by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I just returned from a few days on the Alabama coast where I learned bikinis come in all shapes and sizes. That’s right, ladies. Whatever your weight, height or age, there is a bikini made for you.

I sat in my sand chair wearing my one piece, I might add, as women in bikinis walked by. I was in awe at their utter lack of concern for how they looked in their bikinis. My fellow beach lovers were clearly happy and content. Not one appeared worried about what others were thinking as they blazed trails in the sand.

So why couldn’t I join in their beach brigade? I own several new bikinis that I longed to wear. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for my final unwanted fifteen pounds to drop before I feel worthy of being seen in a two-piece. As some of the bikini-clad women walked by, I kept telling my daughter, “I wouldn’t do that.”

But did it really matter so much what other women looked like in their bikinis? No! So why did I think anyone would care about what I looked like?

I was not bothered or surprised that bikinis come in so many different shapes and sizes. I was mostly impressed by the vast number of carefree, very tan women who dotted the shoreline — and wished I could walk among them.

It eventually occurred to me that I was embarrassed and ashamed of my extra pounds and lack of tone. Indeed, I suffered with a severe case of self-consciousness. Or in other words, I struggled with an acute sense of self-awareness, which was exacerbated by my many shortcomings.

My self-image was being negatively influenced by my inner critic. And my inner critic had an image of what I should look like but didn’t. My daughter says my biggest problem is lamenting over what I looked like twenty-five years ago. Regardless, it became clear that I was not happy with my appearance today.

We all have a mental picture of who we are, how we look and what our weaknesses might be. And it’s this point of view that has more to do with how we feel wearing a bikini than the actual shape and size of our body.

So how can I soften my harsh viewpoint? Feel good about myself? Appreciate myself — right now? This doesn’t mean I no longer want to drop those fifteen pounds — because I do. But in the meantime, I do think I need to change my inner voice from critic to cheerleader.

To begin with, perhaps rather than being so preoccupied with my body and its flaws, I should give at least equal attention to my thoughts and attitude as well as my abilities and skills. Perhaps I should begin with pondering the “me” that God sees and loves. God most definitely sees what is good about each of His children — cherishing our talents, celebrating our accomplishments. We should do no less.

While we may all have things about ourselves we would like to improve or make better, we also do many things and have many traits deserving of recognition, appreciation and honor.

My mamma has always taught me to look for and see the good in everyone. But sometimes I forget to include my own self in that practice. Focusing on the good we see in ourselves — especially when we base our opinion on what God sees in us — gives us encouragement to continue on a progressive path. Our inner cheerleader will point us onward and forward to higher goals and improvements, assuring us that anything is possible, obtainable and reachable.

Criticizing or condemning ourselves and our features can trap us in a self-sabotaging pattern that is difficult to get out of. We may become impossible to please and never appreciate the progress we make. This can lead to an endless cycle of discouragement and dissatisfaction.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” wrote Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in 1878. No doubt the human opinion of what is beautiful is as varied and different as there are people. This statement was actually written in various forms that expressed much the same meaning dating back as early as the 3rd century BC in Greek.

But the Creator of us all will always behold the unique beauty of each of His children. Look at yourself and others and embrace the beauty that is God-given. As we expect to see the beauty the divine Beholder sees, we’ll discover how really beautiful we each are — regardless of the size of our bikinis.