Sara Klimek

If you’re not the conventional size 00, blonde, and petite woman, you can probably relate to walking into a bathing suit store and then abruptly walking out when all you see are tiny bikini tops.  In fact, this phenomenon happens more than you’d expect it to.  We see it with jeans and bras—and don’t get me started on trying to find a pair of athleisure pants that don’t act like saran-wrap around my stomach.  But bathing suits are different than these other clothing items.  If you go to the beach, you rarely see people wearing jeans and loose-fitting long sleeve tee shirts lying in the sand.  On a societal level, beaches have become a place for people to let loose and reveal enough skin to get the perfect tan.


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The problem then comes when you don’t have the ideal ‘bikini body.’  If you imagine someone wearing a bikini, who comes to mind?  I doubt it would be a size 12 woman, but rather someone much more petite.  Retailers capitalize on this vision of the perfect bikini-body by using thin models, selling bathing suit tops and bottoms together, and decreasing selection for larger sizes.  For several years, this has been the status quo for many bathing suit retailers, and it has created immense backlash from customers towards these companies.

There are some companies, however, that are making progress in creating ‘size-inclusive’ swimwear.  Aerie, for example, recently stopped airbrushing their models to reveal the shocking truth that not all women have to be a size 0 to wear fashion-forward clothing.  When I first watched their ad, which finally featured a woman with curves and abdominal fat, I cheered from my couch.  Then I rushed out to the store to see if I could find the perfect swimsuit.   Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck.  Even though the store carried larger sizes, I felt like my body was being distorted in a way that pushed my breasts upwards and my butt towards the seams of the bathing suit. 

Another problem with suit shopping I quickly found was that many bathing suits didn’t fit me whatsoever.  Although I might be a medium in bottoms, I am almost always an XL in my top.  When I asked store associates about getting separate pieces (especially at higher-end stores), I got a resounding ‘No, these sell as a set. But you can order separates online at….’  But what if I want a top and bottom that actually match each other—like the ones that every girl I went to high school with has?

So what was my alternative?  Well, one very nice salesman directed me to a one-piece swimwear rack.  I was interested until I found one swimsuit hanging on the rack that looked exactly like the one I bought my grandma for Christmas ten years ago.  Not to say, of course, that all one-piece suits are ‘grandma-worthy; it should be noted that there are several companies that make flattering one-piece suits.  But the catch?  They’re made to look good on people with smaller bodies.


Every woman should feel comfortable on the beach.


Every woman should feel comfortable on the beach. You shouldn’t have to fear that part of your breast will pop out of a bikini top, or that people will judge you for your choice in swimwear.  Sure, a store may carry a beautiful bikini, but will you feel confident sticking your toes in the sand without wearing a cover-up?  As a larger woman, I feel myself going back-and-forth, trying to reason that even though something may be cute, it may not look great on me.  Companies may market themselves as ‘body posi,’ but in all reality, societal expectations shoot down any hope of a larger woman looking and feeling great in a bikini.

Even if the fashion industry were to design a thousand more bikinis in any size from 00-50, many women would still shake at the thought of wearing them in public.  We’d need an immense societal shift to become more accepting and aware of the concept that not all women fit into the status quo.  Bodies are bodies, no matter the size.  But it’s going to take a whole lot more than adding more suits on a rack to make larger women feel welcomed and accepted in our society.


Sara is a managing editor at bSmart and student at the University of Vermont. She plans on attending law school following graduation. 

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