My troublesome relationship with swimsuits goes back as far as I can remember. One of my earliest swimsuit memories came on a class trip to Tobago. I wanted to get the hottest style of swimsuit out…but I was already a big girl at age 11. It was hard to find the kind of swimsuit I wanted, not in the age-range I was actually in at the time. I needed an older teen’s suit.

Right around that age, I had a near-drowning experience at the beach. And before that, when I was seven or eight, I’d seen a dead body wash ashore on a beach further up the coast (that’s another story for another time). Suffice it to say I had a healthy fear of water and of swimming, and add the fact that I have always been full figured — it just all contributed to my lifelong fear of swimsuits, swimming, going the beach and being in swimwear in public. I avoided it all as much as I could. That meant not going to my friend’s pool party. Not going to my classmates’ beach birthday party. It meant pretending I was too cool to care about the fact that I couldn’t swim well and that I felt so much bigger than everyone else did when I wore a swimsuit in public. I did it for years.

When Lands’ End invited me to be part of their National Swimsuit Confidence Week — May 23 – 27, 2011! — I thought it was a brilliant idea. The concept of helping real women boost their swimsuit confidence in time for Memorial Day weekend…brilliant. I said yes before I really thought it through. And then I got my pretty new Lands’ End swimsuit in the mail and realized what I’d said yes to.

I said yes to posting a photo of myself in a swimsuit. On my blog. And on Facebook. So pretty much every person I’ve ever known in life will see me in a swimsuit. And that goes for the people I know who will be like “awww Patrice looks beautiful” to the ones who will be like “OMG did you see how fat Patrice is.” Yeah. I got those people in my life too.

I said yes to the thing I’ve been avoiding my whole life — being seen in a swimsuit in public.

I said yes to making myself as vulnerable as possible to internet meanies. In my experience, for every fat-positive voice of encouragement online, there’s a rumbling chorus of awful comments and anonymous judgment.

And as my husband pointed out…I said yes to these photos being used in ways I may not heretofore have anticipated, or want to think about. Because after all, it is the internet.

Ay yai yai.

I said yes…but I almost backed out and said no. I was totally ready to put this super cute swimsuit back in the mail and move on with my life like nothing happened.

But then I thought of myself as a teenager. i thought of how it would have made me feel, to see these images of my future self.

I thought about the women who look like me, and the reason I created this blog in the first place – to be a source of inspiration, and to celebrate real beauty in its diverse shades, hair textures, and body shapes.

I thought that maybe, by sharing my issues, my story, and finally the photos of myself…I’d be confronting my fears and hopefully letting other plus sized women know that this summer, they should go out and be fearless. Rock a suit in a bright color. Go out there and soak up the sun and enjoy summer just like everyone else. Don’t let the people you know, society at large, or that little voice inside your head potentially ruin the fun you could have in the sun. Don’t be like I’ve always been.

I put the suit on, put on some makeup and a necklace I bought recently, and posed for my husband in our living room.

The first photo, I really felt uncomfortable.

The second photo, I started to feel that familiar body shame creep over me.

I gave him LOTS of instructions about full body shots and how I felt about them. By the time we took the third photo, my husband said “c’mon. You look beautiful. Smile for me!” So I did.

Later on we looked at the photos and as I started to freak out again, he reassured me. “This is you. This is your body, this is what you look like. You’re beautiful.”

That sealed the deal.

So thanks to my husband and thanks to Lands’ End for helping me find my swimsuit confidence. Next step – wearing this to the beach!

I encourage you to join me and share your swimsuit confidence too!

The Lands’ End Swimsuit Confidence Week is taking place on Facebook and if you’re on Twitter you can click here to display the “I have swimsuit confidence!” Twibbon on your Twitter profile photo. Send a tweet to @LandsEndPR proclaiming “I have swimsuit confidence!” #landsend for a chance to be entered to win a $500 Lands’ End gift card, and each day Lands’ End will give away 10 Lands’ End Swimsuits, 10 Lands’ End Beach Towels and announce exclusive swimsuit promotions. Join in now through May 27 – winner announced at 5:00 p.m. CDST May 27, 2011.

I don’t normally ASK for comments…but I could use your support here. And please feel free to share your swimsuit confidence issues (if you have any!)

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