If you've been feeling more acute anxiety about the rapidly approaching swimsuit season, you're certainly not alone. But instead of stressing about how we can make our pandemic bodies the perfect "summer body," maybe we could embrace the body that got us through the last year.

We've largely spent the past 12 months surviving a global pandemic—something we could never have mentally prepared for—to the best of our abilities. A lot of us gained weight this year. The reasons why aren't important, because they're likely rooted in shame. Here's what is important.

We survived a global pandemic. We're still surviving it. And we deserve to celebrate our bodies this summer.

Accepting your body for what it is and what it can do is basically a lifelong process. Our bodies can change with every new chapter of life, with varying medical diagnoses and, as we age, so do our bodies. Everyone struggles with their body, no matter what size they are. But here's what you learn about yourself on the road to self-acceptance: empowerment. In the words of the great Jimmy Dugan, "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." (Or something.)

For most of us, accepting our "new" bodies post-motherhood is an ongoing challenge, and one of the biggest of our lives. Add in a year of isolation at home and all the mental health battles that go along with a deadly public health crisis, many of us have to accept another major shift in our physical appearance? It's hard not to feel defeated and overwhelmed. Especially at the prospect of slowly re-emerging from our coronavirus cocoons and being seen in public again this summer.

I was a scrawny kid. A "late bloomer" who didn't develop curves until my senior year of high school. For most of my life, summer meant cutoff denim shorts, cannonballs in the pool and neon string bikinis to show off my early 2000s tan. In my 20s, after years of hormonal issues and no answers, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). My weight was rapidly fluctuating and it was getting harder and harder to control or understand.

Instead of shorts, I spent my summers wearing jeans. In humid, 90-degree east coast summer weather. I was embarrassed that my legs were the largest part of my body, and I was terrified people would notice that I no longer looked like I "used to." I was raised to believe how you looked was the most important thing about you, but thankfully (after years of therapy) I know the most valuable things about me have nothing to do with my appearance. That my legs deserve to be free from the suffocation of substantially unforgiving denim in the July heat. And most of all, that my daughters need to not just hear their mother speak kindly about her body, but they need to bear witness to it.

What we're not going to do this summer is give in to the myths and scams of diet culture. We're going to wear our swimsuits, our tank tops, our crop tops, our favorite pairs of shorts, skirts and dresses because we're done apologizing for our bodies.

Some of us kneaded our way through a year of anxiety with sourdough starters and hearty meals. Some of us felt so defeated and depressed it was difficult to find the motivation to do anything beyond sitting in our fear.

Some of us learned new hobbies this year to keep our minds and hands busy. Some of us helped vulnerable people get their groceries safely. Some of us donated and marched and spoke out against racism and social injustice in the wake of George Floyd's death. Some of us found a way to navigate the endless labyrinth of the COVID vaccination rollout and used that knowledge to help others get their doses of life-saving medicine. Too many of us were left grieving alone, and even if all we did was simply exist another day—that was enough.

Of course our bodies changed this year; we fundamentally changed this year. When you're feeling self-conscious or anxious about the unattainable "summer body," just know that ideal is such a cruel mirage because a society built on diet culture means you never actually attain "it." Remember this: The body that helped you achieve all of of those things, the body that survived this past year and will continue to get you through crises of the world and your life, deserves to be free.

Honor your body. Wear that colorful swimsuit you've been longingly eyeing on Amazon. Break out the cute pair of shorts you've buried in your closet. Buy the floral sundress with the spaghetti straps and worry about what bra you'll wear later. Have a picnic in the sunshine with people you've missed desperately, who love you and have missed you right back. There is freedom in intentionally taking up space in this world, and that's exactly what we're going to do—this summer and beyond.

You and your body deserve it.