Bustle's "Help Me Get Dressed" series is dedicated to answering all your burning plus size style, shopping, and fashion questions. In this installment, Bustle's Contributing Fashion & Beauty Editor Olivia Muenter tackles the question of how to feel confident in a bathing suit.
When I was growing up, I spent months preparing for summer. I told myself I would exercise every day, only eat healthy foods, and find the perfect bathing suit. I was convinced that if I could be small enough or tan enough or toned enough that I would finally enjoy the pool and the beach. I would stop dreading the walk from my fold-up chair to the ocean. I would finally feel confident enough to sit by the pool without a towel wrapped around my waist. I thought if I could just be disciplined enough, I would get there. But the truth? Diet and exercise have nothing at all to do with feeling confident in a bathing suit. It's not physical at all, actually. It's mental.
If you've ever gone to the mall with a mission of trying on bathing suits, then you know just how mentally and emotionally taxing the process can be can be. Dressing room lights are never your friend. One-pieces are too short for your torso or bikini tops are too small for your chest. Before you know it, you've spiraled into a total panic. It's easy to go from neutral to convinced that you will never find a bathing suit you look good in at all in no time. So here's my tip number one: Never try bathing suits on in a store. If you can avoid it (and because the internet is a thing, most of us can), do not go to a brick-and-mortar store to try on a bikini or a one piece.
Instead, order three or four swimsuits from a few sites with good reviews (SwimsuitsForAll, ASOS, Aerie, Eloquii, and Kitty & Vibe are all some of my personal favorites for plus size suits), and make an afternoon of trying them on at home. Put on some music that makes you feel confident, choose the time of day and lighting when you feel your best, and try them on one at a time. Maybe you find one swimsuit you like, or maybe you find a couple. Even if you find none you like, though, the process will always be more pleasant than going to a store. Trust me. As annoying as returning clothing can be, it doesn't even touch the frustration of sweating in a too-hot dressing room (seriously, aren't all dressing rooms too warm?) feeling like nothing works for you.
If you're not even sure where to start when it comes to buying swimsuits online, the best rule of thumb is two try two safer options (swimsuit styles you already know you like — maybe a tankini or a wrap-style one piece) and two pieces that are a little more outside of your comfort zone. Odds are, there's going to be at least one suit in there that makes you feel great, and who knows? You might even discover a new style that you love.
The main thing to remember when swimsuit shopping, though, is that of the hundreds of suits you've tried on in your life and hated, odds are that a vast majority of those actually fit you just fine. Wearing a bathing suit can be a loaded and emotional experience if you've struggled with body issues all your life, and it can be all too easy to confuse "I don't like how this swimsuit looks on me" with "my body doesn't look good in a swimsuit."
The biggest, most life-changing secret to swimsuit shopping is that nothing is off limits. You deserve to feel confident and free at the beach or pool this summer regardless of what size you are. And until you really believe that, there is no amount of good lighting or bathing suit options that will ever make you feel confident or happy. There are thousands of plus size swimsuit options these days thanks to online shopping, but you're not going to feel good in any of them until you believe that you're worthy of it, no matter what you're size.