The Right to Wear Bikinis: Who Owns It?

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File this one under “clueless media moment”: today’s People.com features Sara Rue, host of the wish-they-wouldn’t-go-there reality show Shedding for the Wedding, triumphantly showing off her weight loss in a bikini.

“Only a year and a half after she began the Jenny Craig program, Sara Rue has lost more than 50 lbs. – and 4 dress sizes! – and is wearing a bikini for the very first time in her life,” says the article [italics theirs].

Emphasis on “the very first time”–as if wearing a bikini is a rite of passage reserved only for women who shave those unwanted pounds off their asses in time for bikini season (and their weddings). Listen, we support Sara if she feels healthy and confident. But why does the media insist on tying happiness to thinness? They are not one and the same. And to Sara we say, great that you’re wearing a bikini (it’s a cute one)…but why is this the first time EVER?

When I was a size 14-16 one summer, I made an executive decision to override body shame and wear a bikini in public. I realized that I automatically assumed that I “couldn’t” wear one — that because I had some love handles and a round stomach that I didn’t have the RIGHT to feel the sun’s rays on my tum. I decided to defy that. I named myself a “body outlaw”, opting out of society’s standards and making my own choices, even if some people might see me and think “gross!” or “she should NOT be wearing that.” And while my brain fired off plenty of body-hating messages, I forced myself to hold my head high. It was revolutionary in its own way for me.

The other problem with this bikini brouhaha is that the dieter’s lifestyle is not sustainable. In fact, 98% of people who lose weight regain it all within 5 years, and 90% of them regain more than they lost. Bummer for all of us on the constant treadmill, huh? Even Sara Rue herself admits it to People.com. “It’s hard. It’s a struggle,” she says of keeping off the weight. “There are days where I’ll say, ‘I feel off the rails.’ But I don’t give myself excuses.”

Excuses? Is that what we call acknowledging our desires and appetites when our bodies don’t cooperate and hide the “shameful” evidence of weight?

Then, there’s the whole wedding thing, throwing another ideal into the mix. The dieting, bridal and advertising industry have enjoyed their menage-a-trois for ages. It’s profitable, after all. And here’s another “ugh” part from this piece:

Come May, when Rue exchanges vows with her fiancé, college consultant Kevin Price, 35, she won’t be skipping her wedding cake. “We’re having three kinds, including red velvet and pumpkin caramel,” Rue reveals. “I’ll be having one of each! Very small slivers of every kind is the way to go.”

Excuse me? You’re only going to get married (hopefully) once in your life, and you’ll just eat a small SLIVER of your own wedding cake? Is the decision to skip cake based on true HEALTH (which includes emotional happiness and pleasure)? Or on a desire to stay thin and keep earning a Hollywood paycheck–in an industry that doesn’t have many roles for those who veer from its ideal?

People.com, we beg you, please be a tad less celebratory and unquestioning in your coverage of weight loss stories. We understand it sells magazines and gets clicks. But it also sends a damaging message to women, yet again.

 

For more information on the issue of ‘Bikini Bodies’…

The Ugh of Swimsuit Season

Loving your body during bathing suit season

 

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Comments

  1. I agree that she was beautiful before. And I agree that anyone who would like to should wear a bikini. In fact, my first thought when I am on the beach and I see a woman outside of the traditional mold of who American culture defines as acceptable to don a bikini is “you go, girl!” I love women that have that kind of confidence. I think I was most comfortable in a bikini when I was pregnant, like I had an excuse to be the voluptuous me in the bikini showing off my beautiful baby-bearing belly. I have a goal to be more comfortable in a bikini. My thing is I often wear a bikin with board shorts. The board shorts covering up the parts I don’t feel comfortable displaying. But I want to be a body outlaw, too!!! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Although I support the notion that stick thin is not usually healthy, nor a realistic ideal for most women, I also do not understand why it is so important for there to be obese women on television as a “representative” for the larger women of the world, because obesity isn’t healthy either. What is wrong with just maintaining a healthy BMI? Come on guys, eat your veggies, you cake, your hamburgers, but do everything in moderation. One doesn’t need to pig out in order to enjoy food. Know your body, know when you’ve eaten enough, and then stop, have a glass of water, and relax in your body.

  3. Is there really such a right as the right to wear bikinis? Does not any woman who feels like wearing one have the right to wear what she pleases? How can we, as women, expect to be celebrated instead of denigrated if we do not celebrate ourselves…show ourselves as we are with confidence and awareness of our sacred femininity…the hype only has the power you give it in your inner world.
    If you feel it is wrong and ridiculous that only one body type should have exposure in the summer then reclaim the beach with your wild womanliness, your glorious diversity and your right to life as you choose to live it!!! Don’t be dictated too…we are all fabulous! I am in my 40′s, a mother of 4 beautiful kids, I wear bikinis and adore my stretch marks (marks of initiation) revel in the cellulite on my thighs and am infinitely grateful for the honour of having a mummy tummy!!! I am in my mature woman power…I have been the child,the young maiden and am now the mature ripe vibrant woman and looking forward to progressing to wise crone…we are all much more than a bikini body!

  4. haha love it, This summer I’ll be a “body outlaw”, I’m very self conscious about wearing a bikini, I think my thighs are too big to be shown, but you’re right it’s about what I want, not what people wants to see.

  5. The part that bums me out the most is that Sara–much like Jennifer Hudson–was such a great example of a successful woman in the public eye who wasn’t Hollywood thin.

    They were the examples that we could point to of women getting the attention they deserved for their talents, not their bodies. And then they all go and get crazy skinny and every time they’re mentioned now it’s seems to be in conjunction with their appearance.

    Boo.

  6. We stand corrected. Well in that case, no cake for her. Just kidding!

  7. “You’re only going to get married (hopefully) once in your life” this is actually Rue’s second marriage.

  8. I get it, and the over simplification of everything is terrible, and Jenny Craig is not sustainable.

    Weight Watchers is. And it teaches you how to eat for your own body, and how to listen to your body and untrains all that negative crap about it being “hard” and about how you have to beat yourself up when you want cake. It’s all crap, and over simplification hurts both those who are happy as they are, and people who want to change. It’s all about personal knowledge and acceptance, but also personal challenge if you really do want a change.

    Tying happiness to losing weight is actually super easy to do, because when you weigh an appropriate amount for your body size you feel better, you move easier, you want to move more, you have better body chemistry. It’s very easy for the tabloids to demonize being overweight because it does contribute to more factors than just feeling social awkward, which is wrong, and that needs to change.

    it’s hard to talk about healthy weight loss because of all this tabloid media crap. Suddenly actually breaking out of all the crap we eat every day that’s made of crap (fast food, packaged foods…) and moving more than sitting in chairs all day is the self-esteem killing devil. I hate that.

    It’s not one or the other. It’s not this over simplified self-love and obesity vs fake hollywood standards.
    If you allow someone else’s view of what’s good keep you from really doing the challenging stuff like learning about your own body, we’re all in trouble.

    Be should all be more aware of the media we believe and the food we eat, and what our own bodies are trying to tell us.

  9. Oh this hit a hot button! Best quote: “But why does the media insist on tying happiness to thinness? They are not one and the same.” No they are not! In fact the absolute worst I ever felt about myself was when I was at a frighteningly low weight, barely tipping the 100 plus mark at 5’6″ -mid divorce, not healthy, not happy, not intended. My name is NOT a number–not my weight, not my dress size, not my jean size, not my age, it’s Elin. Beyond fed up with the sickening messages that are perpetrated. Thanks for the great post.

  10. *Applause*

    Not only is the body policing offensive, but I call Ms Rue’s attitude towards food disordered. It’s heartbreaking that she’s talking about “slivers” of her wedding cake. Her WEDDING cake!

    She was beautiful pre-Jenny Craig. There was nothing at all wrong with her. Now she’s full of disordered thinking around food and body judgement. Sad.

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