Secrets and Swimwear
I'm not sure why it is easier to be around strangers in swimwear than your own friends and acquaintances, but I'm reasonably sure it's the same reason it is easier to tell a stranger a secret than someone you know—exposing yourself isn't as scary if you know you'll never see that person again.
Last week, I was at the beach in North Carolina, visiting my mother. I was in a swimsuit pretty much every day, frolicking at the beach in front of dozens of strangers. Being in a swimsuit there didn't bother me because I didn't really care what any of the folks around me thought about how I looked (and I never gave them the opportunity to share their opinion.) Plus, it wasn't a music video shot on Miami Beach, so everyone looked pretty much exactly like me, just more tan. (Ninety-five percent of the human population is more tan than I am, including everyone in my family. Life isn't fair.)
Today, however, is a different story. Today, I'm supposed to appear in swimwear, still a little fluffy from a vacation spent eating fried shrimp and ice cream at every opportunity, in front of people I actually know. They aren't people I know well enough—like Brian or my best friend—to trust that they will be kind when they see my stretch marks or my razor burn or my tummy pooch, but they aren't strangers whose opinions I can blithely disregard. My self-awareness, and the anxiety that goes with it, it at DEFCON Level 3, with the potential to climb to 2 if there are any super-fit, or even super-confident, people among the group. (Did you know, and I just had to look this up myself, that the DEFCON scale starts at 5, and that 1 is the highest level? I've been using it wrong this whole time!) I'm considering not even packing a swimsuit, just to avoid the decision of whether to put it on. But then I'll feel self-conscious for not swimming if everyone else is, creating a whole separate set of issues. (Being me is exhausting, in case you were wondering.)
All of this is ridiculous. The people I'm seeing today care not a whit what my body-fat percentage is. They are long-time friends of Brian's, and the only reason I'm getting so twisted up about it is that I am convinced—inside my brain that has been warped by years of media pinning people's (especially a woman's!) worth on their physical shape—that they'll think less of me if I'm not a supermodel, and then they'll tell Brian to break up with me because I'm not a supermodel. This is ridiculous, utterly and totally ridiculous, and it is embarrassing to admit. Thinking this, even for a second, diminishes all of the wonderful people around me to shallow, vapid jerks (which they most assuredly are not) and reduces my value to simply the sum of my physical parts (which it most assuredly is not.) In reality, people are much more likely to tell Brian to break up with me because I use the f-word too much, or I'm neurotic about what people think about how I look.
So why do I admit this to you, dear reader? Why open the kimono-style swimsuit cover-up and expose this snake pit of insecurity that lives in my brain? Well, for one, saying it out loud makes it easier for me to dismiss, because seeing the words on paper uncovers them as the nonsense they are. And secondly, you, given the anonymity of the internet, are a stranger to me, and exposing myself to you isn't so scary.