I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for most of my life, so when I was offered the trip of a lifetime to spend a long weekend in Grand Cayman, I knew I had to work on being more body positive.

So I made a pact with myself to not let myself — and my long-unhealthy mindset — keep me from enjoying everything on my itinerary: hitting the beach, snorkeling, paddleboarding, jet-skiing and swimming with stingrays. All, of course, while wearing nothing but the dreaded bathing suit.

Before I headed to the clear teal waters of Grand Cayman, I asked Charli Howard, a body positive model, “Misfit” author and co-founder of the All Woman Project, for a few body positivity pointers that I could employ while at the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort and Spa.

Body Positive Tip 1: Live in the now

As a journalist writing an article on body positivity, I knew I’d need to be photographed, a lot, in my bathing suit. So in the weeks leading up to the trip, I found myself focusing on what those pictures would look like — and the potential comments from online trolls — but Howard nipped that in the bud.

 

“You’re already worried about what people will think about your bikini photos, rather than just looking forward to the holiday itself,” she said. “The likelihood is that no one will write a comment about you in your bathing suit — and if they do, they’ll probably be from trolls on private accounts.”

Did it work? Yes. I got more excited for the incredible experiences awaiting me, and 10 minutes after arriving at the Westin, I was happily playing in the surf with no thoughts other than how gorgeous Seven Mile Beach and its water was — and how much fun I was having.  

Body Positive Tip 2: Find the right swimsuit

“Get a bathing suit that makes you feel comfortable,” Howard suggested. “I look 10 sizes bigger in low-cut bikini bottoms, but feel fabulous in high-waisted, ’50s styles. The more confident you feel, the less likely you are to worry!”

Did it work? Absolutely. I think I’ll always feel self-conscious about my stomach and thighs, but in my Sophia Loren-inspired brown one-piece with tummy control and skirt, I truly felt fabulous. My purple-and-white one-piece also had a skirt, and both suits highlighted my narrow waist, which I now realize I must accentuate more in real clothes.

Body Positive Tip 3: Forget looking ‘perfect’

“As women who are subjected to seeing tons of body-shaming, overly retouched ads throughout our daily lives, we’ve come to believe that we need to look perfect in a bikini or that people will be judging us when we’re in our swimsuits,” Howard said. “But the truth is, no one cares! Everyone is too busy focusing on themselves to care.”

Did it work? Yes, with practice. That first swimsuit reveal in front of my companions made me anxious, but within minutes, it was forgotten as we got to know each other. I was mortified to be the first who struggled to get back up on my jet ski after snorkeling in open water, but then others did, too, and we laughed about it. Having my nearly naked body fully (and heavenly!) massaged in Westin’s Hibiscus Spa took getting used to, but when bad thoughts of how I must look arose, I batted them away by focusing on how the massage was making me feel and then was truly able to relax and revel in the ahhh. 

Body Positive Tip 4: It’s not what you look like

“There is so much more to life than what you look like!” Howard said. “Do you honestly want to look back in 40-year’s time and wonder why you worried so much about what you looked like? No! Holidays are a rarity — enjoy them while you have the chance.”

Did it work? Sort of. Seeing the first photo of myself from the trip, in my bathing suit with a stingray, I immediately zeroed in on my body, but then I remembered Howard’s words and instead saw myself smiling in complete wonderment as I held sweet Frisbee, who nestled against my chest as I stood on a sandbar in the most beautiful water I’d ever seen. I did have to retrain my brain with every image of myself, but it got easier to see my happiness at my new experiences first and foremost for the very first time in my life — and that, friends, is a body-positive experminent gone right.