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Swimwear and body image: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Swimwear and body image: the good, the bad, and the ugly / A Globe Well Travelled

If there’s one sure way to make yourself feel like crap, just try on some swimwear.

I’ve spent the past month hunting down gear for my upcoming Europe trip. I expect that some of my travel days will be spent submerged in the thermal pools of Iceland and the saunas of Sweden, and for that, I will need a new bathing suit.

Unfortunately for me, finding swimwear that fits my body shape is about as easy as securing a spot in the Russian figure skating olympics team.

With a EU size 8-10 waist, size 10-12 hips, and D-cup breasts, everything I try on is either tight around the bust but loose around the waist, or vice-versa.

Swimwear becomes even more of a problem. There is no way a one-piece would fit my various measurements, so my only choice is a 2-piece outfit where I buy the top and bottoms separately. Even then, it’s a long search through many racks of swimwear before I can find a bikini top with underwire that will actually give me some support.

But bikini tops pose another problem: I’m not entirely comfortable showing so much skin.

I don’t consider myself overweight, but I don’t think I’m particularly skinny either. As every girl knows – bikinis mean that every flabby area of stomach fat is suddenly on display.

Fiji

Fiji 2015: The only full-body shot that I have ever posted of myself in a bathing suit

I searched through department stores, boutique stores, and scoured the internet in my quest to find swimwear that would fit my seemingly rare body shape, but everything I found online was being modelled by a size 8 blonde with stilts for legs.

There’s no way in hell those swimsuits would look the same on me – a short, busty, imperfect human – as it did on them.

My Europe trip departure date grew dangerously near, and I knew I could no longer be picky. I strode into Bloomingdale’s in SoHo, grabbed 8 items that I thought might look ok, and locked myself in the change room.

As I suspected, the one-pieces were a failure. None of them fit like they were supposed to. I tossed them aside.

The tankini I had picked out looked ok, but the v-neck halter and generic blue wavy pattern looked like something that every middle-aged woman at a swimming pool would be wearing. It didn’t match my style, so I knew I wouldn’t feel good wearing it. I decided it wasn’t for me.

Then I tried on the remaining bikini tops, one of which I admitted looked pretty nice.

The size I’d picked up was slightly too small, but the pattern was funky and it gave my boobs a satisfying amount of coverage and support. It didn’t solve the problem of my stomach being on display, but I liked it more than anything else I’d tried on.

Swimwear flatlay

The bikini I picked out

I took some photos of my reflection in the change room mirror, put my clothes back on, and then walked out of the store to meet up with Robert in a nearby cafe.

I handed him my phone and he swiped through the photos I’d taken. He decided that the bikini top was his favourite, too, and added “you look great in it!”.  After some resistance on my part, he then said three things that really made me reconsider how I felt about buying it:

1. “I have body image issues, too.”

I never thought that men would care that much about their bodies when they strip down to board shorts, but my husband kindly reminded me that they do. There are plenty of men who feel just as self-conscious as most women do.

It made me feel a little better to know that I’m far from the only one with swimwear and body image issues.

2. “You won’t be surrounded by swimwear models.”

When you’re in a store and seeing the swimwear displayed on models and mannequins, it’s easy to imagine that everyone else will look like that in swimwear, but Robert pointed out that this is totally not the case.

There are in fact very few people who look like swimwear models, and unless you’re heading to a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, then you’re not going to be surrounded by them. You’ll be surrounded by other normal-looking people.

3. “You’ll mostly be lying down or submerged in water.”

When you’re scrutinising your reflection in a change room, with the harsh top-down lighting making all your imperfections more visible than they should be, then of course you’re going to feel like you look crap.

But this is an isolated situation. When you’re laying flat on a beach towel or are submerged in water, those imperfections will suddenly disappear.

After considering all of this, I went back in, picked up the correct size, and bought it.

New swimsuit

My new bikini top

I’m still not perfectly happy with the way my body looks, but at least now that I’ve posted this photo, I can no longer be afraid of anyone discovering what I “really” look like. Here it is, for all the world to see.

And the advice I would give to any of you who might also feel self-conscious about your bodies is this: When you’re looking at photos of popular Instagrammers with their picture perfect bikini bodies, remember that these are a rare few people.

These people do not represent the majority. The majority don’t look as though their bodies have been sculpted by Michelangelo.

To show you what some more real people look like, check out the following babes totally rocking their swimwear on their travels.


“My body has changed a lot after my accident and its been a long struggle to accept it and to smile at the person looking back at me in the mirror. But what matters the most is to be happy with yourself, carry yourself right and be the fabulous you that you are, no matter what size!”

Veera, @veerabianca

 

“When you can learn to love yourself and your body the way it is, you’ll have reached an internal peace not many women ever get to experience.

Self-love is truly the best type of love, so whether you’re 10 pounds or 30 pounds heavier than your ‘ideal’ size, realize that the weight you carry is packed with memories of delicious foods you’ve eaten, beers you’ve tasted, and unhealthy, regret-free splurges in foreign countries.

And that’s beautiful.”

Gloria, @glographics

 

“Pay less attention to the media and focus on the parts of yourself that you love. And a good fake tan makes everything better!”

Jess, @ablondeandherpassport

 

A photo posted by Anitra (@donttriptravel) on

“Self-acceptance is the key to a happy life.”

Anitra, @donttriptravel

 

“I tend to approach the body image issue rationally rather than emotionally. In my mind, if I treat my body right – give it plenty of exercise and healthy foods, and don’t abuse it with lots of alcohol or sugar – then I’ve done all that I can do.

The way my body looks is partially a reflection of how I treat it, but also affected by variables out of my control – so why stress over it?”

Lindsay, @frugalfrolicker

 

“Everyone is self conscious sometimes. Don’t let that hold you back from having incredible adventures. At the end of the day it’s the memories that matter, not the model-esque photos for Instagram.”

Richelle, @adventuresaroundasia

Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

36 Responses to “Swimwear and body image: the good, the bad, and the ugly”

  1. Nikki

    Oh girl! I feel your pain. I have been doing the exact same thing lately for our upcoming Europe trip. And it is pure misery! I finally found a couple of suits, but I’m not 100% happy with them. They’ll do I guess. Lovely post. And the suit you picked looks GREAT on you! Hope your Europe trip is lovely! Cheers 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Pure misery is the perfect way to describe it! I can’t believe how crap I felt about myself when I was swimsuit shopping. Are there no stores that have flattering lighting in their change rooms, and no companies who use models that look like real people instead of plastic blow up dolls? It’s an outrage, I tell you!

      Thanks for the kinds words, Nikki, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 And good luck finding the perfect swimsuit for your upcoming Europe trip!

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You are so lovely, Claire, thank you! I’ll be doing a few gym seshs before the trip, but if I don’t lose any weight, then to hell with it!

      Reply
  2. Jo

    Every girls worse nightmare is finding a new swimsuit! You look great! I really love the pattern of the top!

    Reply
  3. Yvette

    You look awesome! Good choice in bikini. Trying swim wear on in a changing room is the worst! I think they purposely make the lighting bad and the mirrors fun houses!!!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I know, right! It’s like they’ve designed the space to make it look like you just got out of bed, then ate an entire pizza to yourself, and followed it up with a 6 pack of beer, then decided to try on some clothes. Like, seriously? Has this method of poor lighting and awful mirrors been proven to make people spend more money??

      Thanks for the compliments, Yvette! 😀

      Reply
  4. Tana

    This post is so brave! My husband and do a lot of scuba diving, so we spend a fair amount of time I’m swimming suits. In spite of that, pictures in bathing suits have not yet made it on my blog. Maybe we all need to post the photos, and say to hell with the shame! Thanks for the post!

    And your new bikini is super flattering on you! And cute to boot! 😘

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thank you, Tana! So glad you like my new bikini 😉

      It’s strange isn’t it, how much time some of us spend in bathing suits and yet we’re so reluctant to post any photos… I definitely think we should just post the photos anyway, and not worry about what people think! It shouldn’t matter at all 🙂

      Reply
  5. Kalpana

    You look wonderful. What a lovely story about overcoming body image issues. I now feel brave enough to go on a beach holiday, thanks to you.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I think we’re all worried about how we look in summer! It’s interesting to see that even people that I consider slim and beautiful are also self-conscious in their swimwear. It just proves that all of us have these issues, no matter our size. I’m glad you like the bikini! 😀

      Reply
  6. Diane

    That suit looks FABULOUS on you! Love the pattern and style and that you went with a black bottom instead of going matchy-matchy. I only buy swimwear online so I can try it on in the comfort of my own home. Nothing ever works in the store dressing rooms because they’re too small and the lighting is always terrible. Enjoyed this post!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thank you Diane! I’m glad you enjoyed the post 😀 Buying online so that you can try items on at home is a really great idea.

      These are actually the bottoms from my last swimsuit, and I was trying to choose a bikini top that would go with what I had already so that I didn’t have to buy new ones! I was a little nervous about posting the photo as I’ve never posted anything like this before, but it’s been lovely to receive such a positive response!

      Reply
  7. Virginia Timmins

    Honey – one day you’ll look back and go – I had an awesome body and now look at it! Babies s d feeding change it dramatically!!! Enjoy you’re bang hot body because even with lumps and stretch marks ninemsn look nothing like yours but it gave me two previous children and I marvel at the wonder of that every day. Xx

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m sure that is true! Our bodies are constantly changing, so we should appreciate what we have while we have it!

      Reply
  8. cathy

    No more body shaming behaviors!…

    Everybody is different and its a shame that the social media pressure us to be all the same when that is just impossible.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I absolutely agree, Cathy! It is a shame that we get pressured to look skinny all the time when that is such an unrealistic goal. We’re all different, and we should embrace that!

      Reply
  9. Ashley

    Where did you end up finding your suit?? It’s great!

    Reply
  10. Lisa

    Hey, you look awesome!
    Funny thing is, when reading the text, and having only seen you fully dressed, I formed a mental picture of you in a bikini according to what you were saying about yourself. When I saw the photo at the end my reaction was “whaaat, she’s crazy, nothing to be worried about, she’s gorgeous!”. It reminded me of this Dove campaign with the portraits done by a criminal expert (??) according to how people described themselves.
    Also, I think that what has helped me personally with loving my body more is playing underwater rugby in a mixed team. Spending two evenings per week seeing your male and female teammates in swimsuits and getting to grab arms, legs and bellies really helps realizing that hey, it’s just bodies, and as long as they work they’re great!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That is so nice of you to say, Lisa! You’re right, our mental image is definitely not on par with how we actually look from the outside. When we look at ourselves in the mirror we tend to notice all our ‘flaws’, but in actual fact other people don’t notice those things at all.

      That’s really interesting to hear about your underwater rugby experience. You’re absolutely right – they’re just bodies!

      Reply
  11. Brett horting

    Beauty is only skin deep, true beauty shines through. The more you own what you are, the more confident you will feel. The way you feel about yourself is more important than what others say or think.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I agree with this 100%! If you have a beautiful personality, that shines through in your physical image. This is what I was hoping to show by posting the above photos of Instagrammers who wear their swimsuits with pride – you can tell that these people are confident in their appearance, and it definitely shows! Thanks for your comment, Brett 🙂

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You are so wonderful, Veera! I feel much more confident about my new bikini after reading all these wonderful comments 😀

      Reply
  12. Charlie Marchant

    Well I think you look incredible in your bikini! I suuuper love the bikini top actually and have got some serious bikini envy going on riiight now >.<

    Reply
  13. Margaret Learmonth

    Oh Ashlea this post came at the perfect time. I’m off to Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea next Friday and have been feeling the exact same way as you. I’ve always worn bikinis but at 38 and post kids I’ve invested in my first one pieces. You’re right we aren’t sculpted by Michealangelo and we are real authentic women. When you are rockin that bikini I will be rockin my one piece and lovin’ every piece of my body. Very grateful for your post and your authentic self. Big hugs. Margaret

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh wow, Tahiti is supposed to be amazing! I can only imagine that body image issues would become more common as your body changes with age and having kids. But again, it’s easy to forget that almost every other woman on the planet will go through something similar. You are definitely not alone! You rock that one-piece, Margaret!

      Reply
  14. Lauren

    Aw, I love this article. The one you picked looks amazing on you and I love the colours! Your hubbie sounds like a great guy! Hope you have (had) a wonderful trip!

    Reply

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