Summer is here! That means it’s time to bask in the fresh air and sun. For many, it also means wearing a bikini.
Bikinis can showcase strength, confidence, and beauty. They can also enable women of every size to proudly defy what mainstream media says female bodies should look like.
But for some, covering up is actually a more comforting and empowering choice.
Bryanne Salazar, 38, who suffered from bulimia from age 13 to 23, prefers covering up at the beach to retain control of how much of her body is open for public view.
“Eating disorders, for many of us, are about control,” she says. “As I healed from a decade of bulimia, I learned to control aspects of my life other than food, and that included what I wore. Bathing suits are no different to me than casual wear.”
“It’s not that people can’t tell my weight or see the shape of my body. It’s that I get to control how much is exposed, and that’s the safety of it for me,” she adds.
“I feel more confident and comfortable if I’m covered.”
— Bryanne Salazar
For Nika C. Beamon, 46, wearing more offers control not just over how much of her body is shown, but also how much of her medical history is on display.
Because of an autoimmune disease, Beamon has had several stomach surgeries which left her with eight holes and many scars across her midriff.
To spare herself the stares and questions, she made sure to pack long shorts, loose shirts and dresses, and a one-piece bathing suit with built-in shorts on a recent vacation. This ensured she wouldn’t have to field looks and inquiries from strangers.
Katie Elizabeth, 23, has always hated wearing bikinis. “I have PCOS and carry most of my weight in my lower stomach, so I think it makes me look disproportionate. But a one-piece kind of smooths that over and makes it less noticeable. I’m also on some arthritis medication that makes me photosensitive, so wearing revealing bathing suits makes me paranoid about getting sunburned.” She’s very glad one-pieces are back in style.
“I’m constantly stared at when I leave the house because I walk with a cane,” Beamon says, “I just prefer not to give any other reasons for strangers to ask what’s wrong with me or smile awkwardly.”
— Nika C. Beamon
Similarly, Stepfanie Romine, 36, eschews bikinis for more coverage to protect her skin. “I’m incredibly fair, so I burn easily. It feels silly to uncover my body only to have to hide in the shade and slather myself in sunscreen all day. I usually wear a one-piece suit, covered with a rash guard and board shorts.”
“I’m not ashamed of my body, but I value my health and want to protect myself from the sun as much as possible.”
— Stepfanie Romine
Wearing a bikini — even if it’s covered up — can be a proclamation of self-love and self-acceptance. Cathy López, 37, says.
“I’m fat. Really fat, not just a little chubby. And yes, wearing a bikini is a big f--- you to people who I’m sure are making comments about me. Most of the time I do throw a rash guard over it, because I fear skin cancer and get cold easily, but knowing that I’m wearing a bikini when most of society says I shouldn’t, and even when they can’t see I’m doing it, makes me feel awesome.”
But for many women, wearing more is just as much an act of self-love and self-protection.
Janet Buttenwieser, 47, has owned just one bikini in her life, around 1983, when she was 12 years old.
“Throughout high school and college, my small breasts and scorch-prone fair skin led me to buy bathing suits that covered as much of my body as possible. In my late twenties and early thirties, I had a series of abdominal surgeries to remove a recurrent intestinal tumor and now have a permanent colostomy. A colostomy pouch sits stage left of my navel, surgical scars form a lopsided tic-tac-toe board on the right. I am not ashamed of my body or of my colostomy, but to expose my abdomen in public would elicit stares and questions.”
I’ll be a one-piece bathing suit wearer for the rest of my life, grateful to have survived a serious illness and to be able to enjoy a day at the beach.
— Janet Buttenwieser
These women offer a great reminder for all of us to forget the false perfection we see on Instagram and to remember that confidence and beauty don’t depend on the amount of skin we show but, rather, how we feel about the skin we’re in.
Gila Lyons’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Salon, Vox, and more. She is at work on a memoir about seeking a natural cure for anxiety and panic disorder but falling prey to the underbelly of the alternative health movement. Links to published work can be found at www.gilalyons.com. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.