From the moment spring begins to breathe its pollen-y breath, talk of swim season and the ensuing bikini season permeate just about everything, from tabloids in the grocery line to billboards advocating for the "perfect" beach body. And we begin to hear the women around us ask about "the right swimsuit for your body type," as though there's just one. As though there's just one heavenly and glorious suit in existence that'll make us look different — slender, toned, or whatever else we associate with aspirational beauty.
While I'm sure the "bikini body" struggle is one all women (and probably many men, in their own way) struggle with, I don't doubt that it's especially prevalent within the plus community. When you consider that plus-size fashion's goal for so long was to minimize the body and make fat bodies look, well, not fat, then it's pretty obvious that swimwear is the ultimate enemy of this ideology. Swim season involves stripping down, baring it all, and wearing what's basically waterproof underwear out into the world, for all eyes and spectators to potentially judge you or hound you with accusations about your health or the "negative lifestyle" you're encouraging by... existing?
The thing is, if you're a plus-size woman, there's no bathing suit in the world that'll make you not look plus-size. We can, of course, wear tent dresses and baggy coverups, but at the end of the day, most of us will still be fat. And at the end of the day, everyone around us will still know that. I can assure you that no matter how many swim skirts and tankini tops I've worn in my life, I've never fooled anyone into thinking I'm skinnier than I am. But... why would I need or want to do that, anyway?
After grueling winters and temperamental springs that couldn't figure out what temperature they wanted to stick with, summer can be a heavenly breath of (literal) fresh air. There's a reason so many of us wait for it in anticipation, counting down the days until poolside afternoons and Mediterranean escapades. But instead of focusing on all the positive things the season can bring, we focus on "all the things that are wrong with our bodies." Maybe this is no different to the rest of the year. But just think about how many hours you spend hating your body, wanting to look a different way, being unhappy in your own skin, filling yourself with harmful self-deprecation. And then think about all the other amazing things you could be doing instead. Like, I don't know, letting loose in a swimsuit that you love and splashing around in the glorious sea.
Although I've had experience wearing a low-rise bikini to the beach before, I'd be lying if I said that all the talk of finding a "flattering" swimsuit "for your body" doesn't affect me. These days, though, it doesn't affect me in a, "You need to amp up your workout routine and get that belly toned before you dare step out into the world," way. It's more of a, "I can't believe we've been so brainwashed into thinking that humans who are fuller-figured don't have the right to enjoy summer like everyone else," kind of way.
Because whether you're 140 pounds and work out every day, 140 pounds and never touch a treadmill, 280 pounds and work out every day, or 280 pounds and never touch a treadmill, you deserve to feel beautiful. You deserve to put on whatever bathing suit your heart desires and rock it anywhere and everywhere. All bodies — be they toned or flabby, medically classed as "healthy" or "unhealthy" — are, in fact, bikini ready. And what's more? They're worthy of any swimsuit. Not just the "flattering" ones or the "ones that hide that visible belly outline."
Which is precisely why you're about to see a bunch of half naked photos of me (because isn't stripping down on your own terms, for your own purposes, just grand?) in six different swim styles in an effort to showcase that, well, you can wear whatever the hell you want. Belly haters be warned. Y'all are about to see some flab:
Fiji Sweetheart Ruched Plus Size Swimsuit, $98, Monifc
What I love about the peekaboo look is that it's very much an intentional way of showing off a specific aspect of your body — of giving those around you a glimpse into something you're confident about. The fact that Monif Clarke of Monif C. creates plus-size swimsuits that are intentionally designed to show off the parts of the body most stigmatized (especially in fat women), then, is pretty remarkable.
In conversation with Monif via email, she told me:
"A woman is often most vulnerable and self-conscious in her swimwear, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This season, as I sat down to design the new Sea by Monif C. Collection, all I could think about was ‘the beach is your runway.’ It was a notion that plus-size swimwear has evolved from covering up your body, to wearing fashionable styles that show it off."
I spent a long time hating my stomach — chastising it for not being flat enough and committing the horrid crime of jiggling when I move. So I love the way this peekaboo swimsuit makes me think, "Yes, I have a big tummy. And yes, I adore it." The peekaboo one-piece is also, IMO, a great transitional item for plus women who want to make bolder moves with their swimwear but aren't quite ready to bare it all in a string bikini. Because, you know, un-learning stigma and aesthetic-based conditioning is hard.
The Low-Rise Bikini (AKA Chunkini)
Bottoms: Swim Sexy Black Triangle String Bikini, $48, Swimsuits For All | Top (only available in green): GabiFresh Kiwi Wrap Underwire Bikini, $69, Swimsuits For All
Speaking of low-rise bikinis, there it is: My fat belly. While I don't expect everyone in the world to look at a big, round tummy and think, "Wow, that's beautiful" (considering our views on beauty are so subjective and all), I do expect to have the right to wear a swimsuit that's the antithesis of what I'm "supposed" to wear and feel confident and amazing while doing so.
I'm a firm believer that when we choose to take off our clothes (or wear revealing swimsuits) on our own terms, it can be really rewarding. When I wear something like this, I can tell how much my mentality has changed since adolescence. An image that probably would have made me cry 10 years ago now makes me smile. I have a round stomach that falls over my thighs and wobbles more than a bobble head, and it's pretty awesome. My belly, like the rest of my body, allows me to do anything and everything I need it to do. And if I want to give it some TLC in the sunlight, you better believe I'm going to. And I'll probably give myself a belly rub to boot.
The Traditional One-Piece
Robyn Lawley Lost Road Multi-Fit Tank, $150, Hey Gorgeous
Of course, just like there's no shame to wearing a string bikini if you weigh over 200 pounds, there's no shame in wearing a traditional one-piece. I'll admit that whenever anyone "helpfully" suggests I exchange said string bikini for a one-piece, my blood just about boils (special shoutout to all those "helpful" relatives). But sometimes — if a pattern really captivates me or a detail is just right — I still take these bad boys out.
The problematic thing about one-piece suits is that so many plus-size women feel obligated to wear them. They feel like they don't deserve anything else — because they've been made to feel so shameful about their bodies, that covering those bodies up to the fullest, whenever possible, becomes almost a "duty." Maybe we feel like we need to shield the world from the "horrors" of our chubs, maybe we don't want to risk "offending" the trolls (though if you ask me, trolls deserve to feel offended). But the one-piece doesn't have to be obligatory. If you like it because it's you and you love the way you feel in it, bravo! If you hate it and wish you could wear a thong bikini, give the thong bikini a try!
What I love about this particular swimsuit is that even though it's a one-piece and in a cut that what would probably be considered "flattering to a fat body," the pattern makes a pretty bold statement nonetheless. Amongst the many things fat women aren't supposed to wear are bold prints and patterns, so wearing this desert piece still feels empowering in its own right.
GabiFresh Sea Reef Underwire Mid-Waist Bikini, $69, Swimsuits For All
Oh, the fatkini (aka the high-waisted bikini). Quite often when you see plus-size women rocking swimsuits, it's probably a fatkini (shoutout to the lovely Gabi Gregg, who coined the term and started a revolution of fat women embracing their fat in gorgeous swimwear — and who, coincidentally, designed this bathing suit).
Not unlike the peekaboo one-piece, the fatkini is a pretty great stepping stone to feeling comfortable in swimwear as a fat woman. It doesn't quite show off the belly in as bold and outright a way (not that there's anything wrong with that — it's actually super fun), but it does give you a little tummy teaser and if you have back boobies, those will probably get some airtime, too. And being that it's still a bikini, it equally serves as a delightful little eff you to all those (quite frankly) boring standards of beauty that say only one type of body is worthy of feeling sexy in swimwear.
As a lover of vintage fashion, I'm also extremely drawn to this look as a whole. I love the classic glamour that high-waisted bikinis evoke, and how evocative of yesteryear they can be.
The Fun Detail + Bright Color
Filosofia Swimwear Summer Samba, $175, Filo Sofia Swimwear
Does this bathing suit make my belly look like a big, fat orange? I hope so.
I'm pretty sure I spent my childhood daydreaming of the ruffled and pom-pomed swimsuits of my peers, hoping I, too, could someday "pull off" something as quirky and fun. My adolescence became a sea of black one-pieces and almost knee-length swim skirts, though, and it's only now I'm fulfilling the goals of Marie, circa 1999. But better late than never, right?
I presume the reason so many plus women stay away from fun details (like fringe or ruffles) and bright colors (like this neon orange) because they are attention-grabbing details. Wearing them means you'll stand out. You'll be visible. But plus-size women need to be visible. They need to be represented. They need to stop worrying about taking up space and start loving their beautiful selves.
When I met Filosofia's owner and body positive soul Adyam Ghebre, my obsession with this swimwear line pretty much quadrupled. Inspired by the vibrance and body positivity she witnessed in Brazil, Adyam founded this line that takes on issues surrounding body image firsthand, and showing how we can take back clothing items like swimsuits — so often used to oppress and further stigmatize all bodies — and turn them into sources of inspiration.
Plus, this detailed one-piece makes me look like a big, fat orange, so what's not to love?
Swim Sexy Red Bandeau/Halter Twist Front Bikini, $41, Swimsuits For All
Grossed out by the way my cellulite shines in the sun and my belly plops onto my deck? You reserve the right to look away. I reserve the right to love my goop and find it beautiful! Not to mention every stretch mark and other goop-y bit on my body.
The midkini is very literally the middle ground between something like a string bikini and a high-waisted suit, which means it might be an awesome bikini starting-point for women not quite sure which style they want to rock this year.
In a way, this suit is probably the most "unflattering" of the bunch, and yet it's one of my absolute favorites precisely for that reason. When you think about it, none of these bathing suits make me look like I'm a size 8 instead of an 18. And no suit ever will. So rather than try to pretend I'm not fat, I'd much rather love the body I'm in (for all its cellulite-y glory) and wear a bikini I'm obsessed with — a bikini I feel good in. (Even if my doing so makes certain types of humans, um, uncomfortable.)
When I look at my upper thighs in this, I'm not thinking, "Ew! I'm so disgusting and gross and need to buy every cellulite-removal cream the world has ever known!" I'm mostly just thankful: Thankful for the confidence I've been able to find, in skin that's constantly being told it's wrong. Thankful for all the people who helped me get to this place. Thankful that I see my body as beautiful not despite its cellulite or wobbling, but because of those things. And thankful to all the bloggers and designers and activists who are out there fighting so that one day, that last image won't be scandalous, and people won't have to think I'm "brave" for doing something as simple as wearing a bathing suit in summer. So that one day, all representations of women will have a place in the mainstream.
In a survey that Monif C. actually conducted amongst its customers, it was found that 71 percent of women this year plan on wearing bikinis, as opposed to 35 percent of women surveys last year. And I just can't wait to see all the plus-size babes of the world take these two-pieces out into the universe!
So the moral of this story? There's no such thing as a "right swimsuit for your body," other than the one you want to put on your body. And there's no such thing as a "perfect" body, other than the one you already have.
Now, enjoy some more fat positivity with this:
Images: Marie Southard Ospina/Paddy McClave; Giphy; TrishaPaytas/YouTube