By Sienna Barton
On my own Instagram account, I have a saved album called “Big is Beaut” filled with images of these full-figured women that I sometimes look at when I’m having a bad body-image day.
When I think of the phrase “bikini body,” I’m instantly transported to the glossy magazines of my early teen years. These trashy volumes were filled with celebrities relaxing at the beach, and whoever did the graphic design added in magnified circles where that celebrity had imperfections – a stomach roll here, a bit of cellulite there, maybe a phantom baby bump too. The captions read something like “Where did she go wrong?”, or made a snarky attempts at wordplay to shame their bodies.
I grew up in the time where we ignored what happened to Britney Spears, and actively made her life worse because her weight fluctuated. If this is how the world thought about these celebrities who had in-house chefs and impressive work-out routines, then what would they think about me?
Where am I?♬ About Damn Time - Lizzo
So, looking back, it makes sense that I was 27-years-old the first time I ever wore a bikini. Not only did I come-of-age during one of the most toxic periods of relentless body-shaming, I also had a fast-maturing body to contend with. I first started to get boobs when I was ten, and by the time I was twelve I had to wear a bra every day. Then, when I was fourteen, I had to start shopping at specialty bra stores because the regular haunts didn’t go beyond a D.
Having big boobs before I was ready for them meant that I spent most summers in a tankini or a one-piece, and I even had a few years where I went swimming with a t-shirt and shorts on top of my bathers. Then, when I felt ready to embrace any sort of sexuality in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t wear a bikini because I thought I didn’t have a bikini body. Like the magazines had taught me, cellulite was bad and should never be seen. Eventually, I just stopped swimming at all.
Then, as the landscape changed and people like the Kardashians came onto the scene, I started to see more women with big boobs and curvy bums: bodies like mine. Say what you will about the Kardashians, yes they’re highly problematic, but I think they (specifically Kim) changed what the world thought a beautiful woman might look like. She wasn’t heroin-chic like Paris or Lindsay, she had curves. I felt comfortable swimming in a one-piece again.
In more recent years, we’ve had iconic beauties like Paloma Elsesser, Alva Claire and Barbie Ferreira appear in the high-fashion glossy magazine space and on our Instagram feeds. On my own Instagram account, I have a saved album called “Big is Beaut” filled with images of these full-figured women that I sometimes look at when I’m having a bad body-image day. I started it two years ago, right around the time I started wearing bikinis again – and let me tell you, that little folder has helped me through many a meltdown.
However, while these women had fuller bodies, their bodies weren’t mine. They were smooth and perky, perhaps naturally, cosmetically, or digitally enhanced, while my body is droopy, saggy and lumpy. I worried that there was a good way to be curvy in the public space, and I wasn’t it.
Something changed for me in the last week, and I know it sounds really really stupid, but it was after I saw TikToks of Lizzo dancing in a bikini somewhere in one of America’s deserts. Her boobs aren’t perky, her thighs are thick and squat, and she’s got cellulite. I don’t intend for it to sound like I’m being critical of her body, in fact, it’s the opposite: it made me feel like I belong.
@raqapparel @sienbarton absolutely slayed this 👏 wearing her underwire crop and high waisted briefs ❤️ #aboutdamntimechallenge ♬ About Damn Time - Lizzo
Where I’m shy and self-conscious about my body, Lizzo wears hers proudly and unapologetically (like she should). My own relationship with my body is complicated and ever-changing, but I feel really lucky to be living in a space that not only acknowledges a diverse range of bodies, but celebrates them.
Bikini bodies are just bodies in a bikini, no matter the shape, not something you have to spend months working toward. I’m under no illusions, though. I know that toxic body shaming is still very alive and well, but the death of print and network television, alongside the rise of social media means I’m not forced to witness it on a day-to-day basis anymore – I can filter it out.
Life’s way too short to worry about your cellulite, wear the bikini and have a boogie (it’s fun, I promise).