agency in New York. “I had a lot of positive people around me. It helped with being comfortable in my own skin.”