Life with Jesus / Social Justice

Swim Shirts: A Body Image Case Study

An actual conversation between me and my 12 year old son:

“WOW! Your bellybutton looks HUGE in that!”

“Okay, son. Do you get to comment on women’s bodies if they don’t ask you to? No, that’s right. I didn’t ask you for feedback- good or bad. You get to run around with your shirt off, having fun and not caring much about what people think about you. Women in America, unfortunately, do not get to do that, so I’m doing the best that I can. All women are just doing the best they can. I want to swim, so let’s swim and not care about what I’m wearing. Please and thank you.”


I have a confession.

I do not like the way my body looks right now.

Almost every person on the planet is like, “DUH. ME TOO. WELCOME TO BEING A HUMAN.”

But it feels like a confession to me, because in my brain, logically, I know that my body is what it is. I know that society (Hollywood, marketing agencies, etc) tell me that I have to look a certain way to be considered beautiful and, logically, I reject that notion.  I do not judge other people based on their bodies- I have no expectation that anyone will look a certain way. Logically, I am all about body positivity. I see and celebrate women like Jessamyn Stanley or even celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence or Mindy Kaling who resist this idea that women should all look a certain way.

However, one tiny word can drag all of my insecurities into the light: swimsuit.

After my 3rd grade run-in with a sleek silver one-piece bathing suit that turned out to be translucent when wet and another high school experience with a traitorous wet one-piece that made diarrhea at Schlitterbahn feel like the seventh level of hell, I got lost in swimwear purgatory and have been cobbling together a random collection of pieces that include (true story) my late grandfather’s short men’s swim trunks.

However, we have an upcoming trip to the beach and so I recently went shopping for a swim shirt. If you don’t know what that it is, it is what toddlers wear to the swimming pool- the thing that looks like they’re going scuba diving. Apparently they have them for women. Being that I can look at the sun and get a sunburn, I thought it would be a good thing to invest in so that I didn’t have to reapply sunscreen every 30 seconds when I actually have to be at the pool.

Okay, so swim shirts are practical. BUT, I cannot tell a lie. There’s a more sinister reason that I wanted a swim shirt- I just wanted something that was going to cover me. And it’s hard to get more covered than a large long-sleeve shirt that covers your entire torso (although someone mentioned swim leggings, which sound…amazing).

I’ve been trying to process how/why I feel this way but let’s start with a good representation of how I feel about shopping for swimwear currently.


My response to “Put your hands in the air if you like swimwear!”


And I know it’s stupid, okay? No one cares (at least, not as much as I think they do). I am not a willing participant in this oppression that tells women we are not beautiful or valuable unless we look a certain way. In a way, I feel victimized, like someone has implanted this foreign idea in my head and I know it’s foreign, yet it also feels inescapable. Maybe because it’s FREAKIN’ EVERYWHERE I LOOK?!?!


This is clearly photoshopped, unless they shrunk their suits down and had a 90s-era Barbie model them. No one has a thigh gap like that. Stupid, lyin’ Target.

And then I also feel ashamed for being ashamed of my body, like not only am I insecure, but I have to hide those insecurities. DOUBLE SHAME! What a world. Can I be a true feminist if I also struggle with body image issues? Am I a farce?


It’s like I’ve recently discovered a chink in my “I don’t care what you think about me” armor and the arrows of marketing and sexism that tell women that they have to have no fat and a Barbie-level thigh gap to be beautiful somehow found their way into the deep recesses of my brain. I don’t know how to dislodge them. The body shame isn’t logical. It’s emotional.

If it was just me, I could handle this disconnect between my logical brain and my emotional brain, one that says I’m fine and the other that says my body needs work. I’m okay with gray areas and question marks. I am currently essentially a concoction of question marks, doubts, and gray areas poured into yoga pants, held together by kombucha bubbles.

But the sense of urgency to do something about this stems from the fact that I am parenting children and I want them to have good body image and I want them to grow up with a mom who isn’t plagued by insecurities about her body.  I want them to have a better example of woman’s relationship with her body than, “CAN I GET A SWIM SHIRT OVER HERE PLEASE? THERE’S SOME SKIN SHOWING.”


I read Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey a few years ago and it really changed some things for me. One of the most memorable parts of that book for me was when she talked to Jewish women about the “Proverbs 31 Woman“.  That particular piece of scripture is often wielded as a sword against young women in the Christian church- a veritable checklist of all the things you have to do to be a good wife (and it’s a long list).

And while it doesn’t mention a thigh gap, I’m sure that the proverbial Proverbs 31 woman also found time to workout and had the self-control to not use the drive-thru at Dairy Queen several times a week.

However, Sarah Bessey talks to Jewish women about that passage and they explain that it was never meant to be proscriptive. It was never meant to be “This is what you should do”. Rather, in Jewish culture, it’s understood as a blessing, “This is what you already are“.

Oh my, that was so freeing to me and God’s been bringing it up again recently, so I probably need to meditate on it more.

I know that I won’t always be the parent that I want to be. I, apparently, won’t always be the forward-thinking womanist cultural revolutionary that I thought I was, especially when it comes to my own body.

And I guess that has to be okay. It doesn’t feel okay today, but maybe if I soak in the truth that I am already enough for a sufficient amount of time, even while wearing a swim shirt, it will begin to feel true.

What do you think?

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