I’m a summer girl. Summer is my favorite season. Summer is long days, going barefoot, sunsets on the lake. It’s fireworks and lazy mornings and no school and no routine. It’s flip-flops and sundresses and tan shoulders and ponytails. It’s farmers markets and Long Island Iced Teas and fried shrimp in a basket and boating and swimming and sandy toes and pink noses. Summer food is my favorite food – berries and corn and peaches and tomatoes and everything cooked on the grill.
There is, however, one tiny thing I don’t like about summer: I’m not wild about swimsuits. I love being at the lake, of course, but at the beginning of every summer, I have to do a little internal business, organizing my thoughts and feelings and phobias, getting myself ready to let everyone I know see me in a piece of clothing that could fit into a sandwich bag.
But as my friend always reminds me, no one’s actually thinking about me as often as I think they are. Probably my friends are not counting the days till summer to see if I’ve finally turned into a supermodel. Probably they’re thinking about their own lives or current events or any number of things that have nothing to do with my chins.
That’s what shame does, though. It whispers to us that everyone is as obsessed with our failing as we are. It insits that there is, in fact, a watchdog group devoted completely to my weight or her wrinkles or his shrinking bank account. Shame tricks us into believing there’s a cable channel that runs video footage of us in our underpants twenty-four hours a day, and that all the people we respect have seen it. Shame tells us that we’re wrong for having the audacity to be happy when we’re so clearly terrible. Shame wants us to be deeply apologetic for just daring to exist.
But I’ve been watching that footage on a loop for too long. I’ve been my own watchdog group for decades. I want to do something risky. I want to dare to exist, and more than that to live audaciously, in all my imperfect, lumpy, scarred glory, because the alternative is letting shame win.
So here we are again, my favorite time of year – summer! The idea of anyone seeing me in my swimsuit makes me feel a little anxious. I want to find any and every excuse to stay covered, stay inside, stay invisible. So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to swim. I’m going to make sand castles and make-believe and make memories. I’m going to live in the body that God made me, not because it’s perfect but because it’s mine. And I’m going to be thankful for health and for the ability to run and move and dance and swim.
This is the promise I’m making: this summer, I’m not going to be ashamed of my body. Or at the very least, I’m not going to let a lifetime of shame about my body get in the way of living a rich, wild, grateful, wide-open way.
I’m not going to give into the cultural pressure that says women’s bodies are only beautiful when they’re very, very small. I’m going to take up every inch of space I need. I’m going to practice believing that I am more than my body, that I am more than my hips, that I am more than my stretch-marked stomach. I’m going to allow my shoulders to feel the sun and even (gasp!) my thighs, instead of making sure I’m always, always safely covered and out of your view.
I’m not going to bow to the voice inside my head that says I should be ashamed of myself for being so unruly and wild. I’m not going to develop a relationship with my cover-up that borders on obsessive. This summer, I’m not going to hide.