Last summer, unfiltered pictures of women of all ages and sizes wearing swimwear went viral. Judging by the sheer volume of shares and comments, these images struck a chord because they helped many feel more confident about wearing a bikini or swimsuit (which can be daunting).
We spoke to inspiring women to find out how they learnt to feel comfortable wearing a bikini—whether at the beach or in front of 3.3 million people on Instagram (as it is in the case of model and social media star Iskra Lawrence). Each of these inspiring women also revealed the swimwear pieces they always lean on and make them feel their best. Keep scrolling to see how Charli Howard, Iskra Lawrence and others feel confident in swimwear.
Iskra Lawrence is one of the models leading the body-positive movement, as she constantly reminds her 3.3 million followers on Instagram of the trickery that goes into those perfect bikini models shots you typically see. "I've always loved wearing swimwear," she tells us. "I was actually a national swimmer in my teens, so I got comfortable quickly. I'm a huge fan of swimwear that makes me feel comfortable and supported, so that started off with my one-piece Speedos, and now I enjoy wearing bright colours, bold prints and have even been experimenting with ruffles. I also love a high-leg and high-waisted style for the bottoms. As for labels, nearly all of my swimwear is Aerie," says Lawrence.
As for what makes her feel more confident on the beach, Iskra adds, "Knowing that everyone else is feeling the same way and not letting my body hold me back from enjoying myself and living life to its fullest—especially at the beach—which is one of my favourite places to have fun and relax."
Two summers ago, an image of 60-year-old Gillean McLeod modelling a black swimsuit for H&M went viral. "People loved the fact that I—or anyone at the age of 60—would feel fine in front of a camera," says McLeod. According to her, the photo was proof that "anyone can be in a swimsuit and enjoy themselves at the pool or beach. What if you woke up one day and felt terrible that you didn't swim on your holiday because you thought your thighs or hips were big? It's ridiculous, and no one cares. I received messages from women all over the world about that one image, all saying how it inspired them and that they were going to go to the pool."
"I have always loved swimwear, both performance swimwear and fashion bathing suits. My school holidays as a child in Malaysia saw me either at the beach or at someone's pool, and so it was what I wore every day," says McLeod. "At 50, I joined a masters swim team at my local pool. Our workouts were gruelling, and because the focus was on the swimming and not body image, all insecurities were washed away. The plus side of swimming hard was a much more toned body. However, having been a swimmer my whole life, wearing a suit in public is totally normal to me."
As for her favourite swimwear brands, Gillean tells us, "There's a swimsuit line in L.A. called Robin Piccone that I love, Norma Kamali two-piece suits fit well, and a few months ago I bought one from Trina Turk. For practice swimwear, I buy Tyr, as that brand fits me so well and has a great selection of styles and sizes."
In 2015, model Charli Howard wrote a powerful open letter on Facebook about being dropped from her agency when she was a size six. Since then, Howard has been fighting for wider representation in the industry. Last year, the model, who is now represented by Muse Models NYC, launched the All Woman Project, which created a campaign starring 10 diverse models wearing swimwear.
"Throughout my teens, I never wore a bikini. Not once," Howard tells us. "If I went to the beach, I'd wear a costume with a T-shirt on top. It didn't help that I'd constantly see perfect bodies in magazines or online, and if a celebrity had cellulite or wasn't 100% in shape, gossip magazines would point those flaws out and make fun of them. These pictures didn't encourage me to go out and do the same—if anything, it made me more self-conscious," she says.
Howard says that her journey to confidence in a bikini wasn't quick. She says, "I only began feeling comfortable wearing swimwear last year when I started the All Woman Project and had to wear a bikini in the photos. I realised my body wasn't all that bad in a bikini and that life's too short to worry about what other people think."
Howard posts lots of unfiltered images on Instagram of her wearing swimwear. "I think that it's very common to see beach perfect bodies on Instagram, and whilst these women are quite clearly beautiful, they don't represent other women out there," Charli tells us.
"I've been told that my bikini pictures are refreshing for a lot of women to see. It makes them feel 'normal.' None of us is perfect, but that doesn't mean you can't rock your body in a bikini! Don't get me wrong—sometimes you get a mean comment and it can totally ruin your day. I'm only human, and it's human nature to want to be liked. But then I remember that my worth isn't based on what others make of me. If I like how my body looks, then that's all that matters," says Howard.
As for the swimwear that always makes her feel confident, she says, "I love a new swimwear brand called Phylyda, which is where you can mix and match different styles to flatter your unique body shape. This is great, as a lot of low-cut bikini styles just don't suit me and give me a muffin top or make me look bigger than I am. I've started wearing a lot more high-waisted styles, which give me curves in the right places and—most importantly—more confidence."
French model and blogger Clémentine Desseaux, who launched the All Woman Project with Charli Howard, tells us of her relationship with swimwear: "It used to be a very traumatising experience like it is for most women. I felt like I always needed to hide my body that society didn't qualify as a 'beach body.' I felt ashamed."
"Now I love my body in any swimwear and am able to walk around proudly in it wherever I am. It all comes with time but also practice. You have to decide that you'll wear whatever you love regardless of other people's opinions or sometimes even your own judgments. I learned to take myself by the hand and say, 'Yes, you are worthy and sexy, and you can wear that,'" says Desseaux.
"Modelling really helped my confidence and moving to Miami was the best thing for me," she adds. "I saw women of all shapes wearing tiny bikinis, which was mind-blowing for me, coming from France where we're so, so self-conscious!"
As for the swimwear that makes her feel most confident, Clémentine tells us, "I love brands that understand my curves without trying to hide them. I am a big fan of one-pieces, not because I can't do a bikini, but because they are super comfy and I don't have to think twice about jumping waves, running, doing yoga or anything else. It's also chicer."
Swimwear has become a career for fashion editor Lily Russo, as she is the co-founder of swimwear shopping site Beach Flamingo. "When I was in my early teens, I was always much taller than my friends and had wider hips than them, which meant I was always aware of being 'larger,' even though I was probably still quite a small dress size," Russo says of her relationship with swimwear.
"Ironically, my most body-confident moments and memories are from my summer holidays in Puglia, Italy, on the beach in a bikini. In warmer countries, it is so normal to have your body on show—no matter your size—so I found it very liberating compared to London where I would always cover up. I've always been very active on the beach too, whether swimming in the water or playing bat and ball on the beach," says Russo.
"My mother always gave us body confidence and always told us we had great bodies," she adds. "She would always say enjoy your body now, as this is the best it will ever be. Which is so true. When you're young, you can get caught up comparing yourself to others who have a completely different body shape, but I accepted a long time ago that there will always be someone both thinner and larger than me, so I should be happy with the way I am.
"Finding a way to exercise that's fun is how I've dealt with turning 30 and realising you need to do more exercise and take care of your fitness as you get older. I've always danced, but three years ago, I started doing Brazilian Samba dancing and it has completely changed my body shape. I used to dance when I was younger, and after so many years taking a break, you don't realise how rigid your body becomes despite going to the gym or swimming. Dancing is all about using every part of your body—it makes you feel invigorated," says Russo.
Since Russo is a swimwear expert, I had to ask about the styles that make her feel the most confident. "Italians love wearing skimpy bikini bottoms, and like I said, having wide hips means there's more bottom to cover. However, it was my mother who taught me that wearing a great-cut bikini bottom with a scoop cut is far more flattering than hiding under swathes of fabric," she says.
"Buying swimwear, for me, was as important and as fun as buying any other item of clothing in my wardrobe, which it should be. My mum was all about the full outfit on the beach—bikini, kaftan, pretty sandals and earrings … the works. When I choose a bikini or swimsuit, it's like I'm choosing any other outfit. A combination of all these factors is what has made the beach the positive place for me it is today," says Russo.
As for brands, she advises, "Some of my favourites are Camilla, Eberjey and Lazul. Each of these pays a lot of attention to how they are cut and if they stay in place when worn, which is a must-have with swimwear. The last thing you want to be doing is worrying if you're going to expose yourself when you're meant to be relaxing in the sun."
When it comes to finding a bikini that'll make you feel confident, Russo says, "Don't follow trends; just wear what you like and what best suits your shape. If you aren't familiar with many swimwear brands, I always recommend buying a few to try on in the comfort of your own home. Trying on swimwear in department stores can be really depressing, as the lighting is always far too harsh."
She also stresses the importance of doing research on swimwear before purchasing: "Familiarise yourself with the different cuts of different brands, and when you find one you love, stick to it. Part of my job is to try out every new brand before we decide to stock them on the site, so I can give advice and make sure we love the brand before we start selling it to our customers. Our team's always on hand to give customers bikini-buying advice."
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.