It's summer! Have you noticed? The tell-tale signs are all here: long days, high temperatures, and the current social acceptability of drinking rosé. Mostly this means lots of fun things like swimming in [your local body of water], drinking gin punch, and spending inordinate amounts of time lingering in public spaces with sweet, sweet A/C. (Say it with me: "Just browsing, thanks!") But if you're a woman with a social-media presence — and an attendant Facebook rep to maintain — summer comes fraught with an unforeseen challenge: the casual swimsuit snapshot.
Swimsuit photos might seem, at a glance, like incidental documents of a life well-lived — of fun times had in the sun, of friendships forged over nachos and margaritas, of swims swum and beach paddle-ball matches won. But they are actually part of a much deeper game: when you're a woman, swimsuit pictures are crucial markers of your worth as a human being. We women must always be vigilant about Looking Our Best; now we have to keep tabs on our appearances across umpteen social-media platforms.
Writes Fashionista in its ominous how-to guide to taking a flattering swimsuit photo (which might as well be called How To Live A Life Of Abject Self-Consciousness And Give Yourself A Complex By Spending All Your Time Worrying About Your Appearance In Pictures, Woman):
‘Bikini season' has terrified women for generations. But today's women have an even scarier phenomenon to worry about: Bikini photo season. Because while swimsuit season only lasts a couple of months, that photo of you chowing down on a hotdog in your bikini at your friend's barbecue lives forever.
Do you hear? Forever. TERRIFYING. The good news is, you can put your mind at ease by heeding these EIGHT EASY TIPS:
1. You already know that all women should be SKINNY, so always be certain to pose in such a way that you look as SKINNY as possible! As soon as your frenemy's hand starts to head for that hip pocket where the iPhone lives, assume the position. Angle your body away from the camera. Taking into account the lens depth and focal length, assume the precise three-dimensional curvilinear attitude that will best throw into relief your bust and your hip-waist ratio — while cheating your limbs to appear, like, realllllly long. STAND ON TIPPY-TOES. OR: never take your heels off (even in the water — just think of your wedge espadrilles as weirdly heavy flippers!). Keep a professional makeup artist and hair stylist on retainer, so that they can jump into the shot for touch-ups between frames. Do something with your hands, for God's sake, woman! If you're ever caught unprepared, dive behind your group of friends and just pop your head up, meerkat-style, intermittently. SMILE.
2. When all else fails, go to a mall print lab and have a life-sized, freestanding cardboard cut-out of yourself wearing a bikini made. Or: have a life-sized, freestanding cardboard cut-out of Kim Kardashian wearing a bikini made. Cut the head off this cut-out, and when the situation demands it, simply step behind your cardboard double and position your head in one of a thousand natural-looking poses. Don't say "cheese"; that's for losers. Say "prune." That's what the Olsen twins do.
3. Take a tip from the stars: demand photo approval! Draw up a standard image-rights contract for all of your friends; distribute the contracts via email, Facebook, and Twitter, and make one available for download on your personal or business Web site. (It helps if you demand the return of signed, notarized copies in triplicate via Registered Mail. This is for your records.) The contract should stipulate that any and all photographs, .JPEGs, TwitPics, Instagrams, #Latergrams, Facebook snapshots, sketches, watercolors, beachside artist caricatures, and other likenesses of you MUST be submitted to you and/or your exclusive agent(s) for approval no less than four (4) business days prior to the intended date of publication (WITH all draft caption information, so you can fact-check that "Poolside cocktails with the girls CHEERS!!" Facebook comment/screen content for references to your alcoholism). Be sure to stipulate NO #nofilter shots. Include a list of at least three (3) approved vendors for all necessary Photoshop and post-production work (the Vogue China team should totes be on there!) as well as your Photoshop standards (c.f. the Ralph Lauren company) to speed delivery and enhance outcomes for all concerned. Post unflattering pictures of all so-called "friends" who display any reluctance about signing on the dotted line.
4. Consider telling people that your religion teaches that all photographs are an act of violence against the subject, because they capture a piece of the person's soul; when they ask what religion that is, murmur vague things about your guru, Dwight. Say that if they keep asking questions, Dwight might get angry.
5. In your spare time, complete a thorough Friend Appearance Inventory for reference. Your FAI should be indexed by prettiness (P), height (H), and size (S). Assign each female friend an objective grade out of 100 for each criterion. (You can even crowd-source this! It makes for a fun Facebook wall thread. TAG ALL YOUR FRIENDS.) Compile the scores and rank everyone you know. Now you can divide your friends into three groups: the ALWAYS OKAY (to take photos with), the NEVER OKAY, and the AT OWN RISK. Know that it is ALWAYS OKAY to pose for a photo next to a friend whose total FAI score is in the 2nd or 3rd Attractiveness Quartile; those people are your safe space. It is NEVER OKAY to pose for a picture with anyone who falls into the 1st quartile (sorry, grenades!); this is where you start making excuses about "needing to go wash Dwight's feet." With 4th quartile friends — let's call them your Very, Very Attractive People, or VVAPs for short — it's simple. Just take their P score, subtract your own, divide by the square root of the difference between your respective heights (measured in cubits — Egyptian Royal Cubits, obviously), and multiply by the sum of your S numbers. Differentiate. Write that sum on a piece of paper, put it in a bottle, and toss it in the ocean. When the bottle washes ashore and is found by a small child, ask that child to sleep for the next three nights next to a tape-recorder. Play the tape backwards, writing down the first letter of every word the child says while sleeping, and translate those letters into numbers according to the following code: A - 1; B - 1.62188888; C - π; etc. If the last digit is an even number, congratulations! You may participate in the photograph with your VVAP friend — though of course, this will be AT YOUR OWN RISK.
6. Just never go to the beach, the public pool, the hotel pool you sneak into sometimes, the YMCA, the lake, the river, the bay, the swimming hole, the creek, the dam, or any other location where you may feel tempted to don a swimsuit and take a dip. Face facts: the stakes are simply too high. Sure, you might "enjoy yourself" or "have a good time with your friends" or "cool off in this God-awful unfuckingbelievable wretched fucking heatwave we're having right now THANKS SO MUCH EVERYONE WHO USED CFCs IN THE 1980s" — for an afternoon. Those pictures will be on your Google for as long as we have machines capable of accessing the Internet.
7. Just don't leave the house between the months of May and September. Or hell, if you can go that long, maybe don't leave the house ever again? Consult with Dwight.
8. Three words: airbrush bikini t-shirt. You're welcome.
Lede photo via Shutterstock/The Everett Collection