If you’re as devoted as I have been to getting ready for swimsuit season, your efforts likely include skimming articles featuring workouts that seem impossible, diets that seem unattainable and models that are just too thin. In fact, you may think that’s what you’re in for right now. A simple “Kristen Ledlow bikini” Google search may have brought on the obligatory eye-roll, as my airbrushed Miss Florida USA body doesn’t seem like one to talk.

Guess what? I don’t look like that in a bikini now.

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In fact, I may never have looked like that in a bikini. In the world of Photoshop, we’re subjected to unrealistic expectations of perfection. Oh, and those models you compare yourself to? Airbrushed as well. So, how about this…

These are my tips to help you get ready for swimsuit season without the soul-crushing standard we’ve accepted in the past. Sound good?

Confidence is key. If you don't embrace your body, who will?

  • Embrace your body: If you don’t, who will? There’s nothing sexier than a woman who’s comfortable in her own skin. Your love handles, too-thick thighs or super scrawny arms are like the pimple you suffer over in the mirror – no one notices more than you do. So rip the towel off, throw your shoulders back and walk with some confidence! You’ll be sure to turn heads for all the right reasons.
  • Search for your swimsuit:  Bikinis don’t come with tags that say, “one size fits all”! Find a swimsuit that flatters your figure. For a larger chest, try on a halter top. For wider bottoms, consider a boy short with a flirty fit. And if you want to hide your tummy while you work toward your fitness goals, find a fun one-piece with an open back. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of options. Rock the suit that makes you feel your hottest!
  • Write down your goals: Whether it’s to decrease your body fat percentage or to squeeze into your skinny jeans, having a goal makes the difference. Set a date! Have you noticed how confident and toned a bride seems to look on her wedding day? She’s put a time limit on her fitness success. Do the same! With an incentive in mind and a realistic date ahead, you’re more likely to become the best version of you.
  • Take pictures: No matter how painful, snap a photo of yourself in your swimsuit…now. You don’t have to share it, but weeks from now when there’s a noticeable “before and after,” you may be dying to do so. My “before” picture is in my iPhone, and I can’t wait to compare it in the weeks to come! Once you are able to see results, you’ll have no problem finding motivation for more. 
  • Stop counting calories: Why? Because it’s no fun. Instead, learn to incorporate healthy, clean food items into your diet without depriving yourself of a “cheat day” at least once a week! Aim for fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plenty of protein. I tend to maximize my carbohydrate count (not recommended), so I mix up a protein shake to be sure my metabolism is still burning. My favorite is vanilla protein mixed with a cup of orange juice and a couple of ice cubes. Delicious! 
  • Join a class: Accountability is vital, and fitness classes are fun! My go-to classes include CrossFit and kickboxing. As a former athlete, I love the challenge of having people next to me that I can try to beat! Look up the class schedule at your gym, or hop on Groupon and buy a package of classes to try. Plus, the incentive to show up on time will help you make fitness part of your daily routine!
  • Think outside the fitness box: Last week, I bought a bike. I haven’t ridden one since I was a child, but I figured there wasn’t a more perfect fit in applying the “it’ll be like riding a bike” cliche, right? I was a bit shaky at first, but now I love it. Instead of wasting gas to drive one mile to my gym, I ride my bike and chain it up outside. By thinking outside of the box, I’ve added an element to my exercise routine!
  • Get a spray tan: Laugh if you will, but it’s the quickest way to shed ten pounds. Why lay out in the sun all day or fake bake in a tanning bed for ten minutes when you can achieve the same results in a less harmful way? If your fear is that you’ll turn out orange or streaky, those myths have been busted with the latest spray tan technology. Try one on for size if you don’t believe me! 
  • Find your celeb-spiration: We all have a girl crush, right? (And for you guys out there who have made it to the end of this article and are still reading, you know you have a man crush). Identify the woman who seems to be in the best shape for your body type. If tight and toned is your goal, look to celebs like Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel or Cameron Diaz. If you’d rather embrace softer curves, look to Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez or Jessica Simpson.

My personal celeb-spiration? Kate Upton. She’s become America’s favorite supermodel by showing off her womanly figure and shattering the supermodel standard. While it’s taken time to kiss my college volleyball body goodbye, women like Kate Upton have helped me to embrace my curves as I forge head-on into this next phase of my life. Oh, and she also tweeted at me that we could be best friends. Miss Upton? You’re my girl.

(Credit: Derek Kettella/Sports Illustrated)

Sports Illustrated’s Kate Upton

  • Finally, forget the numbers: If you feel great, neither size nor weight matter. Forget how much you weighed in high school, or that you’ve graduated into the big-girl sizes. Work hard to become the best version of you, not anyone else. Feel beautiful in your own skin! I promise, there’s nothing sexier for swimsuit season.
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What am I listening to this week? “The 20/20 Experience” by Justin Timberlake. That’s right…all of it. Download it and thank me later!

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Keep me updated on your swimsuit season success! Follow me on Twitter @KristenLedlow and find me on Facebook, too.