You are a grown-ass woman. You are a grown-ass, mature adult woman, and you are considering some light shoplifting because the giant megastore employee just told you that “sizes aren’t interchangeable” but like, let’s be honest, the last time your top half matched your bottom half you were 8 years old and even then you could tell your butt was destined for greatness.

Bathing suit shopping, guys. Of all the nightmares out there in the world, it is one of the truest. Buying a bathing suit in a mall ranks, as an experience, somewhere juuuust above “pap smear from a ‘funny’ male doctor” and slightly below “a urinary tract infection while camping.” The whole thing is very fraught. Check it:

Some truths to accept before you head out
The lighting is just going to be that way, there’s nothing you can do. Your thighs look how they look today, there’s nothing you can do. The salesperson might be a very thin teen with a very heavy attitude, there’s nothing you can do. You probably have to buy a size up from what you’d usually wear just to ensure no pinching or chafing or weirdness, there’s nothing you can do. Swimming and hanging out on beaches are a wonderful, delightful part of summer and not participating because you don’t like the idea of wearing a bathing suit is literally insane, there’s nothing you can do.

Bottoms and tops 
They’re different, okay? I know it, you know it, Kate Upton DEFINITELY knows it. It’s okay, and the Stores are slowly catching on. If there’s a really big disparity between your two halves, my suggestion is to stock up on solid colour separates in cuts you like. You can blend any two colours, because this is swimwear, there are no rules (or for low maintenance matching, all black—as with any outfit, all black is literally never a bad choice, if a bit boring). Like, who is going to call you out on having a mismatched bathing suit? That person is NOT invited to the pool party that is life. My bottom half can get a little aggro about bathing suit bottoms, so I tend to stick to a solid black high waisted number and then get wild with tops.

Stores without mirrors in the stalls that make you COME OUT INTO THE PUBLIC AREA OF THE STORE to look at yourself: go to hell.
Go directly to hell, do not pass GO, do not collect any of my dollars. If you think for even one second that I’m going to come out of the stall, into the area of the store where EVERYONE ELSE IS CLOTHED, under the horrible, fluorescent lights in a small collection of Lycra-blend swatches cobbled together with beads or something and just stand there alone on the cold, hard floor, looking into an unflattering mirror and questioning my life, body, choices, and a world that makes me constantly question all three, you can literally go to hell. Actual hell. The real one. I am not getting a bikini wax just to try on bikinis. 

Types of suits
I’ve never met a lady who didn’t look amazing in a vintage-y pin up style suit. High waisted bikinis are having a comeback right now, and that’s beautiful and amazing, and praise be to Lady-Jesus (she’s partial to a bandeau, I hear). Those cute bathing suits that twist in the middle but don’t have any boob support really are for small-chested girls only, I have to say. Large busts will literally floop out the bottom and/or top, don’t ask how I know, and definitely don’t ask the schoolgroup who was at the Cambridge public lido that day. String bikinis are the drunken striptease of the activewear world: sexy in theory, uncomfortable in practice, and to be avoided unless you are 16 and just trying it out around someone you trust. Personally, I have never been mad at a cougar-style saucy one piece, but I also understand the pure 1960s Gidget appeal of a bikini, deployed with confidence and verve.

Come prepared
Okay, so you’ve pondered the above and you want to buy a bathing suit. You know it’s not going to be a great time, and you know how many things could go wrong (see above re: lighting, mirrors, shopgirl attitude), so try to minimize other discomforts. Want to feel like your stomach is super flat? Shop before lunch and do a few crunches before you leave the house. Don’t want to have to imagine what your suit would look like if you weren’t wearing a scrunchy diaper made up of your own, bunched up underwear underneath it? Wear a seam-free thong. Bring your most Supportive and Chill friend. Someone who will be honest with you but also won’t make you feel bad. Do not bring your partner, they love you too much to tell you when your butt is being bisected.

A long gripe wherein I reveal my True Feelings re: bathing suits
It’s easy for me to sit here, at home, in my caftan, and tell you that no one cares what you look like in a bathing suit, and that once the sun is shining and the sangria is flowing neither will you, but I know that’s not always the case. It can be hard to feel cute in swimwear, hard not to compare yourself to others, hard to ignore headlines shaming women for their imperfect “beach bodies.” For me, the only real hard and fast rule I have with bathing suits is: am I comfortable in this? If so, proceed. If this means you want to wear a tiny string bikini, go for it. A vintage-y number with a flouncy lil skirt? Have at it. Feel the need to invest in a slinky coverup that you almost never take off? Do whatever. It should not be this hard to enjoy the beach, and I resent that socialized fear of women’s bodies and shitty moralistic approaches to “work” means that the idea of a day lakeside or poolside or beachside has many, many women nervous first, excited to spend a nice day lounging or playing volleyball second. If you feel better with your legs shaved and bikini line freshly waxed, get to it. Do whatever you need to do. The ultimate goal is to forget you’re wearing a bathing suit, because hey—your bod’s on the beach. You did it. You have a beach body.

Follow Monica on Twitter: @monicaheisey