As a short, round-ish woman, why is adopting a vintage persona the only way I'm allowed to be sexy?
I'm currently on the hunt for my first bikini. Well, my second bikini if you count the pink polka-dot number I wore over my diaper when I was a baby. But you don't count that, do you?
Besides that one, every swimsuit I've ever owned in my entire life has been a conservative one-piece, usually all-black, with a shaping panel built into the front to help camouflage my midsection. Totally fun and flirty and young and sexy, right? (Not.)
I'm turning 30 this year, and you know what? I'm fed up with hiding my body in matronly, sadsack swimsuits that turn a quick trip to the restroom into a 20-minute, full-strip-down ordeal. I'm done waiting to achieve that elusive "bikini body" before buying a cute swimsuit.
It's become a cliche, but it's true: I want a bikini body, so gosh darnit, I'm going to put a bikini on my body.
To that end, the other night, my best friend and I had a few glasses of wine and decided some mutual online bikini shopping sounded like the perfect evening activity. Obviously, we immediately turned to Pinterest for inspiration. We typed in "bikini" and scrolled through the options to see what styles caught our eye.
Let me note here that my best friend is 5'10", thin, and has never owned a one-piece. I'm 5'3", curvy, and have hovered between a size 10 and 14 since I was in the 4th grade. We're pretty much as opposite as you can get when it comes to body shape and size, not to mention our personal aesthetic.
It wasn't long before we started a seeing a clear pattern.
The women with body shapes/sizes similar to my friend (tall and thin) were wearing bikinis of every type— high-waisted, string, boy shorts, bandeaus, thongs, cutouts, you name it. The women who looked more like me (shorter, curvier) were ALL wearing retro '50s-style bikinis. Every single one of them. Don't get me wrong, they all looked fabulous—but judging from the search results, you'd have thought congress passed a law that women over 150 pounds were required to wear retro bikinis or no bikinis at all.
We closed Pinterest and started perusing online shops and department stores instead. And sure enough, all the swimsuits that were available in larger sizes were the exact same style: ruched, full-coverage, retro styles that could double as pin-up girl Halloween costumes in a pinch.
I wanted a swimsuit that was modern and sexy, but I was starting to feel like if I wanted to show some skin, I had to do it with a costume-y wink. The lack of other options sent a message: Don't try to be sexy in the context of "now" . . . because, well, you're not.
When I was a teenager, I—like so many chubby blondes—idolized Marilyn Monroe. I had pictures of her all over my room. It was freeing to see someone who was lauded as an international sex symbol with a soft, curvy body, even if that whole "size 14" thing was a myth. She looked so much more like me than the Kate Moss class of supermodels who were setting the beauty standard at that time. She made me feel like I could be sexy too, in a big, bold, va-va-voom way.
I reveled in this idea for years. I wore red lipstick, sought out hourglass dress shapes, and played up my boobs and hips even when it didn't totally feel like "me." But after awhile it started to feel like I was playing a part. And yes, maybe "sexiness" and all forms of feminine presentation are, in many ways, akin to playing a part. But in this case, I felt stuck in a certain aesthetic category because of my body type. As a short, round-ish woman, adopting this vintage persona was the only way I was allowed to be sexy.
I don't want to disparage the women who feel like this aesthetic aligns with their personal style and makes them feel sexy, because lord knows you all look amazing. Retro bikinis are super cute and flattering on a variety of body types. I get that. I'm still drawn to the style fairly often. I just don't always feel like channeling my inner pin-up.
I'd love to see women with curvy and/or plus-size bodies having access to—and rocking the hell out of—a variety of swimsuit styles as diverse as our own personalities and aesthetics. As we work toward a better cultural understanding that there's no one definition of "bikini body," we should make room for more definitions of "bikini," too.