Dear Women Everywhere,
As temperatures rise and our attention wanders to weekend getaways and Summer Fridays, I want you to know it’s not you. It’s the bathing suit.
The camel toe you might see in the dressing room mirror in the next few days is because there is too much fabric in the crotch. It has never and will never be an issue of your labia lips being too long or grabby.
On the off-chance you see “sausage thighs”, please know they are about the casing. Only. The elastic is too tight. Your thigh is not too fat. You can try to fix this by taking the elastic in both hands and stretching it out. The teensy cracking sounds you hear are the elastic relaxing. Do it in phases. Crack it a little, try it on, repeat, and so on until the openings grab you just right. People with OCD or ASMR will particularly enjoy this.
I could go on and on.
About a year ago, I had just about enough of two male dominated industries (tech and manufacturing) and left a corporate job to start a consultancy that focused on empowering women through better product design. With nary a paying client in sight for quite some time, I decided to do some research into universally bad female product experiences.
The list of bad female product experiences is long, but it didn’t take much time to identify something that rose above all the other bad female product experiences, something that was so universally loathed as to be almost criminal. Trying on bathing suits.
In the surveys I conducted, I found that over 88 percent found the bathing suit try on experience traumatic. Traumatic! Not just bad, but day-ruining, tear-inducing, walking-out-of-the-store-with-nothing kind of awful. Several mentioned that at some point, their mothers stopped wearing bathing suits altogether and thought this was also their destiny. Worse, almost every single woman I interviewed blamed themselves for the poor fit, never the bathing suit or the store or the lighting or, say, society.
For almost a year, I’ve been trying to come up with an answer to that question. I started collecting figurines of women from around the world and placed them next to my mirror to see my body in context with the Mona Lisa, a wooden African Paul Klee-esque totem and the Venus of Willendorf (a truer friend to nude women I’ve never met).
I enrolled in adult swimming lessons and perfected my crawl stroke in a high school pool on the weekends. I became a regular at Spandex House on 38th Street and sweat profusely as tried to explain that I needed a roll of hygienic liner stickers pictorially to a group of devout Muslim Bangladeshi men. I talked with interior designers who are experts in dressing room lighting. I went to night school at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to learn bra patternmaking fundamentals, and I designed and produced a new, feminist, math-y line of swimwear.
I had always sort of discounted the bathing suit as frivolous, inessential, something we wear only once in awhile. But as I looked into it, most of the design decisions I had to make rolled up into philosophical concepts. As I chose the grab of the smoothing mesh inside, for example, I had to decide whether it was Spanx-tight or more of a nice smoother-over. In a way, I had to make a stand between women being comfortable or feeling sucked-in confident and uncomfortable (I chose something in the middle).
I just wasn’t seeing the level of attention I think is necessary being paid to this issue. So count me in, ladies. To listen and to try and design something better. Summer time, cruise season, pre-resort, resort, February getaway? I’m in. All in.
I‘m also angry. I’m angry that the gender gap that persists even into swimwear. As I looked at bathing suit design through history, I learned that ours are getting progressively smaller as men’s hemlines have grown (i.e. the board short). Over half of American men and 91% of Canadian men prefer wear baggy/loose bathing suits . I can’t remember the last time I saw a baggy bathing suit in the women’s section. Bunchy? Yes. Baggy? No.
If by some miracle, you find a bathing suit you feel, dare I say, pretty OK in, take really good care of it. Not rinsing it after it’s been in chlorine or salt water will eat away at the elastic and it’ll get droopy and weird after one season. When you wash it, use mild detergent and never ever put your suit in the dryer.
But most importantly, please remember ladies: if the suit doesn’t fit, you must acquit. And if you want to talk about it, I’m all ears.