One Woman's Journey Through the Harrowing World of Instagram Swimsuits

It turns out all you need for a bathing suit to fit properly is a measuring tape and a strong constitution.

One of my beautiful summer traditions is the annual bathing suit reassessment: a lazy Saturday morning spent trying on every single swimsuit I own, holding my breath to see if this summer’s body works with last summer’s vibes. Generally, this is a non-traumatic practice. My body and I are at peace with each other and whatever bathing suit fit me last year usually fits me this year, so the need to replenish the stock is for vanity and fashion and nothing more. Unfortunately, I am cheap, which means that the tangle of nylon in my swim-time drawer is all old, stretched out, and, in the case of one particular J. Crew item, dotted with a stain of unknown provenance.

After years of trial and error, I’ve finally figured out that the kind of bathing suit that best works for my body and makes me feel good is one where my butt is somewhat exposed, but my stomach is not. This does not rule out bikinis, but it does leave room for a bunch of mistakes, including the high-waisted bikini I bought from Aerie a few years back that covered most of my butt, making it look as if I was wearing a blush-pink, ribbed diaper. One-pieces are fine, but aesthetically, the kinds I prefer lack the support I crave. Reaching any sort of peace around the unnecessarily fraught act of buying and then wearing a bathing suit is an inarguable victory.

Last summer, though the vaccine was a distant dream, I took advantage of a sale at J. Crew and replenished my coffers, purchasing two new bathing suits that fit me well and were cute enough. But Instagram’s algorithm understands me better than anyone and began serving me ads for swimsuits from companies like Andie’s and YouSwim—lithe, curvy models wearing the high-cut, cheeks-out-for-the-vaccine bathing suits of my dreams.

Both these bathing suits fit on my body, but HOW???
Both these bathing suits fit on my body, but HOW???
Photo: Megan Reynolds

Of the two direct-to-consumer brands selling bathing suits meant to fit a wide range of lifestyles and fashion choices, I prefer Andie’s general vibe to Summersalt, the other, more Pinterest-adjacent swimsuit brand whose bathing suits look like an elevated Land’s End offering from the mid-’90s. Andie’s, on the other hand, has some neon offerings that appeal to me and came with positive reviews from my trusted friends and confidants. I took the helpful Fit Quiz, which asks some questions about your body and then plops the bathing suit it matches you with directly in your shopping cart. The Tulum appears to be their most popular offering—a one-piece with an open back, supportive straps, and “cheeky” bottom that is not like other “cheeky” bathing suits I’ve tried, in that it is not a thong. 

Image for article titled One Woman's Journey Through the Harrowing World of Instagram Swimsuits
Photo: Megan Reynolds

The print I had sent to me from Andie’s is now sold out, so I cannot reliably show it to you on the internet. Though the Tulum fits much like a leotard, I don’t mind it. When I am in it, my jiggly bits are not going anywhere. One-piece bathing suits are generally unflattering to my mind, because they pancake the tits to my sternum. Blessedly, the Tulum provides ample space for my bosom to flourish, even allowing for an alluring hint of side-boob. The print is perfection, a modern interpretation of a mid-’90s L.L. Bean deep cut. It makes me feel like a hot mom, even though I am no one’s mother, unless we count the cat. (I don’t, but sometimes, I do.)

Andie’s swimwear goes up to an XXXL—a blessing. Other swimwear lines approach inclusivity in a different way, by purporting to create a bathing suit made from fabric so tough and so stretchy that it can fit everybody. One-size-fits-all sizing is generally a lie; there are simply too many variations in the human form for this to really be the case. YouSwim, a UK-based bathing suit company, boasts that their swimwear fits everyone from a 2-14, and, per their FAQs, they’re working on more inclusive sizing. Much like how the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is fantasy, I believed that the YouSwim bathing suit I was sent would not fit my body, which is a size 14 when I’m holding my breath and a size 16 whatever when I’m not. I ripped into the box that it came in and laughed when I saw the size.

Image for article titled One Woman's Journey Through the Harrowing World of Instagram Swimsuits
Photo: Megan Reynolds

Fresh out the box, the YouSwim bikini I selected is laughably small, but feels stretchy in a way that could be promising. Had I a watermelon or any other large fruit or veg in my apartment, I would’ve slung the thing in the bikini bottoms and tried to carry it around my apartment to test the fabric’s strength. Unfortunately, I was fresh out, so I was forced to shove my body into the bathing suit instead. Miraculously, the scrunchy fabric expanded to accommodate my meat, with minimal pinching around the waist. Though this is their standard rise, I was pleased to discover that the bottoms came up just to the southern tip of my belly button and that the cut was high enough to reveal the full length of my stubby little legs. I love the bottoms and will pair them with any number of the tops I have because the top that comes with this thing is simply not going to work for me. Gravity is rude.

What this little experiment taught me is that bathing suits from the internet are not to be feared and that trying on a swimsuit at a store is. The experience of entering a fitting room and cramming my body into whatever I’ve found on a sale rack is not something I missed about pre-pandemic life, though there is something humbling about it. Online shopping for something as complicated and fraught as swimwear taught me to embrace the measuring tape and to actually measure my body without fear of repercussion—the only person I’m battling here is myself. Lying is pointless, fudging the numbers makes no sense. A bathing suit doesn’t care if your waist is two inches bigger than it was last year, and frankly, now, neither do I.

DISCUSSION

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CorporalTrim'snewaccountbecausethecomputerbroke

That one-piece is adorable (and the bikini doesn’t look like a one-size-fits-all; it looks like it fits). I’m a big fan of one-piece suits but agree—you have to get the cut right in so many places, whereas with a bikini you can mix and match. I’d disagree on the provenance however: the one-piece looks like a suit I had in the eighties more than anything I remember from the nineties, although the eighties suit cut up past the hip bone (all bathing suits pretty much did that because they thought it “lengthened the leg.” My legs are short, regardless).

I’ve always ordered my best suits online though, and I will go to my grave defending Lands End on that count. They really offer suits for a lot of sizes, ages, and lifestyles, and they’re pretty reliable quality and fit for the price (a hint if you try them: their bathing suits are less vanity sized than their clothing—I’m two sizes “bigger” in a Lands End bathing suit than I am a pair of pants, unless that’s changed over the last few years since I bought anything). Once you know what styles work for you, you can pretty much measure and get what you want. I’m interested in trying one of the newer, more eco-friendly online lines, but I have to wait for my old Lands End suits to die, and it might take awhile ;-).  Those things hold up.

(Another plug: the rash guards are great)