As a fat person who is preoccupied with both in-your-face prettiness and Tumblr, at some point in the past two years my entire sense of self-worth has hinged on one rather insignificant question: Will I, or won't I, ever be one of those fat women who looks great in a bikini?
Honestly, as a person who has been at least slightly overweight for the entire time that I've been old enough to care what I look like in a bikini, the whole idea of swimsuit season largely missed me. When my middle and high school peers were fretting over how their tummies or thighs looked in two piece swimwear, I never had that worry because I always went for the plainest, most "slimming" -- read: dark color -- one-piece available and called it a day.
Half the time, as a young person, I wouldn’t even make it out of my swimsuit coverup, most likely a T-shirt back then.There was a period of about three years in my mid 20s when I didn't even own a swimsuit, despite my love of beaches and pools.
I fell back into swimwear at age 26, just in time for the Internet's preoccupation with great-looking plus-size swimsuits. I was in luck because that year I had to finally wriggle into one for my friend’s Jamaican wedding. (The post-wedding beach bumming, not the actual ceremony. I wore a dress for that.)
As I spent what felt like months searching for the perfect suit, I began to form this image in my head of how I wanted to look one day. Something like plus-size model Anita Marshall, who took Monif C’s fatkinis to a new level, or one of those ridunkulously sexy ASOS Curve women who seem to be all boobs and no belly. Par example, this walking erotic dream of a person:
It wasn't the first time that I’d become transfixed with the idea of how a different look would somehow push me into a new stage of life and pave the way for any manner of amazing things. There was the fat person’s obsession with being skinny in my pre-fat acceptance days, and even before that I was a young girl obsessed with media-friendly female beauty.
The difference this time, with the "fatkini" -- a term that I love for reasons I can’t quite articulate, meant to denote a typically high-waisted bikini made for a fat chick -- is that suddenly my beauty-obsession seemed healthy. I wasn't trying to become a size 2 because, come on, I'm too old and poor to sustain a coke habit. I wasn't even trying to imagine that my stretch marks or gargantuan breasts would magically go away. The magic of the fatkini beauty ideal is that it seems attainable. It’s a way of being seen and accepted, but still flying the fat flag.
And, I’ve said it before, I love the way fat bodies look. After all, my issues with being fat -- yeah, I still have issues -- are not so much centered around what I think about my own body, but around how society responds to fat people -- you know, institutionalized oppression, blah, blah, etc, etc.
But fatphobia aside, a certain brand of fatness is having kind of a moment in pop and retail culture, I think. We're everywhere. Except that we're not. The slim-faced, small-waist, big-boobed of our kind are everywhere. Women who don’t readily fit our culture’s idea of “healthy” and “beautiful,” like fat women of color, women with guts, women with flat butts or flat chests, women with double chins, women who don’t doll themselves up to the max, women who don’t have long flowing hair—these women are rarely represented by anyone, still.
Fat women with Barbie-like waist-to-hip ratios are, perhaps, to mainstream body positivity what super fair-skinned women like Beyoncé or Rihanna may be to mainstream ideas about black women being beautiful -- they’re fat, but in the most socially acceptable way possible. They’re women who uphold our existing notions of what’s feminine and sexy while making us feel like super-affirming, progressive people because their hourglass is a size 12 and not a 6.
Still, there’s always a cry that “Well, they’re models, they don’t represent everyday fat women any more than straight-sized models.” That’s true. But when you’re living on the margins, nuance is in short supply. We’re all the same to everyone else and it distorts, I think, our sense of the individuality even amongst ourselves. (Like, what black girl growing up in the ‘90s didn’t get told how much they looked like Brandy, regardless of her skin color, hair style, facial features, or the fact that she wasn’t really black, like an Indian girl I knew.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to knock the lovely fat ladies with smaller waists and fat asses that get to represent for us so much. I’ve just come to realize, shamefully, that my tenuous acceptance of my own large body has been mainly based on this ideal. Hourglass shapes may have been sort of a fat acceptance gateway drug, a way to dip my toe into the idea that a body like mine could inhabit the elusive realm of “sexy in a bikini.”
My last couple summers of swimwear disappointment, however, have made me realize that it’s past time to graduate to the harder stuff.
I was super-geeked about the fatkini I bought last year, after a lot of waiting and “sorry, we’re out of stock” messages, from Forever21. (It looked sort of like this, but printed.) It was great. It felt great. I looked... OK. The suit didn’t magically turn my decidedly boxy shape curvy. Nor did it turn me into one of those chubby, nymph-like sex goddesses who can somehow eschew being labeled “fat” because everyone’s too busy thinking “hot sex” when they see her.
I was just me. Same old me, in a midriff-baring swimsuit that I had to constantly pull up when it started to slide. I wore it once. In hindsight, I know it was silly to expect a $15 swimsuit to somehow suck in my gut and magically expand and round out my butt.
Yet, here I am, starting the search early, again. Checking all the usual websites for this year’s suit, hoping against hope that there’s a fatkini out there that’s up for the job.