Wednesday 24 August 2011

The bikini and me

I’ve just come back from a week in Italy with my daughter. Every day was pretty much the same. We’d get up, put on our bikinis and something light and short and head for the pool.

As I lay on my sun lounger doing a spot of people watching (one of my favourite activities) I was struck by just how much skin there was on show. How tiny the bikinis were and how even the older women were wearing bikinis as opposed to one piece swim suits.

I noticed the different body shapes, skin colours, skin tones and textures… it was all very interesting. And wonderful.

And then I wondered: when my great grandmother was my age, I imagine that the scene would have been very different. There probably wouldn’t have been a pool to go to but had we been at the beach the women's bodies would have been almost completely covered up. Wearing something like this maybe?

I wonder how women felt about their bodies on the beach in those days? I know that women at the turn of the century wanted to be plump. Slender equaled poor or unhealthy. There was no glamour in being tanned and bony - like so many of these Italian women I was surrounded by. Hip bones jutting out, flat (and in some cases taut) stomachs. In those days round was considered attractive. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe in any ideal when it comes to women’s bodies. Curvy is no more womanly than straight. Thin, slim, plump, round, very round, lumpy, smooth… Beauty is not about our size or shape. Fashion maybe but not true beauty. There’s much more to it than the physical body. But that’s for another blog post. Here my curiosity is about how I feel walking around virtually naked in a public place and how different my experience would have been had I been born a Victorian. As I lay there by the pool in Italy last week I imagined wearing something like this (without the fetching bonnet!)

And I quite liked the idea. Despite the fact that I like the way I look and regularly do look in the mirror at my naked body with appreciation and gratitude. I realised I’d feel much, much more comfortable at the poolside with more on. Paradoxically, I prefer my naked body to my bikini-clad one. It’s something about the shape of the bikini which doesn’t quite work with the shape of my body. It fits well enough and I like the style and colour but I really think my body looks lovelier without it. And as I'm not into nudism or topless sunbathing, I don't have much choice.

I’m not a prude. I’m not body-shy at all; I’ll change openly in a women only changing room and don’t feel the need to cover up or be quick. Yet when pondering the question of bikinis there was no doubt in my mind I’d go back to the 1900’s in a flash.

I’m not advocating the return of the swim-dress (my terminology; I’m sure that’s not what they were called) nor am I urging us all to go out and buy burkinis. It’s simply that for me, the bikini is not an item of clothing (is there really enough fabric to warrant that definition?) I feel terribly comfortable in.

And so, I mused, it’s no wonder so many women hate the summer. It’s no wonder the idea of going to the pool or the beach is the stuff of nightmares, panic inducing for any woman over a size 12. Women - and it must be the vast majority of us - who could never in a million years (or after any number of diets and fitness regimes, however hard we tried) look like this:

From what I could see, quite a few of the Milanese women at this particular pool were trying very hard indeed to do just that and despite my careful, and discreet, observation, I could not find one of them that quite managed it. Thankfully, I would add.

Today a part of me wishes I could wind back the clock (only where swimwear is concerned you understand). I’ve recently begun experimenting with dress-making - Maybe I'll make myself a funky swim-dress. Bad idea? I'd just look too odd? Maybe I'd set a new trend! Or, maybe not.


  1. STOP PRESS!! I've just received an email from Clare, the wonderful Clockwork Fairy (makes sure everything runs like clockwork here at Fairy HQ!)with links to M&S and Simply Be who both sell swim dresses already! And here I was imagining I was having an original idea :-))

  2. "panic inducing for any woman over a size 12". It's still panic inducing even when you are a size 8, you still don't look anything like the perfect bikini models!

  3. So,so true Anonymous. Thanks for the reminder that body confidence has NOTHING whatsoever to do with body size.

  4. I have also had holidays in the Med where the majority of women are wearing bikinis regardless of ages, shape or size, and like you, I'm not comfortable in a bikini myself. I bought a rather fetching tankini that I felt very comfortable and confident in and was perfectly happy wearing that at beach and pool. My 16 year old daughter looked simply stunning in her bikini and I was pleased that she felt confident and comfortable enough to wear it.

  5. Um, shouldn't that read '( some cases taut) stomachs?' I don't think my stomach has anything to learn!

    Sharon, Bristol

  6. Oops! Yes, indeed. Thanks for pointing it out.


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