Wouldn't it be just swell if our weight-control goals always coincided with our real-life schedules, so that just as bathing suit season rolled around, we'd be the perfect size? Unfortunately, it hardly ever works out that way!
Try as we might to get in shape before having to reveal our bodies to the world (or at least our neighbors at the local pool party), it seems there are always a few more pounds to lose, jiggly thighs to tighten, and arms to tone -- not to mention a psyche in need of some serious bolstering to get us through swimsuit shopping.
If this sounds familiar, don't despair. Experts like fitness image consultant Lisa Avellino say that with a little creative energy you can turn planning a day at the beach into a day at the beach! The goal, they say, is to accentuate your positives, beginning with selecting the right swimwear for your body type.
Selecting a Swimsuit
If, for example, you carry weight in your lower half -- if you're "pear" shaped -- look for a suit that is a solid color from the waist down, with a print, a bold color block, or a ruffle on the top, to draw the eye upward.
Another key element is proportion, Avellino says. By balancing the top half of your body with the bottom half, you can give your figure a more proportioned look.
"If you are top-heavy find a bathing suit that draws attention to the hip area. If your body type is straight (lacking a defined waistline), find a suit that has a pattern at the bust and hip area with a solid at the middle -- again drawing the eye to the areas you feel confident about," Avellino tells WebMD. One of this season's favorite beach silhouettes is the V-neck halter suit, a style that fashion experts say can bring out the best in almost any figure type.
"A plunging V neck, even one a little lower than you think is appropriate, really draws attention upward to your face, to your bosom and to your neckline -- and that's what people see first and the most," says Dannielle Romano, editor-at-large for DailyCandy.com, the ultimate online tip sheet on style. "Almost anyone can pull off the look."
What can also help: Getting a suit with great support. Today, that's easier than you might think. Romano says.
"There is amazing technology in swimsuit construction right now," she says. "You can get a suit that pulls you in, in all the right places, for a very reasonable price. You just have to take the time to look and try on until you find the one that's right for your body."
Check out the suit's bra insert and go for the best support you can find. The better the support in this area, the better your midriff, waist, and hips will also look, says intimate apparel design expert Colette Wong.
"If the upper half of your body is well supported, then your whole shape looks better. Your whole appearance is lifted when the bust is lifted properly," says Wong, assistant chairwoman of the fashion design-apparel department at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.
Also important, she says, is locking in on the right size. While this may sound simple enough, Wong says that wearing clothing that doesn't fit properly is one of the biggest fashion faux pas women make.
"What many of us don't realize is that our regular clothing size is really only a guideline or a starting point when shopping for a swimsuit and not the definitive way of selecting a suit," Wong tells WebMD.
Because a swimsuit fits altogether differently than clothing, experiment not only with different styles, but also different sizes, to find your best look, Wong suggests.
"Find the swimsuit you like in the size you think you are, but before you head into the dressing room also grab the same suit a size smaller and one a size larger, and try on all three before deciding if it's right or wrong for you," says Wong.
Many women, she says, are surprised at how much better a bathing suit looks when they simply change sizes.
When it comes to summertime style, most of us associate the word "beach" with bathing suits. But fashion experts say that as in life, so goes it at the beach: Accessories can save the day.
"You have to think about a day at the beach like you would any other event -- going out to lunch or to a party -- and remember, it's not just about the bathing suit, it's about the whole look, and pulling together a coordinated image," says Romano.
Her choices for beach accessories include a large, brightly colored, tote bag, some "organic" jewelry in natural stones -- particularly earrings ¬ and, definitely, a brightly colored hat.
"If I had to pick only one accessory for the beach, it would be a hat. Not only does it immediately draw the eye upwards to the face, but it can add color and style -- plus protect you from the sun -- and that's a great combination," says Romano.
Another favorite, she says is the wedge espadrille sandal. "It can elongate your leg and give you that lift, without making it look like you are trying too hard," Romano says. "You don't want to wear high heels on the beach, but an espadrille is just sporty enough to make it work."
When it comes to choosing a fashionable beach cover-up, Wong says many women lean toward styles with lots of fabric, to "cover up" what they don't like. This, she says, is another beach fashion mistake.
"Don't think of a beach cover-up as a way to hide your body. Think of it as a fashion statement, and try to avoid the "tent" look because it's only going to make you look larger," she says.
If your fashion style is eclectic or sophisticated, Wong says, try a low-slung hip sarong in a print that coordinates with your swimsuit. For those who want ultra-chic style with maximum coverage, don a slinky pareo (a sarong-type wrap that can cover you from bust to midcalf) the minute you step out of the water.
Grooming the Beach Body
When it comes to boosting your beach body confidence, perhaps nothing does it better than some super summertime grooming. From pedicures to manicures, leg waxing to faux tans, the little things can go a long way in polishing your image -- and improving the way you look and feel in almost any swimsuit style.
"If you look down and see pretty nails and pretty feet, it makes you feel confident," says Romano, "and in the end, it's all about how you think you look that really affects how you look the most."
A pedicure, manicure, and waxing or other hair removal are standard fare for the well-groomed beachgoer. But for a truly elegant approach to summer style, experts report, the latest trend is a back facial.
"This is much like a facial you would give the skin on your face, only it's done on the back and shoulders -- and the end result can be sleek, glowing skin that can make you look better in any summer clothing, but particularly a swimsuit," says Genevieve Sparby, director of The Plaza Spa, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
The treatment is particularly good if you have a tendency to get blemishes on your back, she says -- and you can use any traditional facial recipe with great results.
To enhance the skin on the rest of the body, The Plaza Spa treats its customers to an all-over sugar scrub. This exfoliates dead skin cells, removing that dry, flaky, "winter" appearance, and gets your whole body glowing (which is sure to detract from any figure flaws).
To do the same at home, mix a handful of brown sugar with any body lotion, then rub the mixture in a circular motion over your skin. When you're done, rinse under a warm shower.
"Just be certain to do any exfoliation at least 24 hours before hitting the beach or you could end up with inflamed skin," Sparby tells WebMD.
The same is true if you are waxing for hair removal, she cautions. "The skin can be very sensitive after waxing, and the sun, or even salt water or chlorine water from a pool, can cause an irritation and blotchiness," Sparby says. "So do your procedures at least a day before you plan to hit the great outdoors."
Once your exfoliation is complete, experts say, try a faux tan as the finishing touch. These tans-in-a-bottle are easy to use, and a great way to boost your confidence on the beach. If nothing else, Sparby says a faux tan can make you look healthier -- enhancing your image regardless of your size.
Finally, Avellino offers this piece of tried-and-true advice: "Even if you have not lost all the weight you expected to for the 2004 summer season, walk tall, pay attention to posture, and wear a smile. A happy, positive facial expression radiates inner beauty, and that always outshines everything else."