Swimsuit shopping. Those are two scary words for most women, especially those that are plus-sized. How do I know? Last year I had gastric sleeve surgery and weighed 360 pounds on my surgery day — and that wasn’t even my highest weight ever. I am too embarrassed to even type it.

Shame. Yes, I’m ashamed to admit how out of control my body got. My orthopedist, a nice woman who’s in great shape, told me that I should take water classes with senior citizens as they’d be more gentle on my knees. But I was more scared of swimsuit shopping than I was of the class itself.

At the time, I couldn’t even go into stores. I wasn’t sure what my size was so I guesstimated. I ordered online at the suggestion of a friend. I bought two suits, or, well, suit separates. One was ‘cute’ and one was functional.

When I wore the cute one to the gym, the old men stared at my breasts. I am very uncomfortable with attention, so I mostly stuck to the functional suit except when I went to the beach in Corpus with my husband, daughter, and her friend. Long story short, this suit was not practical for the Texas coast, and got stuck in my butt crack. I spent over an hour crying in a corner because I had given the folks in the area a show I did not plan on and was not ready for. Yes, the agony was real for me. I threw that suit away the very same day.

The amazing poet, Maya Angelou once wrote: “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies, I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size. But when I start to tell them, They think I am telling lies, I say, It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips.”

As a life coach and a 40-something-year-old woman, I want to say that this has become my attitude. I want to, but I can’t. I still wish I were cute. I was once someone who turned heads. Now, I half-jokingly say I “turn stomachs.”

Swimsuit shopping is about more than just swimsuit shopping, and if anyone tells you differently, they’re a size 2 or just as evolved as the sainted Ms. Angelou. Swimsuit shopping is the unforgiving mirrors that show every line and roll on your body. It’s the horrible lighting that makes your flaws even more prevalent. It’s the knowledge that you have to get near-naked in front of a full-length mirror in a small stall you probably had to wait for. The indignities we women must go through to get a flattering swimsuit are just too much to take sometimes. This year, I’ve lost about 100 pounds. I’m currently at 258 and losing. You’d think I’d be excited to go swimsuit shopping. But I’m not.

In fact, I punked out again and bought stuff on Amazon based on my current size. I have been eating clean and working out. I have been told by my husband that I look better naked. I can see my bones again, and my curves are better defined. I look pretty good in clothes and feel more confident in my body. Most days, I’m even proud of my accomplishment.

However, I still don’t feel good enough to go swimsuit shopping in a store. I could have gone to a plus-sized store where they make suits that assume my bust is as ample as my ass. I could have even gone to a regular department store (most have gotten better about carrying plus sizes).

But over 20 years as a bulimic taught me that the media’s portrayal of women is not an attainable goal and Madison Avenue’s definition of beauty is not for me. In fact, it’s not really an attainable goal for most of us, although the billion dollar weight loss industry would never tell you that.

We, women, need to be less focused on how our bodies look in a swimsuit and rather celebrate that these delicate machines we were given bring forth life.

This year, I’m going to continue working on my body, but also make a conscious effort to concentrate on my mind… and maybe by next year I’ll be more Maya Angelou and less scared of some fluorescent mirrors in a department store’s swim section.

Deanna Goodson is a life coach and writer who specializes in dealing with bariatric patients and emotional overeaters. Deanna works hard to overcome her own issues with body size and dysmorphia. You can visit her at www.deannagoodson.com.

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