I should know better than to read Yahoo Headlines. But when checking my mailbox, this gem of a post entitled “What Men Think of Your Bathing Suit” stood out for me as I’ve recently been bathing suit shopping and found the experience frustrating and the selection limited. This article of 100 random men’s opinions on preferred bathing attire is yet another example of the cultural expectation that women are ornamental.
Two and a half years ago, I had a child and my body was forever changed. My hips are broader. My weight has returned to post baby numbers, but it has shifted to different places. Add this to the fact that I deal with IBS, a chronic condition that often results in a bloated stomach, and I no longer feel the need to bare my mid rift or my heinie when on the beach. I’m not ashamed of how I look, but I do like to dress in a way that highlights my assets…and the area just below my “ass-ettes” is not one of them.
Having recently deflated the upper half of my body post pregnancy, my just post pregnancy suit no longer fit this year. So I went on a bathing suit buying excursion that left me wondering…who the heck designs women’s bathing suits?
I’m sure I’m not the only gal who prefers a modest appearance to mini triangles held up by string. And I’m surely not the only mom who doesn’t want to worry about what’s falling out while jumping about in water and digging sandcastles with my kid. I’m in a different phase of my life, one in which I’m not dressing to attract attention but to (literally) suit myself.
What I found at the local stores near me were overpriced, undersized, cheaply designed bathing costumes that tended to assume every woman is a super-model sized, modesty avoidant, uniformly shaped gal. As someone with relatively little time to shop by myself (anyone been clothes shopping with a two year old lately?) I felt like my time as a consumer was wasted as I left yet another shopping excursion empty handed.
Finally, my ever supportive husband found a sale ad for bathing suits at a local department store. Feeling hopeful, we drove to the mall together, he departing to the mall playplace with V while I took a moment to think and try on. After the realization that my new body shape now meant I wore a size bigger suit, and a sinking understanding that the sale was largely a small percentage off of already exorbitantly priced items (why does such a small clothing article cost so much more than normal attire?!), I narrowed my choices down to three items. Feeling concerned about the cost, I called my husband back for a consultation and practical assessment. He’s the one that asks the right questions to help me buy practical shoes, sturdy clothing, and he’s dead honest if something looks hideous. So despite his protests, he’s really a helpful shopping companion.
I left with a choice that I felt comfortable wearing, a long, stomach-covering tankini (hello easy bathroom use) with a ruffled matching bottom. It is a little retro looking and cute while still covering up the bits I want covered. I don’t have any self-consciousness wearing it, which is my test of bathing suit success. I know other women are equally happy with a small-sized suit and feel comfortable being nearly naked, and if that’s the case, I say power to them. Being comfortable in your own skin is the sign of a healthy, happy person. What really matters is that every woman can suit herself with her choice and that the choices provided by the market reflect what women want, not what men desire to see.
Though I appreciated having my husband’s perspective, and I always appreciate when he finds me attractive to him, the idea that any woman would select a bathing suit primarily to please men really galls me. It stems again from the perpetuated cultural expectation that women need to be ornamental and appeal to a male fantasy rather than being comfortable and happy with our own appearances and tastes. My husband can’t decide what is going to make me feel comfortable or at ease with myself, and certainly a Yahoo article about men’s preferences shouldn’t influence women’s choices in the least. So why was it written? Because even the female author of this ridiculous piece has bought into the idea that beach attire is connected to a mating ritual of our species and that women are meant to choose plumage that serves the purpose of attracting male attention.
Personally, I go to the beach to drink in the scent of the water, to feel a cool breeze, to smoosh sand between my toes as I walk in the surf, to read a book or watch my daughter build sand creations. I go to relax with friends and share conversation or travel games. I go to enjoy a picnic and breathe deeply with my husband during an uninterrupted moment of peace. I do not go to fulfill men’s desire for visual stimulation, as this article would lead women to believe is the function of their swimsuit choice.
I sincerely hope there aren’t any women out there that change their choices because of the Yahoo post, and I also place a challenge out there to all the budding fashion designers: create a suit that allows a woman to suit themselves at an affordable price. All of us will be richer for it.