Screw Your Swimsuit Standards

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but summer is here! That blazing heat and shining sun can only mean that summer is in progress (unless you’re in Texas, where such whether can occur from March to December). And for the womenfolk, summer means a barrage of bikini sales advertisements and all their accompanying propaganda! I can’t even tell you how many Groupon deals I’ve been offered in the past two or so months trying to entice me into getting my body bikini-ready with boot camps, CrossFit, and other various tortures marketed towards looks rather than health. I can’t even look at a magazine rack without seeing at least four covers offering a beach body in just weeks. Whatevs, I can make a beach body in two minutes by covering myself in sand and sticking some seaweed on my face.

The term “bikini body” is in itself sexist and misogynistic, because it encompasses all that objectification is. It reduces a woman to nothing but her body, the space the true woman inhabits. It separates the self from the body, and creates an entity that has no thoughts or feelings. It is instead just a vessel to be looked at, and as such it has become an objective thing, this “bikini body.” It’s truly sickening that this is a common term, something that we must acquire the same way we acquire the bikini itself.

But please, oh popular media, help me become more palatable to the male gaze! I beg of you, make me the envy of all women (because we’re so vain!) and compel them to bow before my lithe legs and toned abs! Make it so that I may descend upon the Victoria’s Secret website to wipe them out of tiny bikinis that barely cover my ass! But wait, what’s this? I can, in the body that I possess now, slip on a bathing suit and not burst into flames because of the “extra” inches on my thighs? But how could this be?! I mean, if I believe fashion editors and misogynistic onlookers everywhere, I have no right to inhabit such clothing with a less-than-arbitrarily-perfect body! Surely something will happen to me!

And that’s the sad thing – it does happen. Those articles and advertisements and television shows? Everyone sees them, and those crafty little societal ideals do their best to work down into our subconscious, so that when anyone without a model’s body puts on a two piece, they are immediately subject to criticism. So while we may not be struck down the moment our non-Photoshopped bodies tie the strings of that bikini, we still get the societal pressures that the images of what bikini bodies look like perpetuate. We get the stares and the comments from passersby, the raised eyebrows and the silent judgments. Now, I may be slender, but I do not possess that magical, socially accepted bikini bod. Even with legs and a bottom that are very muscular, I possess the dimples and bulges that most women have somewhere. And so, even when I’m feeling confident and healthy and beautiful, I still have that fear that someone is judging me in my tiny bikini because I have had the audacity to put it on my imperfect ass. I know that I am not alone in that.

There comes a time, however, when we have to, for lack of better words, tell those sexist ideals to fuck right off. It’s hard to get to that point, but it’s certainly something to work towards. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. I have battled an eating disorder for years with those words, and while I’m not sure I’ll ever fully be able to get those ideals out of my head, I can sure as hell try. Really, who wants to sit inside while their friends go off to the waterpark? Who wants to watch their kids play in the neighborhood pool and not be able to join them? Think of what arbitrary standards take from you when they keep you from engaging in fun and comfort. It isn’t fair to let ourselves be overrun with fear and guilt and self-loathing for something that is entirely made up. I personally know that it’s not that simple to just screw the beauty standard and let loose, but even telling yourself that is a start.

So go forth, lovely women, and put on whatever swimsuit you want! If you love that vintage maillot, go for it! If you want a barely-there string bikini, work it! Whatever choice you make, and whatever body you have, you’ve got the right to wear what you want. Tell me, Persephoneers, what are you wearing this summer? Are you going to rock that bikini?

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

11 replies on “Screw Your Swimsuit Standards”

I like bikinis more than one pieces for lots of reasons but think everyone should pick the suit that makes them feel like swimming! Because swimming feels amazing and that’s the point!

Plus I’m in Austin TX and it’s hot, so there’s not much laying around in the sun for me, more like get in that cold water fast!

I live in England, so I’m rocking a raincoat at the minute.

Usually, though, I wear a bikini top and men’s board shorts. This is less to do with body image and more to do with the fact that Maine ocean water is COLD, but also the fact that I don’t like feeling as though I’m running around in my underwear.

I’m currently wearing my “spare”  piece suit that I absolutely hate. But I bought it in a pinch last summer before vacation (wanted to have a back up for those days we swim twice), and of course never wore it because I hated. This summer, the suit I like wore out (you know, because I wore it to death last summer) and at the moment, I need use this suit because it’s perfectly usable. And I have dreams of something much more sassy for next summer.

I think it was last year or the year before it that I decided I wasn’t going to try to walk in such a way that would make my thighs look slimmer, that I wouldn’t avoid people’s gazes (if they were looking because let’s admit it, we’re all busy with ourselves) and that I wouldn’t cover my belly with my arms.

I didn’t shake the habits off completely yet, but the sweet relief that followed after dropping them ..exhilarating.

Despite having lots of issues with body image for most of my life, I was on swim team from a young age, so being in a bathing suit in public didn’t bother me (even though being in a tank top, shorts, mini-skirt and other things that show less skin did…IDK). That said, it took me until this year to buy a bikini. I had tankinis for several years, and finally after seeing so many beautiful fat girls showing off their two pieces on the interwebs, I decided to just bite the bullet and get one. I have a high-waist ruched black bottom and a black and white striped top. It’s so cute and I feel lightly subversive in it.

Pro tip: remember to put extra sunblock on your tummy if it isn’t used to seeing the light of day

I like one piece suits myself, but I kinda want a vintage high waist bikini, but I haven’t found one that I’ve felt compelled to buy. I can remember a while there though when I wouldn’t have considered a two piece, cause I hated my tummy. You know what though, my tummy really is not anything awful. Took me a bit to get there though.

My bathing suits this year, which are the same ones I bought last year, are a black and white polka dot swim “dress” with a bow, that is fun to play with in the water and suitable for all family friendly activities, and a sexy-ish red one piece that makes me feel rockin’ even with my mom belly and stretch marks. I haven’t worn a bikini since I was ten, because some boys said I was being “sexy” and it took all the fun out of playing in the sprinkler. I wear a swimsuit because I like to swim, not because I want people checking me out.

I am in some ways lucky to have gotten to interrogate my own self consciousness in a bikini at a pretty young age, because I have a large, very noticeable skin abnormality on my midsection. I can hide this in a one-piece swimsuit, but I did swim team in high school and wearing a one piece to the beach just seemed like such a drag, since that was my exercise apparel. So I wore a bikini anyway. Some summers I felt self conscious about my stomach being too big (whatever I thought that meant at the time) and other summers I felt self conscious about this thing on my skin. And one summer when I was in really great shape (maybe when I was like 16?) I was agonizing over this skin thing and I realized like, there will never be a time when you’re not self conscious if you keep this up. You could meet every standard of body thin-ness/shapeliness there is and still think you look weird because of this skin thing. And that’s really dumb. And I thought about it and realized that I roughly zero times per day at the beach look at normal sized women in bikinis and think “gross, she should be in a muumuu.” Roughly zero times! So I was like, if everyone else is stressed about HERSELF in a swimsuit, and I will literally never look like the ideal no matter what I do, I think I can take this license to just screw it and wear the swimwear I want to. And I do. I have a drawer full of bikinis, all of which show my skin thing. I haven’t worn a tankini or one piece, including when I gained three pants sizes, to the beach since I was a preteen. And people don’t die in horror when they see me! And I love my swim suits! They are the cutest! So in some ways I feel lucky that there’s a thing that prevents me from ever reaching the unreachable ideal that helped me decide not to bother earlier than I might otherwise have. (Weird sentence construction, but whatever.)

I was chatting to a friend about her holiday last week and her narrative was all about this – how she was exercising so as not to be the “fat friend” on her holiday. And it just… struck me as so sad. So much effort for an ideal that doesn’t exist.

I’m going on holidays later in the year (no lying around on the beach in Ireland) and I’ll be wearing what’s comfortable, practical, and keeps me safe from the sun as much as possible. If that ends up being a bikini, grand.

I hate swimsuit standards. I want to kiss the feet of whoever invented tankinis, because I’m too long-waisted to comfortable wear one pieces and I’m too self-conscious to wear bikinis anymore. I even felt weird wearing a t-shirt at the pool last weekend; I worried that people would either think I was weird or be grateful that I was covered. Really I just had a bad sunburn from the previous weekend that I wanted to protect. It’s nobody else’s business what women choose to wear to swim.

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