Suiting Yourself

A Real Family At The Beach (photo by Eric A. Bauer)

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.

Two Girls in Suits (photo by Eric A. Bauer)

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.

19 responses to “Suiting Yourself

  • Jessica@Team Rasler

    Amen. Last summer I bought two tankinis for myself, being very fortunate to find a decent sale since it doesn’t get hot enough here to swim until long after the rest if the country has bought suits. Anyway, I love the person who designed them so I’m comfortable playing with my boys. I am definitely not caring what other men find attractive these days.

    On another note, I am constantly disturbed by what parents allow little girls to wear for bathing suits. Not only are string bikinis inappropriate for 5-year-olds, but it doesn’t protect them from the sun! You parents of girls have it a lot harder than we do. I don’t envy you trying to find a suit for V, either!

    • Pamela

      Great point, Jessica! Luckily, for V, I was so excited to see the full shirts with UV protection at a local outlet for a reasonable price, and I think they had them at Target too. There are ok options out there for girls, but unfortunately, some folks internalize societal values so much that they think little girls need to look like mini S&TC characters instead of kids. Ugh. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  • MEL

    Man I look white. Anyways, I’m annoyed that the article quotes their source as “100 random guys” as if that is somehow the holy grail of polling validity.

  • Missy Bedell (@literalmom)

    I am ALL about the tankini – such a perfect, forgiving momsuit!

  • Kristin Barton Cuthriell

    Pamela- You’re tight. We did write on the same subject this week. Great minds think alike 🙂 Thank you for commenting on my blog.

  • canadianmommytime

    I’ve nominated you for the versatile blogger award. check it out!

  • jesterqueen (@jesterqueen)

    At the tail end of summer and through the winter, monitor the Land’s End overstocks. You can get a good suit for around $50. (Or anyway, if you like the styles I do ;-)) Visiting from the SITS sharefest!

  • Kimberly @ WIOG

    I am a firm believer that bathing suit shopping and formal dress shopping can bring up all types of emotions. Speaking from the perspective of a 24yr old who has not allowed herself to wear a bathing suit sans a cover up in 4 years… this post was refreshing and much needed this time of year. I will keep this in mind when I search for a suit to wear on my honeymoon in August.

  • Michelle

    I agree with you! Modest bathing suits are tough to find! Glad your shopping trip was successful! Visiting from sits.

  • Leelee

    That article is horrible. Bathing suits should be functional and comfortable. I hate that in 2012 there are still articles widely circulating around the internet that tell woman that we must dress a certain way to please men.

    Visiting from SITS and I am glad I did.

  • Heather

    I am all about finding a suit that is comfortable for me to be a mom in at the beach. And I so agree it is hard and it is never cheap!

    I have two girls and have never let them wear some of the crazy bikinis out there for little girls, unfortunately my oldest is now 12 and there is NOTHING out there for her that is still “cool” and appropriate. It is making me crazy- even crazier than shopping for my own bathing suit.

    Stopping by from SITS

    • Pamela

      That sounds so frustrating! We are about a decade away from that time period, but I shudder imagining what you are going through with that. With all the mom power out there, it’s a wonder that we haven’t been able to make a point about this for children with the designers and marketers that come with kids’ suits. I wonder what it would take for kids and parents to have some reasonable choices? In the meantime, best wishes with the hunt!

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