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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