Like most young women, I love to shop. But I also have a love/hate relationship with shopping. As we enter swimsuit season, which women across the country simultaneously adore and fear, I’m reminded of that fact. Finding the right kind of clothes isn’t easy. With my particular (and somewhat demanding) tastes, it’s almost impossible to find clothes right for me: fashionable, attractive and, most importantly, modest.

My conflicted feelings surfaced recently when I went out to buy a swimsuit in preparation for a trip to visit my sister in Florida. She lives on the beach, so I knew I needed a new suit to be appropriately dolled up for the Florida sun — and, if I may say so, I look pretty darn cute in it. Not that I’m bragging or anything.

But, man, was the search for that swimsuit a hassle. First — and I admit this with pride — I’m cheap. I buy my jeans at Target or the second-hand store, and nothing makes me happier than a really cute top from Meijer on clearance for five bucks. As it was, I had to shell out $40 for a tankini at Meijer, and that was as inexpensive as I could find.

My cheapness aside, a new swimsuit wasn’t easy to find because I had to work around my insecurities. Like most people, I have some body image issues. I’m not thrilled about the shape of my body — I’m pretty short, but I’m not particularly petite. I wouldn’t classify myself as overweight, but I could stand to do some sit-ups to flatten my stomach. And don’t even get me started about the size of my nose, which isn’t ever going to change no matter how much I work out. I’m never going to look like a supermodel, and that’s simply a fact.

But I’m not the only one with body issues — that’s why Yoplait makes a killing by selling women yogurt with a commercial featuring the infamous isty-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini. And we all know about the high rates of anorexia and bulimia in the nation. It’s easy to feel ugly even if you’re actually quite healthy and pretty when the women on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine are so svelte and glamorous.

My intellectual side has afforded me some peace by insisting that as long as I try to eat healthy and get as much exercise as I can (which usually consists of hoofing it from one corner of campus to another), it’s okay that I’m not built like Halle Berry. Ignoring my insecurities and having a realistic perception of my body has led me to a grudging acceptance that I’m never going to pull off a leather cat suit as well as Scarlett Johansson did in “Iron Man 2.”

Regardless, it’s still easy to be self-conscious at the beach with so many people around, which is why I purchased a swimsuit designed to hide some of my imperfections. More importantly, though, I purchased a swimsuit designed to hide some of my skin.

I have almost Victorian thoughts about modesty. I’m not saying I advocate high-necked dresses, petticoats and always-hidden ankles, but I’m a believer in maintaining some privacy about my body. There is a lot of me that I have no intention of displaying to a beach full of strangers. My body isn’t public domain.

For me, it’s about having some respect for myself. I am an intelligent, confident and strong young woman. I want people to see all of me when they look at me, not just certain parts of my anatomy. That’s why the plunging neckline is my archenemy and the skirts that I own reach respectably past mid-thigh.

Sometimes I think I’m the only person with this perspective. I see far too many women in shorts that are just too short. I’ve heard it said that some women find dressing scantily empowering and that it helps them take ownership of their bodies. I don’t really get that because I maintain pretty solid ownership of my body when I cover my midriff. So I think I’ll stick with a tasteful tankini rather than an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, polka dot bikini of any color.

Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s 2010 editorial page editor. She can be reached at

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