The Truth About the “Bikini Body” (And What’s REALLY Sexy)

Since when did swimwear become so bossy? Not to mention misleading.

swimsuit-season-funny

A little history:

Did you know that the bikini dates back to Ancient Rome? Oh, yes! Archeologists have found antiquated illustrations of Roman women wearing skimpy two-pieces during athletic events. Like all clothing back then, their sole purpose was functionality. (No one wants to be whacked in the boob mid-game!) Much later, in 1946, Louis Réard, an automobile engineer introduced today’s bikini, naming it after Bikini Atoll, an island in the Pacific Ocean where postwar atomic bomb testing was happening. (Ah, the irony…)

swimsuit-shopping

Bikinis gradually gained popularity in Western cultures, stirring up lots of controversy. Considered sinful by the Vatican and scandalous by countless others, they were banned from many countries and numerous states in the U.S. Even so, they grew continually more common, largely because women wanted to wear them. Then in the sixties, Bond Girl Ursula Andress famously emerged from the sea sporting a white bikini in the film, Dr. No, stimulating a heck of a lot more bikini fervor from both genders.

Olivier Saillard, a fashion historian, called the bikini the most popular female swimwear because of “the power of women, and not the power of fashion.” Woman power, eh? So what the heck happened???

Today, bikinis are the bane of many women’s existence and an unhealthy fixation for others. Thanks to the ginormous dieting, “fitness” and weight loss industries paired with societal ideals that tell women we have to look a certain way to feel and appear beautiful, billions of dollars are invested into “bikini body” marketing campaigns, turning the formerly empowering garments into high-octane fuel for poor body image, harmful weight loss measures and complications galore.

Ugh.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may recall that I recently turned down a good-paying feature article on “cleansing your way to a bikini body.” (Did I mention…UGH?) I’m so grateful that another publication, Sexual Wellness News, was receptive to a healthier take on the topic! I interviewed a dietitian who specializes in disordered eating and a woman whose daughter’s desperate desires for a “bikini body” landed her in the hospital before her wedding, and explored ways to achieve true sexiness this summer—which thankfully has nothing to do with dieting.

Here’s a clip from my article, The “Bikini Body” Craze: Turning Body Angst Into Sexy Gains:

Bikini Body diet tips

To read the full article, visit this link on Sexual Wellness News.

I say it’s time to take the power back, into our selves and away from “bikini body” angst. If you want to wear a bikini, awesome! If you don’t, awesome! Just don’t let unhealthy attitudes about your physicality determine your goals, desires or shopping decisions. Life is too short and precious to waste our energy in such ways. Given the choice, I’d much rather be emotionally fulfilled and comfortable with myself than beat myself up in the pursuit of society’s perception of beauty. Wouldn’t you?

How do you feel about bikinis? Do you wear them? Dig them? Loathe them? If you wear them, how much do you prioritize comfort versus how you’ll look? I love hearing from you! ♥

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25 Comments

  1. I like bikinis and have usually felt pretty confident wearing one, no matter what my weight. I lived in South America and everyone wore bikinis. It just seemed natural. I didn’t even question how I looked in them. But since moving back to the states, I have felt a change in myself. It’s like I will never be bikini ready. Even though I’m fit, I’m still so white that it makes me self conscious. But I’m also not willing to risk skin cancer by tanning or covering myself with chemicals that turn me orange. I want to get back to the place where I was more focused on what I was doing and less on what I was wearing.

    Reply
    • Culture sure makes a huge difference! The pressure to be tan is another problem in the U.S. In India, girls apply white powder, trying to be lighter. I hope you do get back to that place, Emma, for your sake namely, but also for inspiration for others. 🙂

      Reply
    • Can totally relate in a slightly different way, Emma! Hawaiian culture is very similar (at least, on Big Island). Everybody there wears bikinis, regardless of size. It was liberating to see, and taught me to be confident in a swimsuit, a thing I had struggled with FOREVER (I’ve always been super-tall and plus-sized). But I could never bring myself to wear a bikini when we lived there because I am so so so so pale. Compared to those tropical beauties I was a ghost! Everybody assumed I was a tourist because of how pale I was – it took major convincing for anybody to believe I was kama’aina! It also wasn’t uncommon to be called haole (derogatory slang for being white), which was hard to hear, esp. with little ones. It made me want to hide.

      Now, I wear a two-piece (not technically a bikini), but it’s easier not to be self-conscious about my skin – there are lots of pale people in this neck of the woods. 🙂 When it comes to my weight, I still have days that I struggle, but for the most part I’m happy with myself. I’m healthy, and strong, and have given birth four times. My body has been good to me.

      Reply
      • Huge kudos! Every woman who grows in self-embracement makes the world a happier, healthier place for others. So happy to hear that you’re more able to enjoy your body and swimwear as you are (which is BEAUTIFUL). :)0

  2. Reblogged this on Reading, Drinking and Dancing with a Chaser of Snark and commented:
    I’ve been following August McLaughlin for several years. She’s right on!

    Reply
  3. I adore the retro styles from the 40’s and 50’s – back when women were allowed (or at least as far as I can see) to be built like women. Hips, a bit of a belly, full figures that were celebrated.

    Reply
  4. I’ll have to admit I’m conflicted, August. I generally agree with what you say about women needing to accept their own bodies, and I certainly wouldn’t want my daughter to go to extreme measure to make herself bikini ready. On the other hand, I must be honest enough to admit I do enjoy seeing a slender, tan woman in a bikini.

    I guess most of us are conflicted about this to a degree. I read stuff all the time from female author friends who drool over men with washboard abs, yet how many of us can attain that standard. How many women actually marry the washboard abs. My wife certainly didn’t.

    Maybe we all fantasize about perfection in the opposite sex while knowing that we ourselves are far from perfect.

    Reply
    • I appreciate your honesty, David! I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with admiring people we find attractive. One big problem, though, is that we’ve all been taught to view particular body types and traits as beautiful–many of which aren’t attainable for most.

      Confidence is sexy, and embracing ourselves makes way for self-care. In other words, we’re more likely to eat well, exercise and exude vibrancy if we accept and nurture ourselves. I don’t drool over washboard abs, partly, perhaps because I’ve seen what goes into to falsifying them. 😉 But I also dislike the double-standard.

      Reply
  5. Well I don’t look good in any swimsuit, 2-piece or otherwise. I find them a necessary evil. I do have several bikinis that I will wear in public and one 1-piece that’s more functional for actual swimming and water activities. Because I have an odd body shape, I think I look better in the 2-pieces. 1-pieces are either too big or top or too small on the bottom. That’s why I like 2-pieces that you can buy separately so each piece fits the way it should.

    I am a bit vain when it comes to these sorts of things, but I like to have fun too, so I won’t let my vanity get in the way if I want to get in the water no matter how I look. There’s always going to be someone who looks better than me and likewise there’ll always be someone who looks worse, too. I’m kind of a middle of the road kind of gal and I’m okay with that.

    Great post and thanks for promoting that being healthy is sexy.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    • I wish I could wave a magic wand and change our culture so that all body types were considered beautiful. 🙂 So glad to hear that you don’t let concerns over aesthetics stand in the way of your fun! Acceptance is hugely important if we want to live happy lives.

      Reply
  6. Raani York

     /  June 23, 2014

    I too like Bikinis, and still don’t wear them to the beach… *sigh*
    What I think is funny is, that Ursula Andress, the Bikini-Bond-Girl, is always remembered as the slim beauty in the white bikini.
    Ursula Andress has never been a size 0 as today’s Models and as media demand of the nowadays “common” Bikini-Body.
    Ursula Andress said herself about her body: “I loved it – I was always a little more than I should, but don’t blame me – blame the homemade chocolate.”
    Now you know the secret of the Swiss-Bond-Girls’ bikini-body. LOL

    Reply
    • What I got out of that comment: I want to know how to make homemade chocolate!!!!!!
      And now I’m gonna look her up for reference. Feeling like a creepy stalker, looking people up to see their bodies …

      Reply
    • She still has a pretty flat belly to me, and that’s what matters in MY bikini world. At least when I judge myself.

      Reply
      • Raani York

         /  June 24, 2014

        She was beautiful with her hourglass figure in her bikini! And still: she’s got curves like a woman should!

  7. laurie27wsmith

     /  June 23, 2014

    We’re bombarded by what is an ideal type August that we forget that we’re all different. All you have to do is watch a group of kids playing at the pool, they don’t give a hoot how they look. they just enjoy what they’re doing. That is until they begin to take notice of advertising.
    I’ll put my hand up and confess to love seeing a woman in a bikini. We have types in mind and I think that comes from childhood and what we see. I love Sophia Loren, have done since I was 10 years old. To me she is the epitome of womanhood. it doesn’t mean that I dislike other body types and wouldn’t be interested, it’s, well she floats my boat. When it comes to relationships it’s more than a body shape, there are a multitude of things to take into account. But if she looks like Sophia then………………………………………..

    Reply
  8. I remember the first time I thought about bikinis. I was 16 and had started my new education.
    I became friends with a girl who naturally has sixpack. I tried to lose all the unhealthy weight I’d gained one year when I ate a bit (a LOT) more junkfood than I ever did before.
    That January we did a “no sugar” challenge. It wasn’t hard for her but it was horrible to me. After failing two weeks in and having a soda because “I got sick” I thought about bikinis and how there were only a few months left and FYI wasn’t that some belly fat?
    Anyway, I’ve seen pictures of that summer and I looked stunning in a bikini.
    And then all my digestion issues began and I could go from skinny to pregnant-looking in hours. It was horrible and I’m only now making up for that loss in self esteem.
    A few months ago I finally felt confident enough in my body to do a Miley costume. I had a half-bare belly and everybody complimented me. It was one of the best things that could happen for my self esteem.
    I still don’t feel comfortable with bikinis, though. The thing bikinis reveal that other clothes don’t is the stomach and the waist and I’m not proud of mine.
    I will say to everybody else, though, that when I see other women in bikinis I rarely see someone I think should rather wear a swim suit. Even if you have a bit of belly fat is that so bad? Most women have it in a sexy way.

    Reply
  9. karenmcfarland

     /  June 24, 2014

    Timely post August. Bikini ready. Ugh, is right. I have never felt comfortable in a bathing suit period. Yep, I will admit, since childhood, I had a negative body image. Therefore, to be in a swimsuit was difficult for me. I got better about it as I grew older. And fortunately, I inherited my father’s genes. He was a thin man and never had an issue with weight. So, for the most part, I wore a bikini. But now that I’m older, uh, there will be no more bikini. Nope, I had to retire them a couple of years ago. Ya gotta know when to say when. “WHEN!” lol. 🙂

    Reply
    • I can definitely relate, Karen! Even after doing a great deal of body image work, I seem to have some amount of PTSD about bikinis. (I’d rather run around naked!) Thankfully, there’s no need to wear them. That we feel comfy in whatever we wear is what counts! Much love!

      Reply
  10. I heard that the logic behind ‘bikini’ commemorating the atoll was that it would apparently make men go ‘like an an atomic bomb’ with desire. Oh, the innocent joys of the 1940s atomic age when the atom was ‘in’ (luckily they never built the planned atomic powered aircraft). I don’t doubt there was conscious psychology behind the design, too. The intriguing thing is the way it’s been re-framed over the years, as society has re-framed its attitudes. Arguably bikinis empowered women, who’d previously been wrapped in fairly hefty swim-gear, whereas male swimming trunks had effectively made the transition to relative scantiness decades earlier. But by another argument it was also an expression of mid-century sexism (designed by men, ‘for’ men, as it were). Yet now it’s been transmuted into another mechanism for enforcing an idealised body image upon women. In this sense, a lens on society and changing attitudes.

    Reply
    • Interesting, Matthew. I hadn’t heard that logic, but if it’s true, it’s not terribly shocking. 🙂 Bikinis really do have an intriguing and complex history. I know very few women who feel completely comfortable in them, if they’re bold enough or inclined to wear them in the first place. Not an easy culture for women, or men to a lesser but still significant degree, to accept themselves and their bodies fully.

      Reply
  11. We second Michelle’s comment!! What makes you great, August…is that you teach women not only to let out their inner beauty but how to balance both while still feeling like a woman….SEXY!!! Luv you like chocolate girl!! Sharing this now. 😉

    Reply

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