Bathing Suit Season.

To the people who love you, you are beautiful already. This is not because theyre blind to your shortcomings but because they so clearly see your soul.” — Victoria Moran

BeachIt’s barely spring here in southeast Michigan, but magazine editors are positively frantic about Bathing-Suit Season. My god, there’s not a magazine cover on the stands that isn’t warning me to tighten, tone, and self-tan my ugly winter-white thighs. And of course, I won’t “look hot in that bikini” unless I try another new diet. Right now.

This still scorches like a bad sunburn.

In high school, I spent hours poring over Glamour and Seventeen magazines, desperately seeking validation for my own looks. I never found it. In the early 1970s, the coolest cover girls – Cybil Shepard, Cheryl Tiegs, Patti Hansen – were as blonde and leggy as the Malibu Barbie dolls Id barely outgrown.

I was never blonde enough, tall enough, or tan enough to pass for a California Girl. My face was too freckled; my dark auburn hair was too thin; my legs were too short. Given my genetics, I could have posed as a back-up singer for the Irish Rovers, at best.

Trying to mirror what I saw in fashion magazines, I began experimenting with Summer Blonde, which, given my Celtic heritage, turned my hair bright orange. I sunbathed without sunscreen, burning my freckled skin to the point where Id eventually develop basal-cell skin cancer.

Not surprisingly, the real me got lost under layers of costume and make-up. It took years to find her again.

In her new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, sociology professor Brene Brown devotes several pages to the topic of women, shame, and self-image.

Listing what she describes as the 12 categories of shame — including addiction and money — Brown lists “appearance and body image” right at the top. “After all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young, and beautiful enough,” she writes. While women in our culture are expected to be perfect, Brown adds, it’s also shameful to look as if we’re “trying too hard.” We can’t win.

These days, fashion and beauty editors give lip service to the concept of “aging gracefully.”  But who’s really buying it? If there were nothing shameful about wrinkles, under-eye bags, and sagging skin, there wouldn’t be countless products marketed to “fix” them.

Now, in addition to worrying about how we look in our bathing suits, we’re advised to conceal every hint of experience on our faces. (Pantene even has products to correct “aging hair,” for crying out loud.) Periodically, fashion editors throw older women a bone by featuring a “mature” model with silver-streaked hair, or a gorgeous grandma in plus-sized clothing. For the most part, however, even the older models in magazines geared to my demographic rarely look my age.

But the self-assured woman defines beauty on her own terms, insists Victoria Moran. Writing from personal experience, Moran is author of Lit from Within: Tending Your Soul for Lifelong Beauty (HarperSanFrancisco). A rarity among beauty advisors, she reminds us to look beyond mirrors and magazines to find our radiance.

Moran claims that miraculous things happened when she finally stopped obsessing about her weight and wardrobe. “To my utter amazement,” she writes, “I started looking a whole lot better – and worrying about it a great deal less. I started thanking God at night for the good in my day, and although I stopped asking to be thin and gorgeous, I sometimes asked if I could be strong and helpful.”

Moran reminds us that authentic beauty, at any age, requires depth of character and a yearning to live in grace. It demands that you spend more time revealing your truth than shopping for a plastic surgeon or a better eye cream. Its all about respecting your inner worth.

Take a dive, Malibu Barbie.