‘Every single body is a bikini body’: Body-positive advocates discuss inclusive swimwear shopping tips and best picks

By JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — “Fun in the sun” feels a little different this year, but it hasn’t stopped many of us from finding the perfect swimsuit for a dip in a backyard pool or a vacation in the foreseeable future.

While people search far and wide to look for options that are beach-ready every summer, finding size-inclusive picks isn’t always an easy task — especially with many fitting rooms remaining closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The average American woman wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to a study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education. Yet, most stores carry traditional straight sizes which range from 00-12. Fashion influencers agree that the limited options that are left make looking for swimwear even more daunting than regular clothes.

“I think that many designers are still afraid to jump on the inclusivity train,” model and advocate Hunter McGrady told Good Morning America. “True inclusivity, not just going up to a size 12.”

“The options just aren’t really there for us,” she added. “If the few sites that you love don’t have something you like, you feel really defeated.”

Lifestyle blogger and creator of #FatAtFashionWeek, Kellie Brown, also told GMA, “Retailers who cater to larger sizes will include swim a few times a year to help fill a void, but there are very few dedicated swim brands with truly inclusive sizing. For reference, adding two extra sizes isn’t inclusive.”

Though there are many brands that could use an update in their swimsuit sizing departments, there are brands such as Swimsuits For All and Chromat that are often applauded for their diverse offerings.

There are also lots of influential body-positive advocates who have figured out how to successfully shop for swimwear. GMA spoke to six of these inspirational people to get insight on how to browse through everything from beautiful bikinis to amazing one-piece looks — no matter what body type you have.

Brown said the perfect “bikini body” is any body in a bikini. “I’d love to see the term disappear,” she said. “Implying there’s only one way to look to wear a bikini is ridiculous.”

Before your next swimwear shopping haul, check out more tips, best practices and body-positive suggestions from six women who rock their swim looks with true confidence and allure.

Hunter McGrady
– Model, advocate and designer of All Worthy

What’s your idea of the perfect “bikini body?” Every single body is a bikini body. If you have a body, you have a bikini body.

Has the fashion industry become more inclusive when it comes to swimwear offerings? I think we are very slowly getting there, but there’s not nearly enough. I don’t understand why every store wouldn’t want to cater to every body. We are all worthy of wearing beautiful things and wearing gorgeous swimsuits; however, it isn’t entirely available for us at this time.

What are any specific tips you could give to others who find it challenging to shop for swimwear? Have patience and try new things. I always thought I had to wear one certain cut and then I kept trying different styles and my taste really changed. I ended up loving the things I was trying. Society had made me believe I was only allowed to wear one style, so I encourage you to have fun with it.

What’s your process like when shopping for swimsuits?
I typically go into swimsuit shopping with low expectations, and when I am surprised it is absolutely amazing. I praise companies like Swimsuits For All, Playful Promises, Eloquii, Alpine Butterfly and ASOS Curve for bringing true inclusive sizes to the forefront when it comes to swimsuit shopping.

What kind of things do you look for in your ideal swimsuit and why? Support, support, support! When I am heading to the beach or the pool I want to ensure that I am feeling supported and don’t have to worry about something falling out. I want to be able to enjoy the waves or water just like anyone else.

What are some of your top three favorite swimsuits you own right now and why?

Ashley Graham x Swimsuits For All Elite Striped Ribbed Triangle Bikini: I actually wore it in this year’s issue of Sports Illustrated and I felt so sexy in it.

Gabi Fresh x Swimsuits For All Vanguard Cup Sized Ribbed One Piece Swimsuit: This black one-piece is like a chic elevated one-piece. The gold hardware is so stunning.

Alpine Butterfly BFF swimsuit: I really love the girly flirtiness of this swimsuit! It is one of those ones where you could slip a high waisted skirt on after your day at the beach and head to dinner and it looks like a full look.

Kellie Brown – Lifestyle influencer and creator of #fatatfashionweek

What’s your idea of the perfect “bikini body?” Any body in a bikini. I’d love to see the term disappear. Implying there’s only one way to look to wear a bikini is ridiculous.

Has the fashion industry become more inclusive when it comes to swimwear offerings?
Not really. There are a few brands that I can think of who include maybe a size 14 or 16, but my mind is hard-pressed to think of straight-size brands who go beyond that.

What are any specific tips you could give to others who find it challenging to shop for swimwear?
Every human no matter their shape or size is deserving of the best beach and pool days. Be kind to yourself and pick things you like rather than trying to hide.

What’s your process like when shopping for swimsuits? I’m generally looking for two categories: something sporty that I can swim laps or do aqua aerobics in [and] I also like things that make me feel really cute [like] bikinis, cool colors or interesting silhouettes. I look everywhere because there isn’t one place to look. Generally, I’ll order them online and keep what I like best.”

What kind of things do you look for in your ideal perfect swimsuit and why?
Above all, fit. It needs to be comfortable. I prefer halters that aren’t choking and ones that don’t give me the feeling like I’ll pop out for lap swimming. I look for swimsuits that are chlorine resistant and supportive as well.

Also, I’ve had a thing for white bikinis this summer.

What are some of your favorite swimsuit styles right now and why? I have a couple of crinkle bikinis. I like them because they are bright and colorful but also insanely comfortable. I also have a tie-front white bikini with a small ruffle detail that’s really sweet. Another fave is from last season but it’s a zip front surfer inspired color block one-piece.

Katie Sturino – Fashion influencer and founder of Megababe

What’s your idea of the perfect “bikini body?” Any body is a bikini body, and I think that that’s something that we’re starting to come to terms with — that “bikini body” has not necessarily been a helpful term in our society. I think the more we can talk about that and dismantle that, the more positive women will feel about their bodies.

Has the fashion industry become more inclusive when it comes to swimwear offerings? I think that people who make swimsuits have necessarily expanded fully into plus, so there’s just a really limited amount of options out there still. But, there are companies out there that do it well, but they are few and far between.

What’s your process like when shopping for swimsuits? I go to where I buy clothes — so I browse stores such as Madewell which decided to expand into plus swimsuits. I like Madewell’s clothes so to me that signals that maybe they figured out the fit. I also look at places like Swimsuits For All. I go to Instagram and see like, “Oh, I like that suit. She’s about my size. That might fit me.” That kind of thing is really where I’d start.

What kind of things do you look for in your ideal swimsuit and why? If I go to a website to specifically browse plus-size swimsuits, I will check to see if they have those swimsuits photographed on a plus model, which also means that they’ve invested in making appropriate plus-size swimsuits. That’s a good giveaway and a signal that the company is probably going to fit me better than someone else who’s tossed a 2XL on their website.

You also want support, so looking for things that have either sturdy straps or underwires or not just that one cup, like that insert that I think everyone just takes out anyway, because it ends up filling with water.

Plus-size swimsuits are also typically high-waisted and the bikinis are typically high-waisted, and I find that those are the most comfortable to wear because they really hold you in.

What are some swimsuit trends or picks you’re really loving now?
I love an athletic cut top, so one that is kind of sports bra adjacent with just a high-cut brief. That’s one of my favorite looks, and that’s really good for body types that don’t necessarily have a ton of curves. For example, I’m actually not that curvy. I’m kind of straight up and down, so I love an athletic style suit.

I also have a great one-piece that helps give me more curves and a more defined waist.

Sarah Chiwaya – Plus-size style blogger of Curvily and founder of New York City Plus

What’s your idea of the perfect “bikini body?” I’m a firm believer that anyone that wants a bikini body just needs to put a bikini on. When I was younger I was too scared to wear a bikini because I thought I always had to cover up. My body hasn’t gotten smaller since, but I have gotten more comfortable in my own skin and realized that confidence is something that grows when you dare to wear the thing you never thought you could.

Has the fashion industry become more inclusive when it comes to swimwear offerings? I wouldn’t say the industry as a whole has become more inclusive — even some of the handful of brands that are expanding sizing in their clothes aren’t doing so for swimwear, but there are definitely far more options today than even five years ago.

Plus-size swimsuits used to be almost uniformly black, skirted tankinis emphasizing control panels and “slimming” coverage. Now, more and more brands are realizing that the majority of American women want fun, on-trend swim options just like straight-size women do, and are stepping up to meet that demand.

What are any specific tips you could give to others who find it challenging to shop for swimwear? Find bloggers and influencers that have a similar body type to help you get an idea of what suits will look like on you. Representation matters so much, so you will feel more confident when you order — and hopefully get practical tips for shopping, too. On my own Instagram, I have a regular try-on series called #inthefittingroom where I get into the fit and sizing details of everything I try on, and my readers say it is really useful for helping them order the right size, especially from new companies they weren’t familiar with before.

What’s your process like when shopping for swimsuits? I get most of my swimwear inspiration from other plus-size bloggers on social, which is also where I find most of my cute, fashionable swimwear in plus sizes. I love finding new independent swimwear brands to shop, and also keep an eye out for influencer collabs from some of the big swim sites. The GabiFresh for Swimsuits For All collection is a perennial fave of mine.

What kind of things do you look for in your ideal swimsuit and why? As with clothes in general, I’m all about dressing for my swim mood. So my bathing suit wardrobe has everything from strappy animal print numbers that are more suited to poolside lounging to more substantial one-pieces that are perfect for jumping around in the waves.

From a practical standpoint, my perfect swimsuit has sufficient room and support in the bust so I feel secure that I’m not in danger of a wardrobe malfunction.

What are some of your top three favorite swimsuits you own right now and why? This is a hard question because I have so many that I love. I think my current favorites are my classic string bikini from Curvy Beach, my long sleeve cutout suit from Chromat and my high-waisted BFF suit from Alpine Butterfly.

Nicole Simone – Fashion influencer behind Curves on a Budget

What’s your idea of the perfect “bikini body?” It’s cliché, but a body in a bikini. Bikinis on every body type need to be normalized.

Has the fashion industry become more inclusive when it comes to swimwear offerings?
I think actual plus brands maintain consistent inclusivity, however most brands still only go up to a size 18 or offer extended sizes up to a 20. Also, I can only name maybe four places I can go walk into right now and try on a swimsuit before I buy it. So no, I don’t think there’s more true inclusivity, just brands expanding their size range just enough to say they carry plus.

What are any specific tips you could give to others who find it challenging to shop for swimwear?
Know your measurements! Especially now, since going out to a store may not be an option for most and since sizing is different from brand to brand. Also, go into it excited. You deserve cute and trendy swimwear. You are worthy enough to wear any suit you please

What’s your process is like when shopping for swimsuits?
When I shop for swimsuits it’s almost always online. It’s very rare that I have the option to try anything on before I buy it. None of the models look like me physically so it’s important that I know my measurements. That’s how I decide if it’s going to fit me properly.

What kind of things do you look for in your ideal perfect swimsuit and why?
I love cut-outs and anything with underwire. Cutouts are just really fun and an easy way to show skin without showing all the skin if that makes sense. I’m a DD and as cute as strappy halter tops are, this girl and her girls need support.

What are some of your top three favorite swimsuits you own right now and why? My top three are a black cutout suit from the Gabi Fresh Collection from swimsuits for all, a white Ashely Graham bikini — it was my first teeny bikini ever and I’ll never get rid of it. Also, this blue tie-dye bikini from Shein because I’m obsessed with that trend right now.

Allison Kimmey – Plus-size influencer and self-love expert

What’s your idea of the perfect “bikini body?” My idea of the perfect bikini body is any body. If you have a body and you put a bikini on it, you have a bikini body. Its the perfect bikini body because it’s your bikini body and no one else has your exact body, with your exact experiences in your body.

Has the fashion industry become more inclusive when it comes to swimwear offerings? Relatively speaking, yes I think that the fashion industry has taken some steps to become more inclusive. However, I still can only walk into a handful of stores and actually try on a swimsuit. But, there are more brands that enter the space and try to answer that void every year, which is exciting.

However, I still see that the sizing options don’t normally extend past a 2x or size 18/20 which is certainly not size inclusive of all bodies. I’d love to start seeing 4x, 5x, 6x offerings. Some brands are finally getting that just because we may need a larger size, doesn’t mean we want to cover up every inch of our bodies — we want to show them off.

What are any specific tips you could give to others who find it challenging to shop for swimwear? Always start with a pep talk, be your own hype woman, or bring someone who can be that for you. That internal dialogue can have you leaving a store with nothing because you’ve talked yourself out of wearing that bikini. You can wear anything when you want and the first thing you have to put on is your confidence.

I love looking at some of my favorite influencers on Instagram to see what swimsuits they are wearing. Find someone that is a similar size and body shape to you — it’s very inspirational to see other women wearing things you might not normally wear to give you ideas and some confidence to try it yourself.

Try things that are outside your comfort zone. If you see it and your initial reaction is, “Oooh! I like that,” then try it.

What’s your process is like when shopping for swimsuits?
My personal swimwear shopping process starts with a pep talk, and yours should too. Trying on swimwear can be really triggering and leave you feeling less than confident about your body. I like to remind myself that I am worthy of wearing whatever I want and that I should choose whatever I like best, not what I think others will feel most comfortable with.

I also prefer online shopping for swimwear because I am not a fan of dressing rooms — there’s terrible lighting plus tiny spaces which equals a nightmare for me. I love being in my own home, where I have time to try on the pieces, walk around, and see how they make me feel.

What kind of things do you look for in your ideal swimsuit and why? I always go straight for the two-pieces as I love that there is so much versatility in fit and mix/match combinations. The first thing that usually draws my attention is the color or pattern, I love bold and bright colors and I am not afraid to mix patterns.

The next thing I usually look for is dependent on what I need for that particular suit. That might sound funny, but there are different types of swimwear for different activities, and being a Florida beach gal, I have a swimsuit for anything: I have classy, modest one-pieces, full coverage and supportive sporty suits or cheeky sets for when it’s just me and the hubby.

Other things to consider are how much support you need either in the bust or tummy.

What are some of your top three favorite swimsuits you own right now and why? When choosing my top three bathing suits, it was very difficult since I own over 75 bathing suits, but here are some of my different bathing suit “personalities.”

One of my favorite fairly size-inclusive brands is Summersalt, and my favorite suit right now is the Ruffle Sidestroke. I love how you can easily go from day to night without skipping a beat in these trendy and classy one-pieces.

My next favorite bikinis are from one of my tried and true brands, Swimsuits for All. They have been making suits in sizes 8-24/26 for a very long time, and they do it really well. Swimsuits for All has a very wide selection of styles, from cheekier bikinis to full coverage swim dresses, you can find anything you’re looking for there!

Aerie has affordable mix-and-match pieces. The high-cut high-rise bikini bottom is my most comfortable and favorite bottoms. All their patterns are super fun and easy to mix with other tops and bottoms. They are always launching new collections all the time.

Editor’s Note: Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity and conciseness.

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