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Dear Virgie,

It’s been a few years since the first time I saw a fatkini. It feels like everyone I know immediately bought one and started wearing it, but I never got on the bandwagon. I looked at all my friends and the fats online and with each one I was able to point out exactly why they could wear a fatkini and I couldn’t. I have fat upper arms, small boobs, narrow hips and a big belly. I don’t look like a lot of the people I see wearing them. I feel like I don’t look right in a fatkini, but this summer I’m determined to do it. Except I’m still terrified. Any words for a fatkini-shy person like me?

 

Dear Friend,

Yes! I have many words for a fatkini-shy person like you.

I’d like to start with an “I’m sorry,” actually. I’m sorry that there is so much representation (and aggrandizement) of roughly one kind of body, yes, even within fat-positive circles. It’s deeply hurtful to look to a movement or a group that claims an identity you cherish and not see yourself reflected in it.

I think this is an issue that becomes cyclical — as the plus-size market has opened up a bit, certain fat bodies have more access to plus size brands, the folks who fit into those clothes feel affirmed, and that leads to more of a very specific kind of fat self-representation online on IRL. Meanwhile, there are many fat bodies that still have super limited access to clothing that fits or feels good, and this in turn leads to a continued sense of alienation, which leads to (among other things) less self/representation. This is a really simple and short analysis of some of the issues with plus size/fat representation, but it’s important to recognize that there are lots of reasons that cause this feeling you’re having.

Related: A Hater’s Guide to Summer

I understand the feelings you’re having but I want to tell you that the things I lurve MOST wearing a fatkini have nothing to do with how it looks on me and everything to do with how wearing a fatkini makes me feel:

I love the way that a two piece exposes more parts of my body to things like sun, wind, and water. I was amazed the first few times I wore a fatkini how good it felt to have part of my belly exposed to the elements. My belly has historically not gotten a lot of outdoor play time, and as a result of that the skin on my belly was extra sensitive (in the best way). Going to the beach in a fatkini allowed me to have this really pleasurable experience WITH and IN my body. The sensation of warmth and cold, the texture of sand, even the way the ocean feels on bare skin were all new and amazing and deeply embodying.

The second thing I really love about the fatkini is that I feel like I’m reclaiming my body, making room for bodies like mine and taking up space. I mean, I didn’t choose to live in a culture that assigns political meaning to, like, everything I do as a fat woman, but shit, I’m here now so I’m gonna make it work for me.

For so long I felt this incredible shame about wearing a swimsuit. All pool excursions involved jumping fully clothed into pools only to be nearly drowned by the yards of fabric that ultimately bubble up around you. I did all that because I had been taught that exposing my body in public was a shameful act to be avoided. Wearing not only swimwear, but a two-piece, felt so moving and powerful for me. It felt like an act of self-care and a political act of non-compliance. It’s not OK that the culture treats fat people this way, and we have every right to take back our body and the beach (or pool).

At the end of the day, it’s not your job to look a particular way in a fatkini. It’s your job to be YOU, to look like YOU, to rock whatever piece of swimwear YOU want.

Hope this helps!

Xoxo,

Virgie

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Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.

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