Monday, May 30, 2011

Push-Up Bikinis... WTF?

I was at Target the other day, looking for some maxi dresses and boho-style skirts, but the second I walked in... BAM! I was greeted by a plethora of bikinis. If you're wondering how this is going to tie into art, I should tell you now that it doesn't. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to Of Feminism And/Or Art, but nah. This little post here is about observing consumerism and the fashion industry through a feminist lens. It's also about me wanting to hear what you, my venerated reader, think about the phenomenon I stumbled across yesterday, because I'm still not entirely sure what I think about it.

The bright colours and the promise of sun that comes with bikini season shopping drew me in. I meandered the racks, searching for something in my style. A bright yellow top caught my attention and when I stopped to pick it up, I noticed it was a push-up. I felt the inside of another: push-up. The whole rack was full of push-ups. I wasn't sure what to think. When I was younger, I dreaded bikini season because my flat-as-a-pancake bust was completely on display, and I wasn’t yet okay with that. I felt insufficient as a woman back then, as if there was something wrong with me. It took me a long time to accept my alternative body type and love myself. This is the first year I’ve felt comfortable in a bikini top without extra padding, and then… they start making push-up bikinis.

I went home and searched through the juniors' swimwear sections on various other stores' websites. As I suspected, it wasn't just Target. I understand what's driving the trend: consumerism. The fashion industry must know there's a demand for anything that makes bikini season less daunting for women. Because bikini season has the unique ability to encourage self-judgment in a way other seasons can't. It starts the second a woman enters the store and sees the giant pin-ups of airbrushed models with unreal bodies rockin' the latest trend in swimwear. When she tries something on, it takes an immense amount of self-assurance and willpower not to compare herself to the model. When she goes to the beach or pool, she's surrounded by loads of other women in bikinis. Her body is completely on exhibit and in comparing herself to other women, she likely feels the urge to cover-up, out of self-judgment and possibly shame. Unless she has that same immense amount of self-assurance and willpower- or, you know, happens to be Superwoman and is used to rockin’ a one-piece all day, every day. But the portrayal of women in graphic novels is a completely different story that I will undoubtedly be telling later.

So I know what's driving this trend, but I'm unsure what exactly the message being sent out is. If this were about young girls, I'd be outraged. When I heard about Abercombie and Fitch marketing push up bras at little girls, I was incrediably outraged. But from what I've seen, this latest development is about young adult women. Possibly even mature adult women, I haven't been to their section either. But back to the current issue at hand. On one said hand, maybe this is good for younger women who need a little help accepting their bodies and feeling comfortable in their own skin. I'm not sure if I believe this, but I do wonder if maybe if young adult women have something to hide behind so that they feel less judgment and pressure from the people around them, they'll feel less inclined to judge themselves. It could help young women feel okay with their bodies until they learn to fully accept themselves and to stop hiding. Or... as I'm more inclined to believe, maybe this is detrimental to the process of self-acceptance. Maybe they'll see it as extra pressure to fix themselves, as encouraging feelings of shame and self-oppression, as amplifying the voice in their head saying "There's something wrong with you." I’m sure it’ll be different for every young woman, but I don’t know what the common reaction will be.

If push-up bikinis outrage you the way they’ve outraged some of my feminist friends who I told this story to already, I suggest you protest by not buying them and writing to the stores selling them, explaining your stance. Because if there isn’t a backlash, I believe it’s possible they’ll be here for good… for better or for worse.

As for me, I believe the bigger solution lies in the models. If companies feature diversity in their swimwear models, it will de-centerize the unreal, airbrushed pin ups that encourage so much self-judgement. When I was searching online, Target stood out to me because the models they featured actually showed some diversity. For example, there’s an awesome paisley bikini ( modeled by a woman with a bust flatter than mine. And even though they cut off her face in her picture, she is gorgeous and obviously confident, despite the fact that she has an unconventional bust size for a bikini model.

There are plenty of things I don’t like about Target, and I’m not sure what I think about their choice to feature push-up bikinis, but I give them props for featuring the most diversity in their models than I’ve seen in any other store. Also, they’re the only department store I’ve been in that offers uni-sex changing rooms. I wonder though if those where put in to improve their image after the boycott that took place when Target’s CEO was found funding anti-Gay politics. But back to the bikinis. I find Target’s use of flatter models inspiring and plan to buy the top, and then write to Target about my purchase and encourage them to feature even more diversity.

And now to you, my magnificent reader, I implore you to tell me what you think.

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