Last week I went through the torturous ordeal of buying a swimsuit. After trying on countless tops and bottoms in assorted sizes from a 6 to a 14 in a multitude of styles and cuts, I walked out with a size 8 top and 12 bottoms of the only set that even vaguely ‘fit’: a triangle-string bikini with no structured shape for my actual shape to fight against.
I’m fairly short, neither skinny nor overweight, not too hippy, nor too busty, and fairly toned from all the pole dancing I do. I’m probably somewhere between an A and a B cup and wear an 8-10 dress size. Yet in most of the swimsuits I tried on, even the smallest tops were gaping – expecting me to have a D bust or bigger. The bottoms were either so tiny I expected to see a colossal tank poking out of my rear end in the mirror, or they were falling off me.
I have been searching for something I like, something I feel comfortable in, for almost a year. Having finally found a mismatched combination I can display in public; I feel completely ill-proportioned. If I hadn’t finally found a bikini top that fit, I would have been convinced I needed a boob job just to wear adult-sized clothes.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I was chatting to a friend who went through a similar nightmare buying a swimsuit to take on holiday. After several hours and countless attempts, she settled on a suit with a G-cup top. Tall, with hourglass-proportions, she would normally be a DD-cup at most.
Not only did this inconsistent sizing have us baffled, but we also agreed the entire process left us feeling scarred and unattractive.
Perversely, my friend ended up apologising to the shop assistant for being ‘difficult’. The shop assistant ‘reassured’ her that some customers take up to 6 hours to find a suit they are happy with, while others try on one or two and then leave in tears. I have certainly been the latter customer on multiple occasions!
Surely swimmers should be fun to buy and wear? They represent sunshine, water, holidays, and relaxation! Yet we spend hours searching for that one suit that will hide our perceived imperfections. That will draw attention away from our cellulite, wobbles, creases, muffin top, dimples, chicken wings, drumstick thighs, over-abundant or absent breasts! Instead of fun, they represent self-conscious horror that all our imperfections are on display.
And don’t even talk to me about shopping for jeans or bras. I don’t know who clothes are made for, but it’s not real people with natural proportions.
I’m not about to rehash everything that has been written about body image, doctored photographs, and advertising. But I do want to mention something my friend pointed out. Chances are, even if we could walk in and buy something straight off the shelf that fit perfectly, we would still feel inadequate.
Because even swimsuit models – that tiny fraction of the population with bodies deemed suitable enough to showcase ‘fashion’ – need cosmetic surgery to meet a perceived ideal. And as if that isn’t enough, their pictures are then photoshopped.
‘How can we not be fucked up about our bodies?’ she said.
Let me repeat that. Women with the ‘ideal’ body type, whose body shape we revere and aspire to inhabit, AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH AS THEY ARE.
What message does that send to the rest of us? The vast majority who come in all shapes, shades, and sizes?
And we don’t only judge ourselves. We judge each other. The body-shaming we encounter every day, that we have internalised. The passing comments, ‘She really shouldn’t be wearing that…’ ‘They shouldn’t make that skirt/dress/top in that size…’ The women we reprimand for wearing something too revealing, then judge for not being revealing enough. Too short, too long, too big, too small, nothing is ever good enough.
We’re not even seeking perfection. We’re seeking something that doesn’t exist, and then judging ourselves and each other for falling short.
It’s no secret I have struggled with my weight, with my body shape, my proportions. I have been a lot heavier (75 kg at my heaviest), technically ‘obese’ for my 158cm frame. I’ve also been a lot lighter, 42-46 kg, believing I was fat. I spent years yearning for breast augmentation. And is that any surprise when every trip to the mall reinforced my lack? Likewise, my attempts at shopping for jeans have convinced me my waist is too thick for my hips, even at my skinniest, even when my belly is strong and toned.
Recently I have noticed more body shapes and sizes – more diversity in general – appearing in my advertising feeds. Yet instead of feeling hopeful that representations of women are changing and becoming more inclusive, I feel suddenly self-conscious. Have the algorithms observed those few extra kilos around my middle? Is it that obvious?
I had to ask my friends, ‘Have you noticed this too?’ Or does Big Data know my secret shame, my thickening mid-40s waist, my deepening hips?
This is how deeply ingrained my body shame is.
Logically, rationally, I should be thrilled. Finally, fashion and advertising are beginning to normalise normal bodies! Yet part of me finds it confronting. Questioning, rejecting. Internally resisting the societal shift I craved.
Is it that I don’t want to see bigger, more varied bodies? Or that I don’t WANT a bigger body, to have to wear wider clothes? To see me in those bodies, in those clothes. Because the ugly truth is, if clothes were made to fit me, I wouldn’t want to wear them. Because then I would look like me.
All that messaging over so many years, so deeply absorbed into my psyche that I don’t even know where to start to untangle it all. How can I reconcile striving to love and accept myself as I am, and cursing the world for not catering to bodies just as they are, with not liking that reality when it’s offered?
What I long for feels unobtainable. A fantasy. I don’t want clothes that fit me the way I am. To see representations of people just like me that embody that possibility. This is not the missing piece.
I want to walk into a store, try something on that fits perfectly while looking in the mirror and like what I see.
After so many years of self-loathing, of body hatred and distortion, I know now that even if I somehow reached ‘perfection’, it wouldn’t be enough.
I have a tough road ahead unpacking this. Of unlearning my aversion to self-acceptance. Of grappling with the belief that if I somehow recognise and accept that my body is not the problem, then I must accept myself AS I AM. Not five kilos lighter. Not with slightly bigger breasts, a slightly smaller waist, and slightly longer legs.
And so, my new year’s resolution isn’t to lose those extra kilos or somehow change my appearance. It’s to find a way to honestly embrace the diversity I can finally see reflected in the representations of bodies all around me, and in doing so, hopefully, embrace my own reflection, too.