Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Swimsuits are for Swimming

I began typing this sitting on a sun lounger in Spain whilst sporting a slightly faded floral bikini. Yellowed by chlorine and with the elastic slowly deteriorating, it's not going to be making it into any magazine lists of ideal swimwear. However, it was designated the 'sun bathing' bikini, perfect for lounging. My vintage St Michael striped blue and lime number above, being a bit more robust, was the one used for swimming. One stringy where the other was shaped. Neither was accompanied by make up, hair products or shaved legs. One of the more pleasant aspects of a holiday is foregoing (or in my case forgetting) the rudiments of personal grooming beyond showering and brushing teeth. It’s a hiatus from everything – internet, beauty standards, the lot. Besides there's no point putting on eyeliner when the day is divided between dipping, diving and splashing in water, eating huge amounts of food, skimming through Victorian novels and sleeping.
Spending a week in little more than panels of stretchy fabric means that I have been sporting what is known in some media circles as a 'bikini body'. I like Hadley Freeman's list of steps towards embodying this term:

“1. Take one body, probably yours.
2. Take one bikini, probably yours.
3. Put bikini on body.
4. Go to pool, beach or other bikini-meriting place. (No, the park does not count. To be discussed another week.)
6. The end.”
I do like the way my fifties-style bikini makes my body look. It has all the predictable associations of old shoots from Vogue, and of films where the decade can be guessed from the clothing. It has the potential to be styled glamorously: the high-waisted bottoms giving definition to the lines of my shape. But it is also functional. It was perfect for snorkelling in the sea (leaving me with an amusing striped tan on my back) and for playing elaborate versions of blind man's buff in the pool. The only accessories were flippers and insect bites.

I don’t object to idealised fashion shoots where the models look like they wouldn't dare get their hair wet. That's what I did here. The first few images show an imagined scenario, created using the location to hand. It was the first (and only) time lipstick appeared on holiday, while my feet grew used to being either bare or in flip-flops - not buckled into tall sandals. Thus, these shots suggest a level of glitziness never quite found outside the confines of the camera. I liked the stylized drama of it. 

The second set of images are a tad more truthful, although still planned rather than impromptu. Any image shown here is, of course, a version of my appearance: chosen, possibly cropped, expressions checked and poses scrutinised. Even within the naturalism, I haven't presented the snaps where I’m grimacing or coughing because I accidently swallowed water. If you wanted an accurate representation of the week, it would just be a lot of wavy blurs – much of each day spent wriggling around underwater. There would also be big red lines across my face from goggles. Nonetheless, here I am wearing nothing but a bikini. No additional enhancement thanks to mascara or concealer. Just me and the pool. I wanted to illustrate the divide between a swimsuit shoot, and the act of swimming. One is about presenting a visual identity or image, the other an act of setting loose the self and letting it float away.

Fashion shoots are not true to life. This is the line used by many within the industry to justify the augmented ideal of beauty held up in ads and shoots. And it’s true. We don't look at Tim Walker’s photos and expect our world to be filled with pastel cats and cable-knit cars (more's the shame). But the problem lies in seeing a slender adolescent model sporting a selection of bikinis by a sea so blue it looks painted, and then confusing that (and the photoshopping) with one's own personal reality. Some who write for certain women’s mags are particularly keen to tangle up fantasy with actuality. Those unreal images are taken as the scale by which judgment is measured. Slightly more flesh than a lithe teenager? Time to diet! Boobs too big? Invest in a really, really expensive bikini! Hairy/stubbly armpits? Traitor to femininity! Feeling ok with your self-esteem? Great, time to laugh at these famous people who’ve inadvertently shown that they possess cellulite!

People who might see you in a bikini are: partners (who are likely to have seen you in a greater state of undress), family (perhaps including your mother who gave birth to you), friends (not worth the effort if they think merit is based on appearance) or strangers on a beach (who have much more important things to consider than the size of your hips). The only arched eyebrow of judgment is the media. And the collective of magazines, websites and commentators aren’t going to be watching your holiday shenanigans. They're all much too absorbed in tracking down celebrities who dare to perspire on beaches, or in breathless coverage of the royal baby. The problem is that this external source affects internal commentary. This is what needs to be switched off. But then, isn’t that what holidays are for? 



Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Such gorgeous photos! No bikinis in parks? Berliners take that rule very seriously...they tend to wear nothing at all in parks. It takes some getting used to ;)
Have a wonderful day :) xx

Lydia said...

Great pics. I love bathing suits---I tend to have an entire wardrobe of them that I spend the summer cycling through. I love your retro cut.

Helen Le Caplain said...

Gorgeous pics - honestly prefer the ones of you in the pool (though the other are pretty) but I feel the latter photos convey the spirit of your holiday and fun-loving nature much better. :)

Hope you had a great time (sounds like you did!)


Vix said...

You and that bikini are stunning and I love the surprised shot.
What's wrong with bikinis in parks, for goodness sake, no different from a beach is it? The Guardian drive me nuts sometimes! x

daisychain said...

What an utterly amazing post written by an amazing young lady...who happens to look rather fabulous, too x

kaarlijnx-x said...

beeeautiful pictures!

Miu said...

Thank you so much for this post, I love everything about it!
And it's so true: Those who matter don't care and those who care don't matter.

wallpaper Claire said...

I have never felt a need to look like the models on the pages of Vogue or Harpers, I'm aware its meant to be fantasy and I'm conscious that they're there selling something. I always lusted after the clothes and not the bodies underneath them... Plus magazines habitually photoshop people so much, even their personalities are airbrushed out! (Like Florence Welsh recently)

I find TV and movies far more insidious... I think it's because they are pretending to portray real life. Except real life without anyone over a size six... I'm still confident within myself but it struck me again recently when watching orange is the new black on netflix. There were women of every size, shape, race, age and sexual orientation. After so many (particularly teen) shows with thin white straight girls, it felt good to be reminded that that was not the only type of beauty (and I say this as a relatively thin, white straight girl...)

Have fun in Spain and the photos were ace, nice idea too.

Emalina said...

Like you I do love Vogue's fantasy poolside shots, and yours capture the glamour brilliantly, but I think you look especially enchanting and beautiful in those vibrant action pictures. The one of you emerging from the water like a dolphin is so zesty and alive!

Izzy DM said...

I read this post the other day but didn't have a chance to comment, so I'm back now but don't remember it quite as well, darn it.

Before I do, I wanted to mention a mystery you helped clear up two weeks ago, and which I neglected to mention in my last comment. I had submitted a poem to an English online lit mag, and it was about how summer was akin to hell, and they wrote me back that I was nuts (more or less). They couldn't understand why I'd use such adjectives about the sun. Luckily, I kept submitting other stuff they did like and publish, but I always wondered about that. Now I realize, after reading your post last week about British summers, it was a cultural misunderstanding. The temperature regularly runs 100 (or the heat index feels that way) in New York: it feels like you're being fried alive for months on end with short reprieves like today. Your post made me understand summer means something very different in England. I've been chuckling about the misunderstanding all week!

Now to this post: loved the 50s style suit. I should get one! As a new mom, I can tell you modern suits are not very forgiving to a woman's hardest-hit area-- the lower tummy. I also had a liberating experience recently. I wore my lower-tummy revealing bikini and thought to heck with it! I realized how much my own bathing suit misery was only happening in my head. My family loves me regardless and everyone else on the lake was busy with their families. You put it so much more eloquently here.

I wish I had commented yesterday when your writing was fresh in my head, but I can't retain that much these days. (Harper's in a "life is meaningless unless snuggled in mommy's arms being praised" phase, so it's been hard to think deeply about anything.)

By the way I also found time between feedings to read your piece in Interrupt Mag! Yes, it's really hard to be brave at 14, but it's also really hard to be brave at 18. I certainly wasn't! (My husband was: he crusaded for gay rights in high school; it blows my mind that there are people so aware of others as the both of you are at that age.) I've had the issue of race on my mind a lot lately-- what with having a blue-eyed, blonde-haired daughter while coming from a mixed race family. Would it bother you if I submitted a piece to them? (I might never get around to writing down those particular thoughts floating around in my head anyway! But I've been trying to do a lot more writing.) Anyway thanks for the weekly dose of inspiration! You're a fantastic "young adult" :).


Great post, being that I am still on holiday, I did finally manage to wear my new bikinis. It's funny many years ago I would have never donned a bikini, but with age comes being very comfortable with your body, at least for me, now. Media ruins so much of our perspectives at times, although some times it's hard not to be drawn into the fantasies. You look radiant in your vintage bikini, and what fantastic shots! I love retro style swim wear. xo/Madison

Enjoy every minute of Spain. :)

Closet Fashionista said...

Yep, I love the fact that fashion shoots are so crazy, but a lot of my friends don't understand that they're supposed to be that way, they just think "that's so stupid! no one would wear that there!" But it's about the fantasy and theatricality.
That suit looks so amazing on you, perfect for spending time in the pool or at the beach! :)

Anonymous said...

I've just come back from a holiday to Italy, part of which was spent at the beach. It's a pilgrimage I've made with friends for the last three years and I relish the opportunity to wear as little as possible and not give a damn about what I look like beyond making sure I've applied enough factor 50.

Anonymous said...

i love the bikini, pretty photos!!!


Melanie said...

Oh dahling, fashion shoots are exactly true to life for moi - I always look impeccable, perfect, beyond believable. Every step I take is snap-worthy and goddess-like, especially when I'm wearing my BIKINI, which I wear poolside and doing triple somersaults from the high board.
Seriously, great article, Roz. Looks like a fantastic break.

Willow said...

How absolutely amazing to have been on holiday in Spain! Sounds like you had a brilliant time.

I loved this post - your writing, Hadley Freeman's list of steps, the swimsuit and the fantastic photos (both poolside and swimming shots were equally enjoyable). Such a great comparison of fashion shoots to real life.

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