Why Are Women in Bathing Suits the New Faces of Feminism?

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Let’s get this out of the way: I understand, and advocate, that feminism is about having more choices, not fewer. And I believe that wanting to feel sexy and attractive is normal, natural, and healthy. Also, I’m not a prude.

Despite all of that, I am dismayed by the growing trend of women finding their “courage” and “strength” by posting pictures of themselves in bathing suits and underwear all over the Internet.

I remember when the rallying cry for feminism had to do with the fact that we shouldn’t HAVE to pose in bathing suits to feel valued, that there is more to us than just our bodies or our sex appeal. Women are so much more than just our shapes. Right?

But now there’s been a wave of “female empowerment,” all coming from women posting pictures of their bodies—often even without their faces—and encouraging others to do the same.

Rachel Hollis, known on the Internet as “Bikini Mom,” proudly posted a picture of herself with her “flabby” belly, stretch marks and all, in a bikini, and the post went viral, as waves of support rolled across the Internet talking about how she earned her stripes, and was beautiful, and hot. Next up was swimsuit model Chrissy Teigen, who showed off her stretch marks in an Instagram post.

Female Instagrammers thanked this 29-year-old Sports Illustrated model in droves, with comments like, “You are beautiful, and what you’ve done for women everywhere by showing this picture is beautiful.”

What? She’s done something for women everywhere?

Now multitudes of women are posting pictures of their own stretch marks using the hashtag #LoveYourLines to show that they have nothing to be ashamed of, and are ready to prove to the world just how beautiful they are.

Is this the new face of feminism? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been waiting my whole life for the chance to strut my stuff on the Internet. What I hope for my daughter, in fact, is that she doesn’t think that posing in her underwear online is the path to personal fulfillment.

And no, I’m not stretch-mark shaming. I don’t think these women showing their stretch marks is any different from the latest Maxim or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover; in other words, I just don’t see it as the benchmark of female power. Look at my body, everybody! Oh wait—weren’t we trying to steer away from that a few years ago? Not away from sexuality, but away from the idea that our looks are actually what matters about us?

Next up, “plus size” fashion blogger Jessica Kane. A photo of her in a bathing suit and heels on the beach went viral after she responded to people who called her “brave” for posting the photo. She said that real bravery is battling tragic illness or trying to break free of domestic violence, not standing on the beach in a bathing suit. She’s spot-on, of course, but in the meantime she has still become something of a hero to women in multiple countries who keep gushing about her. Kane adds that it would have been brave to wear a cover-up if she cared what others thought of her, but she doesn’t. But if she doesn’t, why is the picture up on Instagram?

I feel the need to say again that I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to pose in a bathing suit. I simply don’t understand when posing in a bathing suit became the new face of feminism.

Now let’s look at the same sort of phenomenon, but with a man at the center. When an overweight man who was dancing his heart out at a London club was fat-shamed by people taking photos of him and mocking him until he stopped, the Internet came to his rescue. The comment on his original photo was nasty. “Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing.” The Internet responded by tracking him down and throwing him a party. They used the hashtag #FindDancingMan to locate him, successfully, then invited him to a big party, which Pharrell expressed interest in attending and Moby offered to DJ.

What’s the difference? This man was dancing, which is why you go to a club in the first place, and someone else bullied him by taking pictures until he became so self-conscious that he stopped. The collective virtual anger was all about the jerk who shamed him into giving up the dance, and nobody told him to pose in his bathing suit to prove to the world that he’s beautiful. His beauty was in his carefree abandon as he danced, and the desire of strangers to give that back to him, while ours, as women, is supposed to be posing in our underwear.

I personally would like to see a day when women’s beauty can be found in our actions and our attitudes, not just in our bathing suits and our ability to strut our physical stuff.

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