Body Stories: Just wear the effing bikini!

July 10, 2024

Deakin & Blue Bikinis for all ages, shapes and sizes

How do you feel about bikinis? Do you wear your two-piece with pride, or do you prefer a swimming costume?

According to an American survey, 25% of women under 24 years old choose a two-piece, down to 11% of 35-54-year-olds and 3% of women over the age of 55. But, data from the buy-now-pay-later service, Clearpay paints a completely different picture: Baby boomers are baring their bikini bodies like no other group. Clearpay found that women born between 1944 and 1964 were buying string bikinis more than any other generation with a 245% increase in sales year-on-year, compared to 140% for Gen X, 110% for Millennials and only 21% for Gen Z.

And what we hear from our customers confirms this picture.

"I am a 58 year old woman approaching retirement, and the last item of clothing I thought I would be wearing at my age would be a bikini," says outdoor swimmer, Pip, whose cancer diagnose last year changed her attitude to bikinis. "When I was younger, I wouldn’t have dreamt of wearing one. I felt larger and much more rounded than my peers and thought people would all be looking at me if I wore one. As I have aged, I have realised that actually people don’t care what you look like, especially within the swimming community. It is very much ‘you do you.’"

So, it seems that our body confidence increases as we get older – or at least that we care less what other people think. Or, is it that we reach a point in our lives where we say, eff it – life’s too short to notwear the bikini.

Deakin & Blue Plunge Bikini in Scarlet

Bikini history

Roman women wore bikini-type clothing during competitive athletic events as early as 5600 BC. But it wasn’t until 1946 that the bikini as we know it made its debut. "Le bikini", created by a French engineer, Louis Réard, who ran his mother’s lingerie shop. Having noticed women on the beach rolling up their bathing suits to get a better tan, he went into competition with a fashion designer Jacques Heim to create the world’s smallest swimsuit.

Heim’s two-piece was the first worn on a beach, but Réard named it. Launched just after the US’s first atomic bomb tests on the South Pacific Bikini atoll at time when words like atomic were being used to mean ‘sensational’, Réard reasoned bomb-like levels of excitement about his bikini.

He was kind of right – excitement and outrage. Most people in catholic France were scandalised – Réard even had to employ a nude dancer to pose for photographs because no model would be seen in a bikini.

It wasn’t until the swinging sixties era of women’s liberation that people in the Western world slowly started to accept the bikini. Making it onto the cover of Playboy and Sports Illustratedhelped, but the boost into mainstream came from Ursula Andress’s iconic bikini scene in Dr. No in 1962.

“When I was a student, I walked around London in hot pants and bare feet,” says Lindsay of sixties liberation. “When I look at teenagers of the day and think what we used to wear, all these amazing colours and shapes and big baggy trousers or tight trousers, or minis, or maxis – it was all fashionable, and it was all fun. I don't feel that there’s quite that freedom anymore.”

Deakin & Blue Plunge Bikini

Bikini body

By the early 2000s, bikini sales had become a multi-million-dollar business, creating booming spin-off services like bikini waxing, tanning and bikini body diets.

It may not surprise you that it was a chain of weight-loss salons (called Slenderella. Yes, really!) that coined the term bikini body.In 1961, they ran an ad campaign that said: “Summer’s wonderful fun is for those who look young… High firm bust—hand span waist—trim, firm hips—slender graceful legs—a Bikini body!”

While the way the dieting industry speaks to us has changed, social media still exerts as much, if not more, pressure to look a certain way. Overt dieting may have fallen out of favour, but #fitspo, clean eating and other so-called wellness trends are just as much about having the right body as they’ve ever been.

“I remember being 16 years old, on a family holiday in the Mediterranean and all of the kids would have beautiful bikinis and I was just so conscious of my breasts. I felt forced to hide,” says Naomi. “I’m glad I grew up when I did, in a world before Instagram – it is really stressful for young girls now.”

Deakin & Blue Plunge Bikini

Bikini liberation

French fashion historian Olivier Saillard told a BBC journalist that the reason the bikini is perhaps the most popular type of women’s beachwear is because of "the power of women, and not the power of fashion” because "the emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women."

But, when you’re bombarded with images of very similar body types your whole life, you believe that you have to look a certain way. And that doesn’t feel like freedom.

“I showed my class a video showing everything that photo editors do to make models look so thin and ‘perfect’,” says Abigail, who used to be a teacher. “The video showed what the model looked like at the beginning of the shoot and all the work they did to reach the final campaign ready image. After the video I said to my class, look at the amount of work done to make her look like this, you can all see that this isn't a real representation of a woman. When you see all the re-touching happening right in front of you, it’s very alarming.”

While feels very much like the opposite of female emancipation, social media also brought us the body positive movement. For every #thinspo account encouraging us to eat or exercise ourselves to achieve a so-called bikini body, there are brilliant people in diverse bodies encouraging and inspiring us to enjoy our bodies.

“There is a lot of strength and power and beauty in people exposing their vulnerabilities and in showing that there’s beauty in difference,” says Ellie. “I also avoid following any preachy people on Instagram because I don't think it serves anyone to make you feel bad. You can't make those date energy balls to replace chocolate so that you can look like an incredibly rich young woman who’s had every advantage that the world has thrown at her. Instead, I follow people like Ateh Jewel @atehjewel and Anna O'Brien @glitterandlazers who I find are more interesting, but also who have different bodies.”

Seeing different body types in social and mainstream media, and modelling for brands like ours, normalises them. And that means that our own bodies – whatever size or shape we are, whatever the colour of our skin, however we wear our body hair, whatever our visible scars – suddenly feel more accepted.

"Last year, I was diagnosed with a large soft tissue sarcoma cancer. Thankfully the brilliant sarcoma cancer team in Bristol were able to successfully remove it," says Pip. "Cancer left me feeling shell shocked but also made me realise how precious life is. It made me determined to enjoy the second part of my life to the full. I am proud of my strong, female, warrior body and everything it has helped me to do. I wear my red bikini to celebrate my aging body full of imperfections and also my operation scar that goes from my belly button to my sternum."

Deakin & Blue Plunge Bikini

Eff it

All this is part of the liberation that Oliver Saillard described. Women fought long and hard for the right to wear swimming costumes and then bikinis. Now, bikinis are widely accepted, but we’re still fighting to be free from societal ‘norms’ around who should wear them.

Are we winning that fight? Next time you’re on a beach, especially if you’re in Europe this summer, have a look around and see who’s wearing the bikini. You might be surprised. For the younger generations, body positivity as more than a movement – it’s a community. And perhaps that’s rubbing off on their parents.

But it could also be that we’re simply more clued up about beauty standards – and we’ve had enough. In many ways, wearing a bikini feels like a rebellion – against beauty standards and against our own mindset.

“I feel like I've been on this journey to get comfortable sharing my body in a public space,” says Pippa in her Body Story. “The first step was just walking onto the beach. Initially, that was an edge, being on a beach in a swimsuit and feeling self-conscious. Then, doing that in a bikini was a big step forward.”

For Pippa, pushing herself over the edge of her comfort zone brings personal growth and improves her self-esteem. And she encourages others to do the same. It’s not about forcing yourself to strut around in a bikini – it’s about doing what makes you feel good about yourself and your amazing body.

“You feel that little bit more alive when you're doing something that's an edge, when you're at that stretch point,” says Pippa. “And that seems to be where I like to live my life these days – saying a gentle yes to the next opportunity to expand my sense of what’s possible – and hopefully inspiring others to stretch too.”

Pip agrees. "I love wearing my bikini, it gives me so much more freedom. When I wear it I feel strong and fierce," she says. "I fully intend to embrace my future bikini years. Last year I spent a lot of my time saying f*** off to cancer, this year, one of my mantras has become f*** it just wear your gorgeous bikini."

Deakin & Blue Plunge Bikini