Watch out Fashion Police, there's a forty year old woman in a string bikini on the loose! Recently the British newspaper the Telegraph ran a couple of articles declaring seven out of ten British people think that women over the age of thirty nine should stop wearing bikinis. To add insult to injury there was a follow up article by journalist Judith Woods shrilly declaring that there should be a dress code and systematic fashion policing for the beach and asking women to "cover up that yard of lard". Charming! I can just hear those Fashion Police sirens coming for me right now.
Luckily, I've been holidaying in Spain and France where I've had the more pleasant and liberal company of European women of all ages, shapes and sizes, happily wearing bikinis of every description. Never mind past thirty nine, there were bikini clad women well into their fifties and sixties, some of whom were clearly grandmothers, wrinkly knees and all, enjoying a relaxing day out at the beach with the entire family.
Recently there was a heated debate about bloggers and body image and the lack of diversity in top tier blogs over at IFB. While the focus was mainly on the lack of visibility of different races and curvy bloggers in the top tier fashion blogs, it has always been clear (at least to me) that there were no older bloggers either. And I am not talking about bloggers who are in their early thirties as "older".
In light of the IFB post, I wanted how to highlight how mainstream media works to exacerbate the invisibility of older women in society. So much so that the IFB post didn't even mention the lack of representation of plus forty bloggers as an issue (I guess we're all presumed dead by then!). If widely read newspapers are printing statistics and articles such as those in the Telegraph you can quickly see why thirty nine becomes a dirty word for any woman, an arbritrary cut off by which your body is deemed unacceptable to be shown in public, a use by date past which you should be obliged to make yourself invisible for the good of society. It's hardly surprising that the public image of older women is not often supported in the media, let alone in the supposedly more diverse blogosphere.
With regards to the Telegraph article, I'm not sure why unsightly scars and "yards of lard" are specifically singled out by the journalist as characteristics of the over thirty-nine that require coverage, or as only applying to bits of our bodies that would be covered by a one piece bathing suit. I'm sure such exclusion from bikini wearing on these physical attributes alone would be equally demeaning to plenty of women under thirty nine who are not slim, or who have cellulite or scars. Woods tries to qualify that bikini's can look great on curvy bodies, but where does the definition of curvy end and "yards of lard" begin? This is also quite an arbritrary line between acceptable and downright insulting.
Woods also purports that the guilty must have sarongs (and thus dignity) thrust upon them - implying that even a one piece bathing suit just doesn't go far enough to hide us from public view in her books. She might as well just say to us "get thee to a bhurkini".
What if I wish to swim? Am I to wear the sarong into the sea to spare the public the view of my aged legs on route to the shore? And why shouldn't I sunbathe on my terms if I feel like it? I don't like wearing one pieces. Ever seen your man with a tee shirt tan and had a giggle? Well a one-sie tan is the female equivalent of the male tee shirt tan for me. I prefer my tan all over and all I need between me and the sun is generous lashings of sun protection factor and a bikini. And speaking of men - when does anyone impose dress codes on their beer bellies at the beach, or demand those past a certain age to wear this or that type of swimming trunks?
Quite frankly each to their own. Fashion policing and an imposed dress code on the beach removes all the beauty of being on the beach in the first place. What a horrific idea! This is the one place where everyone should be free to leave all their body issues behind. If anything it's the body fascists that we should keep off the beaches with their judgemental sneering and let everybody else get on with enjoying their holiday.
On a previous post on this blog about beachwear I said the following:
"at the beach at least one can shrug off any preconceptions of what age appropriate clothing is. All are welcome here and there is only so much variation on the theme of what we can wear swimming and sunbathing, whatever our age. That's why I love the coast so much. The beach is a great levelling plain on fashion, age and body image related matters."I still stand by that belief. No rules at the beach please, leave that kind of rubbish for Ascot.
Contrary to what the Telegraph article claims I don't think that more collagen necessarily equals more confidence to pull off a bikini. Up until my late teens and early twenties I was too scared to wear a bikini precisely because I had zero body confidence. As someone who spent their early to late teens being told by the media that Kate Moss and heroin chic were the body types to aspire it's hardly surprising. The only time in my life when it would have been "acceptable" to wear a bikini in public was spent hiding myself away under baggy tees and dowdy one piece bathing suits at the beach lest anyone saw the imperfections beneath. I'm sure there remain many young women today who have been fed a diet of size zero models and celebrities suffering similar reservations about wearing a bikini.
It was actually only after reading a particular self help book about body insecurities that I let all that angst go. The author implored anyone who thought they were somehow abnormal for having a less than perfect body to go to a beach or pool and take a look at everybody else around them. Not as an exercise to laugh, or judge, or point score against others, but as an exercise to aid self acceptance. To help realise that the human body comes in all shapes, sizes and ages, that scars are just scars, that ageing is a natural and inevitable process, that we all live in a reality that is a million miles away from the airbrushed world of media and advertising that we are routinely brainwashed as being perfection, and that it is okay, that your own body is just fine the way it is.
Since then the beach for me has always been a place of liberation, somewhere to let go of all those concerns about your body's flaws. As many an older woman knows, with age comes more confidence in your own skin because you've gained the wisdom that you shouldn't live your life worrying about what other people think. Older women don't need saving from themselves by having style rules imposed on them or any such rot, just less of this sort of tiresome body image bashing articles and a bit of respect for what we know now about ourselves that we didn't know when we were younger. If I knew what I know now at the age of nineteen I'd have burnt my one piece bathing suit and gone skinny dipping instead.
I'm not a size zero, I don't have a six pack stomach or twiglet thighs and I have the collagen depletion, broken veins, stretch marks and cellulite that comes with getting older. But I'm sure as hell not going to feel bad about going to the beach in a bikini because of that. No amount of lard or scars I accumulate through the coming years is going to make me don a bathing suit or conform to someone else's idea of what I should wear on a beach.
Do I want feel sweat building up under the lycra around my middle rather than direct sunshine on my skin? No thanks. Do I want to deny myself the sensual pleasure of cold seawater hitting my belly when I plunge beneath the waves. To what purpose? To make some body and age fascist's life a little less unpleasant by hiding my offending bits from him or her? No thanks. The Brits could do themselves a favour, stop tutting at each other and take a few pages out of the more relaxed and inclusive attitude to the seaside and ageing in Spain and France. These remain countries where grandchildren and youngsters can go to the beach seeing what old age really looks like, thereby learning to accept it instead of turning it into a taboo.
Now if you'll excuse me I'm off for another bikini-clad dip and to the likes of Judith Woods who take issue with that - you can kiss my yard of lardy ass for all I care.
This post is part of Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.