May 28, 2011

Bathing Suit Season and Body Anxieties

The cheapest maxi dress coverup I could find at Gabes

Chris in Buzios

Memorial Day marks the official opening of swimming pool season around these parts (though sadly for me but smartly for local families, the Pittsburgh city pools wait until the end of the public school year to open). Although I bought a bathing suit before my December trip to Brazil, I am always on the look out for swimwear that can support a bustier bosom. I've come to adore the Triumph For Your Curves brand (even if the name is silly) for their fun prints and wide range of bikini tops with underwire (sized like bras in a wide range of cup sizes, and everything!). I've also heard great things about the Figleaves in-house brands (Midnight Grace, etc.) and Freya, though I cannot speak to their longevity or support from personal experience. 

Although I have far from what most would consider a bikini body, I started wearing one within the last year or so. I decided that I was sick of tankinis (since I always pulled up the tank part of the top to sun worship) and one pieces (which made going to the bathroom a pain in the butt). I am no stranger to those body image issues that effect most of us. But I have come to feel relatively bold when it comes to swimwear, especially during out of town travel. It already helps when you are in a place where no one knows you except for your travel partner(s). But when you couple it with the relatively exposed swimwear culture of Brazil, I was even more confident running around, flabby body and all.

As examined in this entry from feminist fashion blogger Millie of Interrobangs Anonymous and posted on the website of MrsBossaDoesTheDo, vacations carry liberatory and experimental potential. An otherwise safe, static style identity can try new things without the watchfuls eyes of preconceived expectations. I wrote in the comments section:

There is something really liberating about being in a place where no one knows me (except the person with who I am traveling). Fewer expectations and fewer closet options mean that I am simultaneously less and more confined, if that makes sense. I don’t have to feel like I am dressing my usual “part” because I won’t see anyone who usually sees me but I have such a smaller range of options because I tend to try to pack lightly. 

One of my favorite things about traveling to Brazil last December was how completely body unconscious people were on the beaches. Granted, my boyshort bottoms had more coverage than most of the men’s trunks, but I found it really refreshing to see women of all ages and shapes and sizes wearing the tiniest of bikini styles without reservation. I wonder on some level if this is merely a product of availability? If swimsuit retailers there only sell tiny suits, then everyone has to wear them by default. But those typical anxieties about how my body looked on the beach (the feelings that I try to fight because they run so contrary to my feminist beliefs) were a little less intense as a result. I felt comfortable because 1. no one knew me and 2. everyone there wore tiny bikinis, making my less-tiny-but-still-bikini style seem modest. 

I obviously cannot speak for the women who live in Brazil (a culture where I have read that plastic surgery and plastic surgery tourism are more common and less costly than in the US, and gender roles/expectations for conventional femininity remain relatively rigid in part because of ongoing influences of the Catholic faith and the prevailing traditional standards of beauty). But for me it felt really powerful to walk around the beach without a coverup and without the same anxieties about body judgments.

Are you ready (I mean emotionally, not physically) for bathing suit season? I'm trying to get back to how I felt in December, regardless of the location of the pool or beach... But I've got a ways to go. 

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Anonymous said...

Hi - I am really glad to find this. cool job!

Tien said...

I have these dimple on my thighs all over that I find highly unseemly.  It used to make me very self-conscious.  But when I went to Hawaii with a one piece, I noticed no one looked at me.  No one cared.  Almost everyone had some kind of imperfection they'd like to hide.  It was so freeing realizing that the only person judging me was me.  I didn't have to change anyone's attitude, I had to change mine.

While we were in FP, I wore the same one pieces (I brought two).  I found them to be heavy and bothersome.  I started to wonder, why now a two piece?  It's not necessarily modesty, but something else.  Those dimples on thighs are going to show regardless of what kind of bathing suit I wear, so I might as well be comfortable and confident.

I'm going to take swim lessons to help me better my strokes, so I can be as proficient and comfortable in the water as possible for my scuba certification. Today I plan on buyng my first ever two piece.

thatdamngreendress said...

Going away is really liberating that way- I remember freaking out about how pale and dimpled everything was before a trip to Barbados several years ago, and then once you're there somehow the bright sun blinds you to imperfections in bodies and you're just happy and relaxed.  That doesn't stop me from stressing out before our yearly beach vacation (which usually means I'm fit come September and then it all goes away by March, only to have to begin to stress again. stupid)

I definitely prefer a two-piece though- it's like if you try and hide things the other parts just stick out more.  Go for broke with a pretty print!

But why are bathing suits so expensive?????!!!

Georgiapeach83 said...

I have to agree with you about feeling more confident when you are away from those you know, I would never wear a bikini around my friends (partially because they are all way smaller than me!) but when we went to the beach a few weekends ago, I was sick of looking at maternity suits that were uncomfortable and didn't fit right so I ordered a bikini from JCrew and rocked it, it felt very liberating to wear one and flaught my baby belly! Will I wear it again post baby? maybe not, we'll have to see how much stress this pregnancy puts on my body

Danielle said...

I spent two weeks in Greece last summer, and thanked God for the wonderful Bavarian women who wore tiny swimsuits no matter what their shape; they definitely made me feel much less self-conscious!

St Germain said...

Do you ever think it's harder for those of us around college students all the time? Ugh. I constantly compare myself (at age 42) to the skinnies in my classes. I don't know why I do this. I've had 3 kids and am double their age. I'm always self conscious, even when I'm in a strange place. My one liberating "body" time is when I'm cuddling with my toddler, who pokes and plays with me and I don't care how much is hanging out. 

I'm worried that I will avoid swim suits this summer. I'm 5 lbs over my normally 10 lb overweight weight. In the last month I've been exercising every day and eating better/less, but so far there seems to be no change. Very frustrating. The older I get, the harder it is to tone and lose. I'm sort of in despair about it, actually. I'm going to investigate suits at Lands End in Sears today. They seem to have plain suits more suited for the "middle aged". Sigh.

St Germain said...

Forgot two things: 1. You look HOT in that maxi coverup. Great boobage, and it hits your waist in the perfect spot. And 2. I saw these photos of Christina Hendricks (MadMen) yesterday and they actually did make me feel better. A few shots are unflattering, but the better ones reveal a beautiful woman with a "real" body.

Kathleen said...

That's actually a nice thing that happens when you get older, too -- you really don't care as much about not being "perfect." Maybe since you are around undergrads all day it is worse. Plus, once you've had children, your body changes that much more. I'd be careful about attributing too much of Brazil's weirdness with body image/sexuality to Catholicism (although I'm sure it's a factor). It has an incredibly high elective C-section rate as well as issues with breastfeeding as related to the appearance of the breasts (even though it is pregnancy that is hardest on them). That's different from most Catholic countries. There's something else going on, I think.

joelle van dyne said...

i am *almost* ready this year.. i think i'm a little flabbier than i was last year, and i have a bunch of cellulite on my thighs.. but doing WW this year has made me so much more confident about things. this year i KNOW that i'm generally eating right, and i work out a couple times a week, and that's really all i can do. so i don't have any more of those nagging "dang i should've put down the m&ms in april" kinds of thoughts. even though things don't look perfect, i know they are pretty much as good as they're going to be, and i'm okay with that. it is a huge relief, and is completely psychological, rather than physical.

S said...

 I am definitely not ready for bathing suit season but I do agree that on vacation, I seem to care less about it and am just enjoying the beach.  Wish that could translate to normal life too :)

Marcela said...

You look awesome in this coverup!!! I'm never ready for swimsuit season :(
 I consider that Rio is to Brazil what New York is to the US. These places have "an open mind", "big city mentality" which is really nice in several aspects but may also be very stressful. Years have passed since I left Rio, but I remember clearly the day I was buying a one-piece swimsuit and my college friend looked at me in disgust. She was nice enough to say "well, you are losing some weight, so it will look better". Mind you, I was a size 4. I lived in Rio for more than 10 years and you felt more comfortable there than I ever will! And you can definitively find more modest swimwear, at least I always was able to find. Maybe not in the most fashionable places in Ipanema, but there is a store kinda like Target or maybe JcPenney called "Renner" where I think you'll be able to find "not so cool" swimwear. Another alternative is to buy sports swimwear, that's what I usually wear now.
Honestly, there is only one plastic surgery that is effective for women to be "beach ready" in Rio... sex change! Seriously, all the women pulling their hair to look good in a bikini and when you look around, you see those bald guys with huge bellies, wearing speedos, holding their beers and nobody cares! It's revolting!


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