Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Swimsuit Anxiety Threatens to Derail Beach Vacation

DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend invited me to go to the Caribbean with him. It sounds so nice, but I can't go. I am mortified to put on a bathing suit around him. He has never seen my body. I usually wear loose-fitting clothes. I think he won't like me anymore if he sees how overweight and out of shape I am.

I am so mad at myself. I haven't exercised in years, and I have the flab to show for it. What should I say to him about the trip? -- Fat and Freaked Out, Los Angeles

DEAR FAT AND FREAKED OUT: I doubt that your boyfriend thinks you have a model's body, even though you work overtime to cover it up. He surely likes you for who you are and is not consumed with how you look.

That said, since you are self-conscious, go ahead and share your doubts with him. Set a fitness goal that you want to reach before you strip down to a bathing suit. Enlist him in walking, jogging, moving. The two of you can work out together, get closer and have the promise of a trip to the beach as a reward.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I thought your advice to the person who was taking a public speaking class and was looking for ways to overcome his or her shyness was great. The most important thing to do is to practice.

I took a public speaking class in high school. The first time I had to speak in front of the class -- doing no more than telling about ourselves -- I was beside myself with nerves. But I was stuck for a semester, so I had to find a way to deal with this.

Practicing my speeches was invaluable. I practiced in front of the mirror, a tape recorder (that's dating myself!) and my family. I learned to make eye contact and always had a detailed outline in front of me that I could glance at when necessary. I not only overcame my nerves and shyness, but I also went on to major in speech communication in college.

I work as a financial consultant and feel the ability to communicate is invaluable. It all started with my first public speaking class. I would like to add that the speaker should always remember he or she is the only one who knows what he or she is going to say. If the speaker makes a mistake, usually no one is the wiser. -- Confident Communicator, Washington, D.C.

DEAR CONFIDENT COMMUNICATOR: It is amazing how many people start out extremely shy when they have to speak to a group of people. I have learned that if you choose to believe that the people who are waiting to hear you speak are friendly souls just like you, it is easier to speak to them.

You are absolutely right that they have no idea what you are going to say, so just go for it and speak. Trust that if you are prepared, you will be able to deliver your message with clarity and intention. It all starts with believing that you can do it!