Swimsuit Season is Here Again

Lindsey Jacks
Programs and Policy Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations

Summer has barely begun and I have already lost track of the amount of conversations overheard about swimsuits and the never ending trials and tribulations of body hatred. Fitness and diet advertisements come packaged with the tag line “Get ready for swimsuit season!” A simple Google search for “swimsuit season workout” will provide you with 16,500,000 results because clearly your body is not ready the way that it is now.

In a 2013 survey of 102 undergraduate females, participants had the highest scores of self-objectification when asked to imagine themselves trying on a swimsuit in a dressing room. Is this really surprising though? We’re constantly provided with pictures of airbrushed models sporting bikinis on almost every magazine cover, along with millions of suggestions to “improve” our bodies. Is it really any wonder that women become depressed when they are faced with their very real bodies that do not live up to society’s daily expectations?

What’s worse is that this culture has become an invitation to openly judge and envy other women. The Today article on this study included a picture of a thin woman in a swimsuit with the tagline “Unless, that is, you look like this girl.” I understand that they are trying to be funny, but who are they to assume that this woman is free of self-objectification? Being skinny is not a one way ticket to body satisfaction as this woman who lost 180lbs and still hated her body so eloquently explained. This passing judgment and obvious exclusion of women with a certain body type is extremely harmful. No, there is nothing wrong with telling someone that they look great, but excluding them with the notion of “oh you wouldn’t understand” does nothing to help anyone’s self-confidence. Women are each other’s own worst critics, and we know it. In a survey conducted on Fitnessmagazine.com, “80 percent of women said they think other women are scrutinizing them when they put on that two-piece, and 89 percent said other girls are their harshest critics on the beach or at the pool.” Furthermore, “a surprising 60 percent of respondents said they consider themselves less in shape than other women, and 53 percent said they feel jealous and insecure when they are around another woman with a killer figure.”

This is why I have mixed feelings about Jessica Rey’s video “The Evolution of the Swimsuit”. A friend of mine posted the link to Facebook with the comment: “A message about modesty… Ladies should watch this”. Perhaps it didn’t help that I already had a sour taste in my mouth from being told what I “should” watch, but the content of the video didn’t do much to improve my mood. Let me start off by saying that I think the fact that she is designing (very cute) one-piece swimsuits is amazing. It’s great to see that more options outside of the binary between “what grandma would wear” and “itsy bitsy” are becoming available. However, I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with her message.

According to the Princeton study she cites, the part of a man’s brain associated with contemplating someone’s thoughts and feelings shuts down when they view scantily clad women, so if women want to show their “dignity,” modesty is the way to go.  I won’t go into the details of the study that have come under question, but let’s focus on the message that she is sending. “Modesty isn’t about covering up our bodies because they’re bad, modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves… It’s about revealing our dignity.” So women who wear bikinis do not have dignity? I realize this argument is getting old and tired, but this is still slut-shaming despite the fact that it is subtle. This is still victim blaming (you know that men’s brains shut down when you wear a bikini so it’s your job to cover up) disguised as regaining power. It’s okay that Rey does not want to wear a bikini. It’s great that she decided to make her own swimsuits. It’s great that she’s providing more options for others who don’t wish to wear bikinis either. More power to her! But don’t pass judgment on those who do wish to wear bikinis. Women and everyone else should be able to wear whatever they want, when they want because it makes them feel good about themselves without fear of judgment. This is just another excuse for women to attack one another.

I could write an entire book on the ways that society controls women’s bodies and sexualities, but this is the form of control that hurts the most: when it’s other women telling me how I should or should not behavior, what I should or should not wear. I even find myself fighting against the tendency to judge other women based on what they are wearing (or not wearing). It’s toxic. It’s exhausting. It does nothing to make me feel better about myself and only causes me to worry about what other people are thinking. If I’m so quick to judge, why wouldn’t they be?

Rey brings up the following lyrics from “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” which are as follows:

She was afraid to come out of the locker
She was as nervous as she could be
She was afraid to come out of the locker
She was afraid that somebody would see

Rey states that she believes the woman was afraid to come out of the locker because she had a natural sense of modesty about her, and that wearing the bikini violated that. However, I would like to suggest a different interpretation. I believe she was afraid to come out of the locker for fear of judgment. For fear that every other woman there would categorize her as fat, pale, out of shape, too thin, too flat chested, too busty, or any other number of negative things. It’s time to stop hating ourselves and other women. It’s time to stop being afraid to come out of the locker, no matter what you’re wearing.



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