fashion

'I'm plus-size. Please stop telling me I'm "brave" for wearing a swimsuit.'

Summer is upon us and that means fruity cocktails, beach days and inevitably, swimsuits. 

Like many women, I have a complex relationship with swimwear. Even the idea of starting my yearly shop for a new costume both thrills me and makes me anxious. I love a new swimsuit, but there’s so much tied to how I will feel in my swimsuit this summer. 

It’s a yearly check in, a test to see how I’m feeling about my body. I’m also plus-size so it will lead to inevitable commentary from friends, family and definitely strangers, and I know I need to be in a confident head space to deal with it. 

I don’t just need a swimsuit; I need armour.  

Watch: How to improve your daughter's body image. Post continues below.


Video via SunCorp.

People have been commenting on my body my whole life, and justify it in all sorts of ways. From, "I’m just helping," to "You’d be so much prettier if you lost weight."

I’ve always understood that because my body wasn’t thin, it meant it was up for discussion. That my very existence evoked a response. 

The space I inhabited was somehow too large. People feel like they can dole out advice and interject their opinions, because if you are a plus-size woman, you are seen as someone that needs fixing, someone that needs guidance and absolutely not someone that should feel complete or comfortable in their body.  

Over the years, I’ve learned to grin and bear it, and if possible - carefully avoid this onslaught. 

I try not to wear clothes around certain family members that are more revealing, because I’ve learned that opens a conversation I don’t want to have, usually one that starts with, "I don’t think you should wear that, because your stomach is not flat."

So, I’ve learned to alter my behaviour and presentation, for my own emotional wellbeing. 

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The thing is, swimsuit season doesn’t allow for such discretion. 

It inexorably brings my body into the conversation again.

As a teenager, my way of dealing with this was to simply not go to the beach. I told my mother I didn’t like it that much and stayed locked in my room. I didn’t want my body to be on display to the disapproving eyes of other people. 

But I got older and bolder and more comfortable in my skin and by my early twenties, I refused to miss out on sand, sunshine and fun. 

Still, every summer I agonise over what swimsuit to buy because it’s vital that it makes me feel like my very best self. Because I know that whatever I choose to wear will be discussed, my swimwear has to feel like a suit of armour. It has to make me feel sexy, even if the rest of the world makes me feel the opposite. 

Because, without fail, every summer various people in my life weigh in on my body, sometimes even under the guise of being complimentary.  

There is a special language used to 'compliment' a plus-size woman in a bikini or any kind of swimsuit. 

From, "You're so brave," to "I love how you own your body," to "I think it’s cool, you just wear whatever." Of course, none of these 'compliments' feel very complimentary - they feel like tiny stabs at your self-worth. The compliments always have the same theme: they are backhanded, and the person expresses genuine awe that you can feel comfortable in bathers. 

They serve as a reminder that a plus-size woman can’t be seen as just plain hot or sexy, or even just not-comment-worthy. It has to become a statement. 

Think about it. No one has ever called Jennifer Lopez brave for wearing a swimsuit.

On some level, I get the fascination around commenting on plus-size women in swimwear. 

Women are conditioned to believe that the perfect swimsuit body is small and lean. Unfortunately, for most women to achieve this comes a hefty dose of deprivation. So seeing a woman like myself just wearing a swimsuit, who looks like they haven’t suffered to put on their swimsuit, almost always creates a reaction. 

People want you to play by their rules. They want you to do bikini diet challenges and copy influencer's unrealistic eating plans and then you can go to the beach and have fun. After you’ve earned it. 

I also understand that for some women, seeing me in my swimsuit makes them feel better and seen. Every summer, without fail, someone on Instagram will slide into my direct messages and thank me for posting photos of myself in a swimsuit. 

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While you're here, listen to What Are You Wearing - Mamamia's podcast for your wardrobe. On this episode, hosts Tam and Deni chat to influencer Katie Parrott about the problem with sizing. Post continues after audio.


On the one hand, I’m thrilled that an image of me in my swimmers could make another woman feel more confident in her own swimwear and perhaps reminds her that any body is actually a bikini body. 

On the other hand, it’s frustrating that the mainstream media has done such an extensive job of only showing skinny women in swimwear. This means my body in summer becomes a statement, for better or worse. Sometimes I’d just like people to leave fire emojis under my photos and call it a day.  

Of course, it has got better. There are trends on social media now like #anybodyisabikinibody. 

My Instagram feed is clogged every summer with plus-size woman looking stunning in bikinis and swimsuits and the body positivity movement has absolutely extended our idea of what a bikini body is - which is ANY BODY.

I also want to make it clear that every summer, I get stacks of compliments from mates, and friends and family members. They tell me I look great, or comment fire emojis under my Instagram photo, or just say nothing at all - which sometimes makes me feel even more accepted. 

However, I still have to wade my way through fatphobia every summer.  

The thing about swimwear is that it does make every single woman feel a bit vulnerable. 

Let’s face it. It’s revealing, pretty much like underwear, and it displays your body. So most of us need swimsuit reassurance. We want to feel fabulous and want others to give us a little help to grasp that feeling in both hands. 

To keep it simple, if you see a plus-size friend, mate, or family member in their swimwear, before you talk about "bravery", just a simple compliment that you’d give to any woman - no matter their size - will do. 

A cheerful, "You look great," works wonders. Because I no longer give a f*ck about being what other people feel might be the "right" size to hit the beach. 

I just want to enjoy summer and enjoy my body and frankly have someone tell me how hot I look. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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