Model Jodie Heslop for Ruby swim
Model Jodie Heslop for Ruby swim

OpinionDecember 20, 2020

On swimwear, size, and finally feeling seen

Model Jodie Heslop for Ruby swim
Model Jodie Heslop for Ruby swim

Illustrator and creative Evie Kemp on a powerful – and unexpectedly moving – summer swimwear campaign.

This story was first published on Ensemble magazine.

I didn’t expect an Instagram post of a woman in a bikini to bring me close to tears. Not least one without a long-winded caption about body acceptance, but just a nice fashion campaign image of a woman, on a beach, wearing a bikini.

The photo involved was this: an image from Ruby’s Resort 2020 swim campaign featuring Jodie Heslop in her first major modelling gig looking, quite frankly, hot as hell – powerful, confident and beautiful.

To see a soft body, with lines, rolls, dimples and curves represented so casually, like it wasn’t even a thing, was like taking a deep breath after spending a lifetime holding it in.

It’s that same feeling of kicking off an uncomfortable pair of shoes you’ve been internally screaming in all day and hoping no one noticed how you hobble. It’s the feeling of comfort, and being given the permission to not just feel comfortable in your own body but, dare I say, even love it.

As a plus size woman this feeling of just existing unapologetically, of feeling the sun on my skin and sand up my bum is sadly all too novel and new to me. I’m almost 34-years-old and I haven’t sat on the beach in a bikini since I was about 15, and I can still remember how I cringed at my own body even then.

Model Jodie Heslop for Ruby swim

Earlier this year I saw a segment of an interview with Shrill actor and co-writer Aidy Bryant, where she talked about the sheer energy that she used to waste on constantly trying to hide or pretend that she didn’t have a bigger body, consumed by thoughts how every single thing about yourself – how you sit, what you eat, what you wear might be construed or criticised in the context of you being plus size.

That by sitting a certain way, or avoiding certain activities you might be able to trick people into thinking you are thin, as if to be considered thin is to have clocked life. I feel almost ashamed as I write this, thinking about the reality of spending so much of my life and my mind consumed by these thoughts, missing opportunities, hardening myself as if somehow that will disguise my physical softness.

I’ve worked hard at curating my social media and media intake to try and rewrite this dialogue I have with myself, my body and my self worth, and slowly but surely my mind is moving. It’s difficult when local powerhouse brands such as Karen Walker, offer more representation to my dogs than they do to me.

For all the fight that is given and shared in body positive circles (for which I am eternally grateful), my ‘90s child brain can still be dragged right back down with a flick through a magazine that offers only slim models and fashion that doesn’t come in my size, or anywhere close.

Model Mahalia Handley for Maggie Marilyn

So, you see, this image by Ruby, and moves by other coveted local brands like Maggie Marilyn and Maaike, to not only extend their ranges but to include larger models and offer custom sizing as well as accessibility customisations as a standard service, means so much more than just a refreshing photo. It’s an invite to the party; it’s not just being seen but being embraced, wanted and told that you are enough, just as you are. It takes the whole shame out of being, from people who have spent a lifetime in that shame.

I’d like to say I don’t need this external validation to accept myself but I’d be lying. I’ve got 34 years of messaging, imagery and myths to undo, so when I’m thrown a life raft – I grab it.

And so, that is how I found myself stopped in my tracks by just a photo of a woman in a bikini, feeling an incredible sense of relief. Obviously it’s early days and full inclusivity and representation goes much further than one model in one photo, but there’s a shift and I’ll be cheerleading it all the way, in my custom sized bikini, of course…with the sun on my lovely, big, bum.

Image: Tina Tiller

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