Lazy days on the beach or simply enjoying time by the sea is something many of us relish in the idea of. I know it’s something I look forward to every year. But for girls like us, the thought of the beach and wearing swimwear can often leave us feeling a little nervous and vulnerable.
I’ve had vitiligo for more than 30 years and for me beach holidays with friends in my early twenties is something that will always stand out as something I found challenging. Despite my anxieties at the time, I tried to look beyond the thought of others staring at my skin so that I could enjoy being on a summer break like everyone else did.
Getting to where I am today and allowing myself to wear a bikini by the pool took an untold amount of work on myself. Developing a healthy mindset was the baseline for improving my confidence whilst allowing myself time and most importantly, changing how I felt about my own body.
Here are some of the things that helped me to build my confidence on the beach;
Not feeling bikini shame
One of the hardest things about being on the beach was wearing a swimsuit that revealed the patches on my skin. Building the courage to look past the stares and the feeling of being judged was never going to be easy. However, practicing positive self talk reminded me how resilient I was in coping with difficult situations. Telling myself that ‘I’ve got this’ and ‘don’t let others get in the way of your happiness’ really helped build my confidence, strength and ability to let go of how I thought others perceived me.
When you practice self love and learn to appreciate yourself for who you are, it completely changes how you react to others because you realise that your feelings come first and even though other people’s opinion of us can impact how we feel and make us feel vulnerable, ultimately those opinions aren’t important as they don’t define who we are.
Being able to manage the stares
Whether you’ve had vitiligo for 5 months or 5 years the feeling of someone staring at your skin will always create a feeling of discomfort. Sadly, it’s the reality when you have a visible skin condition.
When you feel someone staring so many thoughts can takeover. Is the person judging me? Are their thoughts negative? Do I look unattractive? Often these thoughts can make us overthink and leave us feeling uncomfortable and anxious.
Managing the stares takes time and whilst it will never be an acceptable form of behaviour the reason for it is because people are curious when they see something new or someone different. Giving some leeway to those that might be curious can be a way of managing how it makes you feel. Over the past few years my response to staring has changed. Rather than look away in embarrassment now I smile at the person or if the opportunity is there i’ll engage in conversation so that I can explain what vitiligo is.
Ultimately, it has taught me that, whilst we can’t change the behaviour of others, we can change how we respond to it. For me, this has meant putting the stares secondary and my confidence and happiness first.
Going without cover up
Deciding to go without camouflage makeup or any other type of cover-up is a huge step for anyone. Many of us have spent years using camouflage makeup, high street makeup and tanning products as a way of disguising our skin so the thought of transitioning to wearing nothing at all is often a scary one!
For me, going without coverage didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process that meant me slowly removing the layers until I was comfortable with not wearing anything at all. I also made a habit of telling myself that I didn’t need to cover my skin to be accepted.
Wearing less fake tan so that my skin was more visible and going without makeup on my face felt incredibly freeing. The stares didn’t stop, but the negative self talk did. Time is key and so is feeling comfortable so it’s important that you take small steps towards wearing less coverage if that’s something you want to do.
Not needing an alley for security
I can recall on a number of occasions during a visit to the beach wanting someone to be with me whether that was my Mum or a close friend. Not only did it act as a distraction from me thinking about my skin, but it also made me feel protected. It made me feel comfortable and helped me to find the courage to step outdoors in a pair of shorts or wear a swimsuit around the pool.
Going without an alley is a big step towards building your self confidence and accepting that you are comfortable with who you are allowing you to alleviate the feeling of wanting someone to protect you. Now, when I’m with family or friends on holiday I know it’s because I enjoy their company, not because I want them to make me feel safe.
Feeling confident in a swimsuit took time, perseverance and courage and whilst it was hard to visualise what beach confidence looked like, I proved to myself and hopefully others just what beach freedom looks like.
The secret to self-confidence isn’t to stop caring about what people think, it’s to start caring about what you think. It’s to make your opinion more important that anyone else’s.