War against the bikini

What’s in a bikini? For some not enough, for others too much, but the significance of the bikini often dictates a woman’s eating habits, self-esteem and innermost fears. On the beaches of Collioure, I battled one particular green and white striped bikini.

The two-piece attacked my body, leaving me with scarring bulges and rolls of plumping flesh. I critically studied my blindingly white reflection as the bikini mocked me, “Did you really think you’re the kind of girl who could wear a bikini?” it scoffed. I had not battled the bikini in some time due to many past defeats and the results of this battle seemed fatefully imminent.

As my friends and I stepped unto the scenic sands of Collioure, my mind began to flutter with thoughts of chub. I had strategically muted the bikinis comments with a turquoise sundress, but my mind carried on with the damaging scrutiny. I imagined shedding the sundress and emerging to the laughter of small children and sharp stares of the petite women. My fat would spill over the sides of the bikini until the stripes disappeared and were replaced with the increasing swelling of my body. I would either have to be squeezed out by the Oompa Loompas or implode into a mass of cellulite.

I surveyed the beach for a woman who was larger than I to soften my fears. I found no sense of safety in what I saw, but instead found admiration for the natural human image. Nude women of various sizes, shapes and colors were splayed out on the beach.  I questioned why the French women around me had such obvious confidence while I was quickly becoming a masochist.

I thought of my life in San Francisco where the streets are heavily saturated with airbrushed images of supposed feminine perfection. Although I consider myself a feminist, I also consider my generation to be the most affected by the popular media’s image of the female body. Even with my knowledge of feminist theory, I often feel very unsatisfied with my body image. Feminist author, Naomi Wolf, wrote in The Beauty Myth, “More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.”
So why do French women seem to be different? Throughout Perpignan the bodies of iconic women are also presented as rock hard but in an entirely different medium. Statues of the female body can be found in various spots in the city providing a different vision of the feminine model. Each statue exhibits a fluid motion of soft curves and round beauty.  Looking at these statues from an American perspective, I thought about how my body looks so much more like this than any American Apparel model I have ever seen. I feel empowered, comfortable and uniquely beautiful when I come across these sculptures; emotions I rarely feel when bombarded with billboards of Abercrombie & Fitch.

So there I was on the beach, envisioning all the living nude women as bronze statues. I realized that every one of them would be an acceptable representation of the beauty of the female form. In light of this revelation, I stepped onto my pedestal and took off that covering turquoise dress without fear or reservation. I became a model. The bikini was silent as I brutally drowned it in the Mediterranean Sea — and emerged victorious.