While current pandemic measures here in Ontario discourage travel, even between health units, I’m hoping that by summer we can at least go to the beach. Right now we’re in the “Can I still leave my house?” stage of things. Here’s the answer: “Yes. The province says residents can still leave their homes if travelling for an essential purpose, like buying groceries, picking up a prescription from a pharmacy or exercise.” That order is scheduled to end on May 20.
There’s an ad in my newsfeed that seems to greet me each morning. It’s an ad for very modest bathing suits targeted to older women. Each morning it makes me grumpy.
The bathing suits are fine. They’re not to my taste. (That phrase makes me smile because it’s what my kids used to say, when young, and served with a dish they didn’t like.) So no judgement, you wear one if you want, I won’t say a thing. They’re just large and drape-y and cover a lot of skin.
Writes Martha, “It’s sad because not ten minutes after I started searching for a link, I got an ad in one of my news feeds for Bathing Boomers swimwear, swimsuits marketed to mid-life and older women to camouflage their “lives well lived.” The web copy says the goal of the company is to help women feel dignified, stylish and confident by hiding all the problem areas (the jiggly bits and bumps).
Here’s a newsflash: you don’t make women feel confident by saying parts of their body are a problem. I think I’ll add Nova’s ad to my happy video stream just as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful in their own way and we don’t need to hide anything regardless of how we are shaped.”
Now there are all sorts of reasons for preferring more coverage, protecting against sun exposure being an excellent one. But that’s not the reason this company offers. Instead, their pitch is making life more relaxing by covering up our aging flesh.
The ad reads: “It’s a long overdue gift for women of a certain age who are ditching the denial and diets and now can look at a glass of wine without seeing 300 calories in every pour. We are all on board for a concept that embraces aging bodies, bat wings and all.”
A gift? Last I checked they’re for sale and we buy the swimsuits.
Bat wings? Older women don’t have batwings. We have arms. Some are large and some small and they come in different shapes. Arms don’t need labels. They’re arms. That’s all.
CW: discussion of body size and body parts of women, in service of arguing against thin-ideal stereotypes in swimwear.
If you’re a woman over 50 years old, some swimsuit marketers have lots of worries about what you wear on the beach or at the pool. Their worries often center on body parts, like upper arms and abdomen– what if they are larger or looser or exposed? What will happen? They don’t know, but they really want to avoid that possibility. So they do two things:
they put together marketing campaigns aimed at reassuring you (and the general public) that they are on the scene, ready to perform miracles of engineering to keep you pulled up, sucked in, and in all ways suit-able for being seen.
They design swimwear that either holds body parts rigidly in place through space-age elastic technology, or devotes yards and yards of bleach-resistant fabric for covering you up, like a dining-room table with a bunch of scratches and blemishes.
Here’s what I mean:
A few things to note (which applies to many brands)
It is called the Miracle Suit, performing the miracle of smooshing women’s body parts inside a swimsuit;
It says you’ll look 10 lbs/5 kilos lighter in 10 seconds, like this is something we all want (and need?);
It uses the term “figure flattering”, supporting the view that bodies that don’t conform to thin-ideal or fitspo standards need to be covered or neutralized through copious amounts of Spandex;
It reassures you that, regardless of your size or flaws (of which the former may also count as the latter), they’ve got you covered– maybe with billowing tunics…
In this article for the website sixtyandme, the writer tackles the problem (?!) of what to wear on the beach or at the pool when you’re over 60. The author says both that body sensitivity is “in our own heads” (which it may be, but is also out in the world), and that there is still “a practical problem as well – finding flattering bathing suits for older women is much harder than it should be”. What do I think about this?
Okay, enough ranting. What to say about this?
Everyone deserves to enjoy the beach, the lake, the pool, the water. Because of body shaming and thin ideals and fitspo ideals, etc. some of us sometimes feel ashamed to show our bodies in public and want more covering for swimming or walking around. Given this reality, it seems like having a market to offer higher-covering swim and beach wear isn’t a bad thing.
But it comes at a price, namely with the messaging that older women’s bodies are inherently flawed or not suitable for public viewing. How about this: we just STOP marketing higher-covering swimwear by leveraging body-shaming tropes and jokes? Thanks.
As a fat 58-year-old woman, what I want is swimwear that’s styled like thinner and younger women’s bathing suits, just in my size. I don’t want muumuus and blousy tunic-like coverup swim and active wear. This is because I like to swim, and all that fabric is going to interfere with the swimming. I want body hugging wear with the right fit to cover breasts and butt.
Other women may want different things— more fabric, tunics, etc. That’s great. You do you, and let the variety of options go forth and multiply.
But, I worry that many of us have been both shamed and niche marketed into a narrow range of swimsuit styles resembling either straight jackets or draperies. Just thinking out loud here. I’d welcome your thoughts, as always.
“Of course, the most important thing to know about Brokinis is that they’re all about fun and not taking yourself too seriously. In fact, they’re a response to bold new trends in men’s fashion. We wanted to come up with a bathing suit that’s fun for goofing around on the beach, cottage weekends, bachelor parties and festivals.”
Why I am blogging about men’s bathing suits on a feminist fitness blog?
It’s complicated, but my feminism includes breaking down normative gender for men too. Partly I suppose it’s because I have sons. Partly it’s because of views about body image and gender equality. I wanted for women the body comfort and athleticism that is so easily given to men. Yet, we’re in a world where equality has meant increasing pressure on men to conform to a very narrow body type. It’s all lean muscles and visible abs for both men and women. People of all genders experience pressure to diet and to exercise for the purpose of aesthetic goals.
Also, I guess, insofar as we gravitate towards topics I’m the go-to blogger for posts about men’s bodies and men’s bathing suits. LOL.
So why I am pro-brokini? It’s fun. They make me smile. Men should have the option of being playful too. It’s not all hard muscles and a visible inguinal crease. There are lots of frivolous fashion trends for women, most recently, the nap dress, why not for men too? And to be clear, I’m not just pro-outrageous men’s bathing suits when it comes to young, fit men. I’m a big fan of elderly, larger, furry men in speedos at the beach. Why? It makes room for me in my bikini too. I don’t want to be driven to swimming dresses which are fine if they’re your thing but they’re the sort of thing that for me, once I start wearing them, I have a hard time going back. My feminism includes the sock, the speedo, and now the brokini. Bring it on. Have fun.
I care about how I look. I care about what size I am (within a range), and that I have visible muscles, at least a little bit. I like feeling pretty. I like feeling strong and moving in a way that suggests I’m capable and athletic.
I have reached the point in my life that I mostly don’t care about how I look to YOU. I don’t care if I’m slender enough for nameless, faceless society (or a BMI chart). I don’t care if you think I’m pretty enough. I don’t care if you like the “tone” of my arms or if you think my muscles are too masculine. I don’t do it for you. I like the look of my arms. I do it for me.
And this is my first problem with the notion of being beach body ready–and Sam touched on this in her post already: it is defined by someone else–mainstream society or the media or Hollywood? It isn’t about MY values and preferences. These narrowly defined beauty standards, based on strict definitions of heteronormative femininity, white European body types and features, don’t represent the genuinely wonderful diversity of humanity. I care about how I look, but not in comparison to these narrow standards. Gratefully, somewhere along the way, I have internalized how arbitrary these standards are, and I’ve become ok with letting them go.
This isn’t to say that I don’t care what other people think of my appearance, but I am working on that being as tightly defined as possible. I care that my appearance is perceived as professional when I’m at work. I want to be recognized as safe and welcoming when I’m out in the community. How I dress, do my hair, and wear make-up impacts how people interact with me. Unfortunately, I have witnessed how my size changes these interactions, too. But I don’t maintain a smaller size because others approve of it more. I do it for me. In contrast, I absolutely wear make-up for other people, and I look forward to the day that I feel like I can put it aside and be treated with the same level of respect.
My other problem* with the notion of being “beach body ready,” is the implication of temporary status–I must do something to BECOME ready for the beach. Rather than simply showing up, at the beach. And this smacks of the obsessive, distracting, disempowering process of endless pursuit of body transformation that helps keep people from having the confidence to go about and live their best lives. I have no interest in pursuing temporary changes. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like punishment, restriction, and self-harm. Making lasting changes in lifestyle that impact my appearance have been empowering, and I would argue were necessarily empowering to “stick.” Who wants to spend the rest of their lives feeling less-than? Improving how I take care of myself has allowed me to feel stronger, more capable, more energized, and more in control. And I like how I look–yes, I’m smaller than I used to be (which is the least empowering consequence), and I’m also stronger, have greater endurance, and am more at ease in my own skin. No temporary pursuit of a “beach body” would have the same result.
I think it would be good if the feminist goal wasn’t to NEVER care how we look. I would like us to give each person the power to define for themselves how they want to look and to what degree it is important in their lives. Just as we want everyone to have the freedom to define success in other aspects of their lives like relationships, work, and family. The pursuit of an aesthetic is only oppressive if it is holding us back. I love that Cate discovered that she could change the stimulus (her clothes) and feel better about her body. And I agree with Tracy that many (most?) of us have work to do to heal the wounds of a lifetime of internalized body shaming, myself included. Part of that work for me has been making peace with the fact that I do have aesthetic goals for myself. I’m ok with working on it, as long as I am choosing the direction of “progress,” not society. Focusing on what I want for me, alongside having plenty of other goals to measure success by, keeps my self-talk pretty friendly. So, I get to decide how I show up at the proverbial beach, and in my opinion, I’m ready!
*My THIRD problem is that I live where the ocean water stays at hypothermic temperatures year-round, the air temperature rarely gets above 70 degrees (21 celsius), and the wind never stops blowing. So even in summer, you probably need a jacket.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
Now I’m someone who isn’t so much bothered by the beach body messaging. Tracy addresses me and my kind in her post when she writes” If you’re able to ignore the cultural messaging without any consistent effort to undo the damage of a lifetime of normative pressure, I applaud you. For many it is not as easy. “
I don’t think it’s easy to ignore but I am over it. I have been for a very long time.
Why? Well, for one thing life is really, really short. Thinking about death and the very short time we have on this planet to enjoy the beach makes me care a lot less about what other people think. It’s a real upside of aging. If there is anything that I hate about aging, it’s not what I look like at the beach, it’s losing friends and family to death. Everything else pales in comparison to that loss.
Second, it’s not that I’m simply able to ignore the messaging. Rather, it’s that mostly it’s never felt like it was directed at me. I’ve felt enough like an outsider as a fat/larger person that “beach body” in the sense that advertising/normative femininity means it wasn’t accessible as an ideal. The smallest I’ve ever been is still “overweight.” See The unexpected advtanges of growing up chubby .
Third, on the positive side I’ve had lots of access to queer communities where my body is loved as it is. Queer community and coming out means you’re aware, often an early age, that society is wrong about lots of things. Once you question mainstream ideas about sexual attraction and relationships, the whole package is up for questioning. See Body positivity and queer community. I also love this post from a cheerful chubster.
I watch young, beautiful, thin women mincing behind towels at the Y and I watch the Cheerful Chubster, and I know which short of person I’d rather be.
I guess it also helps that I have lots of friends who are larger than me who I think are really attractive. It’s hard to both think that and think I’m too big to be on the beach.
So it’s not sheer force of will that keeps me from internalizing these norms. Rather it’s social exclusion, on the negative side, and alternative communities and norms, on the other. It’s (mostly) not my world.
I was going to write a thank you letter to the guy who yelled “fat bitch” out of his truck window at me. Thank you to my boyfriend’s older brother who said he didn’t want me sunbathing on the porch because I’d bring down the property values. Thank you to all the people who said mean things about my body and my size growing up. Why? Well, there is zero danger of me internalizing that message. And I think because I heard all that growing up I developed some good internal responses. I learned to ignore those voices because they were obviously mean and hateful .