‘How I Finally Got the Bikini Body I Always Wanted’
For a 43-year-old food and travel writer who had struggled with an eating disorder and body insecurities for decades, it was all about appreciating what her body has done for her (not what it hasn’t) — and buying a swimsuit that fits.
At age 12, Madison Baldassari gained a significant amount of weight while recovering from a broken leg. “That’s when the name-calling started,” she says. “I was called fat, gross, all sorts of things like that by my peers.”
For the now 43-year-old food and travel writer based in Durham, North Carolina, body acceptance has been a decades-long journey.
Her body insecurities contributed to a severe eating disorder that lasted through her teenage years and into her twenties — and eventually required hospitalization.
When Baldassari turned 30, she lost a significant amount of weight by dieting. But she continued to struggle with body image and past traumas.
“It was so hard, because people told me how great I looked, but inside I was really struggling,” she says. “People kept saying, ‘You look so healthy,’ but I felt so unhealthy mentally.”
Even at her lowest weight, she felt self-conscious in a bathing suit.
A few years later, Baldassari started fertility treatments and gained back all the weight she had lost. Body acceptance was a challenge at first, but she felt something shift in her late thirties.
“My body had made it through a lot by then — an eating disorder, endometriosis, colitis, and ongoing fertility treatments,” she says. “And I thought, if my body is strong enough to handle all that, why should I feel like I have to hide it? Why can’t I go to the beach wearing something I like?”
Baldassari started seeking out bathing suits designed for larger bodies and bigger cup sizes, instead of settling for suits that never quite fit properly. “Finding a suit that truly fit me has allowed me to feel more comfortable,” she says. And she takes the same approach with the rest of her wardrobe as well. “The second I bought size 16 pants, I just thought, wow, I look and feel so much better than I did when I was squeezing into a size 14.”
The message that only certain bodies are “bikini bodies” is harmful and just plain wrong, says?Liz Wienke, a licensed professional counselor at Venture Therapy in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, who specializes in intuitive eating and body image. “All bodies have the right to exist, to wear what they want, and to be comfortable in what they wear,” she says. “There’s no reason why a larger belly is bad, wrong, or in need of concealment.”
Recently, Baldassari went to the pool with a group of friends, all of whom have children. “Years ago, I would have compared myself to them and thought, they’re so much thinner than me, even though they have children and I don’t. Now, I go to the pool with them and I’m thinking about the cocktails and the conversation we’re having — I’m not self-conscious about my body, and I’m not interested in what other people think about it.”
And at their core, that’s what body acceptance movements are all about. For Baldassari, the key to feeling good in a swimsuit wasn’t losing weight — even when she did that, wearing a bathing suit was a struggle. Instead, she says, the key was learning to appreciate her body for all it has done and continues to do, and respecting it enough to find swimsuits that fit and feel comfortable.
5 Tips for Accepting Your Own Bikini Body, Whatever It Looks Like
There’s still a lot of harmful messaging out there about what bodies can and should like. For example, the term “bikini body” is still often used to describe a body that fits the cultural ideal: thin, young, able-bodied, cisgender, and blemish-free.
Even if you know about movements like body acceptance and body positivity, it can be challenging to apply those tenets to your own life.
“We are taught that thinness equals worthiness, and that only ‘worthy’ bodies should be allowed to be seen,” says Keri Baker, a social worker based in Tampa, Florida, who works as a facilitator for The Body Project, a body image program run by the National Eating Disorders Association. “We get subtle messages all the time justifying and perpetuating the idea that our bodies are not good enough.”
If you’re struggling with body image this summer, here’s some advice from Wienke and Baker about how to feel more comfortable and confident in a bathing suit.
1. Diversify Your Social Media Feeds
Baker, who often works with high school and college students on body image issues, recommends diversifying the types of bodies shown in your social media feeds. “If you are only staring at one type of body over and over again, it can be difficult to accept something outside that narrow view,” she says. “There are so many amazing people on social media who can help get you pumped up about body acceptance and truly show you that all bodies are good and exist!”
If someone is posting images that make you feel bad about your own body, unfollow them. (Or, if they’re someone you know and don’t feel comfortable unfollowing, mute them so that their posts don’t show up in your feed.)
2. Queue Up Podcasts That Debunk Diet Culture and Unrealistic Body Image Standards
“You did not make up the things you believe about bodies, weight, and health — you’ve learned them,” Baker says. “It is not easy to unlearn things we have heard our entire lives and accepted as truths.”
She recommends listening to podcasts that debunk all the lies we’ve been told about weight, health, and how bodies “should” look, because it allows you to take in those new ideas and process them at your own pace. She particularly likes Maintenance Phase, in which the hosts pick apart various wellness myths on each episode. Other great podcasts to tune in to are She’s All Fat and Rebel Eaters Club.
3. Call Out Your Own Negative Self-Talk
“It’s important to start becoming aware of the self-talk going on in your mind,” Wienke says. “Many of us have a constant negative dialogue that we walk around with, completely unchecked.” The next time you put on a bathing suit, notice what thoughts come up. Do the same when you look in the mirror, or when you see photos of yourself. Do you immediately start criticizing parts of your body? Do you focus only on things you don’t like? What types of things are you saying to yourself?
“Consider whether or not you’d tolerate someone else speaking to you that way, or if you’d speak to a person you love that way,” Wienke says. (Usually, the answer is no.) Once you’re aware of the negative thoughts, try replacing them with more neutral ones. “While it seems like the obvious solution is to tell yourself something positive, that can feel insincere and performative for many of us,” she says. Instead, she recommends neutral self-talk like, “This is my body,” “My body is not the most interesting thing about me,” and “My body is my home.”
4. Wear the Damn Bathing Suit
“Eventually, I love to tell clients to put on that bathing suit and get the heck out there,” Baker says. It can feel uncomfortable and overwhelming at first, so she recommends starting small. “Maybe that means sitting on the beach or by the pool when there are less people around, to build up your confidence,” she says. “Maybe it means wearing a coverup, then doing a trial of taking it off for five minutes and seeing how that feels.”
5. Have Self-Compassion
No matter what steps you choose to take, it’s important to have self-compassion for yourself in the process. “You are valid in how you feel and how you decide to move forward in terms of trying to accept your body,” Baker says. “Don't let anyone tell you that there is only one way to work on becoming more comfortable in your own body.”