Many of us are currently suffering under the kind of heat that feels capable of sizzling the sweat off your body, leaving only the salt. When we are not turned into human lithium mines, we are something worse: sticky. The only possible response for those who are able is to escape. Ideally to the sea, or failing that, the lake, the river, the creek, the pool, or the hose.
Ah! You are surely thinking. What a good idea! If only I had remembered to buy a swimsuit this year. I must check and see if Old Navy still has anything.
Wrong! You do not need to buy a swimsuit. For years Big Swimsuit has inculcated this delusion in our minds, to our detriment and their gain. They have played us for absolute fools.
Let’s start with the obvious: the glaring deficiencies of the actually existing bathing suit. Most bikinis are not really made for swimming. Every year, you see groups of girls timidly venturing out into the surf, holding their tops and adjusting their bottoms with every passing swell. This is not because women are naturally subject to some poltroonish fear of the sea. It is because the construction of most bikinis is too flimsy to allow aggressive engagement with the water unless you are clutching your tits.
One-pieces have their own set of problems. The drying fabric clings to your stomach unpleasantly, they are annoying to pee in, and most are still cut either right up to or well over the line of the crotch. You can make sure you are always shaved or waxed before stepping out in your suit, or you can decide that society’s standards are at fault and treat the whole issue with blithe unconcern. But I maintain that you should neither have to commit to a fiddly shave job nor embrace a full scale 1970s child of nature philosophy in order to swim. Don’t even suggest a skirtini, which drag too much in the water, and feel like a concession to the kind of tedious modesty blogger who will be leveraging her exvangelical journey into a boutique consulting firm in three years.
All varieties of swimsuits share a fundamental problem: they make you think about your body and its relation to clothes. They make you actively maintain the equilibrium of that relationship. But the sea (or its lesser manifestations) is not where you go to check your halter top or pull down fabric over your crotch. It is where you go to fling yourself into the currents and waves and let all sense of the individual body and its burdens dissolve into the glorious waters from whence we came.
Some people do not want to do this. Some people just want to lie on the beach and read and look nice. They are wrong, but that’s fine. These people still deserve a better experience. Even on the leggy models paid to be a human hanger, bikini bottoms look like a weird diaperish blob. If you have any kind of major league breasts, bikini tops are a cruel joke. Skinny or fat, muscular or voluptuous or all of the above, a bikini was not designed to flatter your lovely body. It is a hostile standard you can only fail to meet in your own particular way. And Instagram one-pieces never look like they do on Instagram. There is a much wider and more inventive world of sarongs and caftans, crop tops and body chains, loungewear and slips, if being Ava Gardner in a beach chair is your goal. And these have not engendered whole cottage industries of anxious preparatory rituals or anxiety soothing content.
All bodies are bikini bodies; yes, this is true. However, selling me a flimsier version of underwear in which to play public sports and telling me I’m the idiot for being self-conscious feels like pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining.
Swimming is a physical activity. If we need to buy a whole special outfit ostensibly for the purpose of participating in this activity, it should at the very least get five stars as performance wear. Swimsuits, by and large, do not.
However, many of us do already own quality performance wear. For the last few years, I have swum (a lot) in a black sports bra and a pair of Nike short shorts. They dry as fast as any swimsuit I’ve had. They look fine and unremarkable. They last longer, are cheaper relative to quality at pretty much every price point, and are usable all year round. Best of all, they are always there. When the unexpected invitation to California comes, I never have to think about whether last year’s swimsuit still fits or is worn out, whether they’re still selling the half I lost, whether I’ll be able to find a new one, and whether I’ll like anything in style. I never have to stand semi-nude under Target lighting, trying on something that inexplicably has stupid little bows on it this year. It’s just a sports bra and shorts. I wear it every day. I’m ready to go.
This self-assembled swimsuit can be modified according to your own finicky preferences. Bike shorts? Board shorts? Rash guards? Do what you want. Or if you want to keep buying swimsuits, I suppose I cannot stop you. Just please, do not buy them because you believe anything about the yearly ritual surrounding these poorly made triumphs of advertising is necessary. Take the plunge. Be free. You have nothing to lose but your triangle top, and that already washed away in a wave.
Clare Coffey currently resides in Idaho.