Art, Beauty, and Gigantic Bathing Suits

By Katie, 8:06 am

I’ve got body image on the brain.

Can you blame me? Everywhere I look there’s a magazine or an advertisement reminding me that it’s time to go shopping for some overpriced, barely there, never supportive enough pieces of spandex to don at the next pool party. Women are constantly getting the message that having fun at the beach is as much about looking hot when we’re practically naked as it is about catching a good wave or enjoying the sun’s heat.

I’m always encouraging women to ignore such messages, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean I’m completely immune to them myself. Even though I know that my worth has absolutely positively nothing to do with a bikini, I still get anxious and uncomfortable about bathing suits.

So I was excited to come across the artist Rachel Lee Hovnanian‘s latest work, entitled The Power and Burden of Beauty. Great title, right?

Her installations – which include giant bathing suits like the one above – are meant to get women thinking about how image-driven our society has become, and about how we can choose to comply with that standard or challenge it.

In an interview with O Magazine, Hovnanian says, “I want women to have a sense of humor about how they look.”  So she brings that humor into her work.

I think her coolest piece is an interactive exhibit of a dressing room – complete with unflattering lighting and a funhouse-type mirror.

When viewers enter the exhibit, an overhead speaker plays an audio tape with phrases like, “I shouldn’t have eaten those chips.” Basically the voice inside of our heads. 8-O

I think the point is to demonstrate how ridiculous all of the bathing suit drama really is, while at the same time recognizing that it is a very real – and traumatizing – part of many people’s lives. To me it highlights the disconnect that I have struggled with for years – on the one hand, there is the simple fact that I know my body and my weight do not define me, that life is about so much more. On the other hand, I can’t pretend that the pressures don’t exist, that they don’t affect me or mean something to me.

In other words, there are days when I genuinely preach the message of body acceptance while still struggling to accept my own image in the mirror. Like so many of us, I am beyond it and not beyond it at the same time.

So I’m thankful for cool artists like this one whose work reminds me to continue to challenge society’s messages…and myself. :-)

What do you think of art work like this? Do you think that art has the power to change how society characterizes women and women’s bodies?


If you’re comfortable sharing, how are you doing on the bathing suit front this season? Like I said, I’m going back and forth, feeling really strong one moment but totally uncomfortable the next.

28 Responses to “Art, Beauty, and Gigantic Bathing Suits”

  1. Tina says:

    Okay I think you wrote this post for me. I was thinking how I need to go pick up a bathing suit today for this weekend and my upcoming beach trip and not looking forward to it. I love the statement of “I’m beyond it but not beyond it at the same time”. I think that is right where I am. On the whole, I appreciate my body and think it’s great and healthy. But when I think of donning a swimsuit, especially in the “bloaty, you look chubby not pregnant” stages of early pregnancy.

    I love that exhibit. I think it truly is art because it shares such a profound message so creatively. Very cool!

  2. Simply Life says:

    I love the creativity in this – fun dressing room! :)

  3. Super post! I’m not sure how well the art work stuff will work, but it doesn’t matter; any attempt to improve body image etc wins with me!
    I’m terrified of wearing a bathing suit…I haven’t worn one in years and don’t plan to (at least not for a while!) – I’m too pale :p

  4. Tamara says:

    The exhibit sounds awesome! I would have never thought to put something together like that–for once I can relate to an artist’s message. Usually the modern types are too obscure for me.

    As for bathing suit season, it’s not really an issue for me because I don’t have access to a beach or nice lake to lounge by. At most I might put on the suit from two years ago to take a dip in the over-chlorinated university rec center pool. Which reminds me, I should make sure it still fits. My bra size was two cups bigger when I bought it….

  5. Great post!

    Oh bathing suit season… I love and loathe it at the same time. Living on a lake, I’m in a bathing suit a lot. Generally I feel pretty good about my body, but when a certain 1 of my friends visits (you know, the naturally tiny, no cellulite friend that everyone has), I find myself wanting to stay in my cover up. It’s just stressful thinking about everyone comparing my body to hers, even though in reality no one is doing that but me. Ridiculous? Yes, but I have a feeling I’m not the only one :)

  6. Elina says:

    Yeah, this is quite the topic. I just wish we never had to wear bathing suits. Period. HATE THEM!
    I love this art exhibit but unfortunately it doesn’t make the bathing suit shopping (or wearing) experience any less uncomfortable. I think unless you’re generally comfortable with your body, it never will be (despite knowing that it’s stupid). I really really need to buy a new bathing suit and just can’t bring myself to do it (the recent weight gain doesn’t help the cause). I’m hoping a little bit of extra exercise and clean food will make me feel like I’m taking care of my body and then I’ll brave those mirrors. Yikes.
    PS – I can’t believe you are uncomfortable in a bathing suit. You are a skinny mini. I’m sure you can rock one!!!! :D

    • Katie says:

      The way I’m built I carry most of my weight in my chest and my stomach, so I definitely struggle to find a flattering one…the top needs to have an underwire, which isn’t easy to find!!! You look fantastic, by the way! I don’t know what you’re worried about! I thought that as soon as I saw the pics from your last vacation. :)

  7. i LOVE art like this.. i think because the message isnt vocalized.. it may seem subtle but u leave the studio with the strongest and loudest message ringing out! i think its fantastic!!

    im pretty confident for bathing suit season.. we all have flaws, and no matter the size i think everyone should feel confident enough to enjoy the summer in a swimsuit.. even if its a onesie <3

  8. What a great idea for art! Love it!

    I’m like you and feeling very back and forth about bathing suit season…some days good, some days bad. I have to actually get in one next weekend though so that will be the true test to see how I feel! :/

  9. Great post! I am hating bathing suit season this year. Seriously hating it! I don’t even know why. I haven’t changed since last summer yet for this reason I am miserable in a bathing suit! UGH!

  10. I meant yet for this season….(not reason)

  11. Holly says:

    I love this exhibit! Sometimes I think about how much time I’ve wasted worrying about myself in a bathing suit, and I am baffled at why it causes me such worry and stress.

    I’m “better” than I used to be, meaning I guess more accepting of my body and the parts I just can’t change. I think a LOT of it has to do with who I’m around when I’m in a bathing suit. Now that I’m old(ER) ;-) most of my friends aren’t trying to flaunt their stuff in tiny bikinis like they did 10 years ago. And I tell myself that I notice my “flaws” more than others – whether or not that’s true, I’m not sure….but it helps to tell myself that. :-)

  12. i love this! i mean, it’s insane how we put so much emphasis on our looks rather than the things that really matter…are we healthy? educated? loved? truly happy? i hate bathing suits, and the sole reasons are because I don’t look like a bikini model in them and it’s hard to find any that actually FIT someone other than an Abercrombie model!

    • Katie says:

      Agreed! I struggle so much to find one that is supportive enough for me on top. I’m waiting for a bathing suit company to figure out that it would make a lot more money if it started making suits that fit a variety of bodies!

  13. Wow, that exhibit sounds really cool! The voice thing sounds kind of creepy but I bet it has a huge impact. Hopefully things like this will help people view their bodies in a more positive light.

  14. That’s a very interesting piece of artwork! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  15. I have a confession to make. When I decided to hire a personal trainer, one of my motivations was looking good in a bathing suit for a trip I was going to be taking in 4 months. Honestly, the workouts that my trainer puts me through are really tough, but the image of a swimsuit kept me going during those 4 months. Of course, there are a whole of lot better reasons for working out and great benefits, but being able to take the cover-up off on my vacation was pretty fun!

  16. I think it’s great to be able to laugh about this stuff! I like it!

    I am at the same place as you I feel like…I’m getting a lot better with my self image, but I am not 100%. I do like my bathing suit that I have for the summer, so that’s a good thing!

  17. Emily says:

    I love this stuff! That dressing room exhibit is too cool.

  18. Haha…love the fun house mirror because that’s exactly how we all feel, isn’t it? I’m like you: comfortable one minute and then scared to death the next. But, I keep telling myself that my body is strong and it’s not for anyone else, so it doesn’t matter what they think of me!

  19. Shawnee says:

    Thanks for this post! I was struggling with this today. :/

  20. Meg says:

    That art exhibit is so cool! It’s so simple and understated concept but absolutely brilliant!

    I feel ok in a swimsuit, I try to realize that I don’t have to look like I am emaciated to look good in my two piece. I’m a pear shape, so I tend to end up feeling a little flat on top. I think the hardest thing about buying a swimsuit is the models look so amazing in the suits. Then I go to try it on and look nothing like that! Arg. But I try to always, always remember the it’s also been airbrushed so it’s a bit of an uneven comparison. Besides, no one is paying attention to all the flaws you think are so obvious! :)

    • Katie says:

      That is so true! We always see every little flaw in the mirror, but no one else does! :)

  21. sophia says:

    Wow, this was so interesting! That woman…she’s someone to be admired, and her creativity and humor in this is awesome.

    I myself succumb to body image issues all the time, even though I used to try to pretend I could care less. I’m surrounded by girls and women talking about diet and weight all the time. It’s definitely ridiculous…yet at the same time, very very real.

  22. I love this! I think artwork like this is so important, and can really be helpful and empowering. That said, I agree with your statement about being beyond it and not beyond it at the same time. I want to take my son to a baby swim class, but that would mean getting in a bathing suit in front of people and that terrifies me! I’m not proud of feeling that way, but I do. The only time I ever remember being confident in a bathing suit was the same point in my life that my doctor told me I was jeopardizing my fertility by starving myself.

    Maybe the key is getting messages like this artist’s to young girls (and boys, too) BEFORE they get sucked in like we did. Empowered right from the start. Not sure if it’s possible, but it’s a nice thought.

    I am proud, however, that things like “fat-free,” “low-carb” and “diet” are no longer part of my life.

  23. I have mixed feelings about art like this. Obviously this kind of art is there to make a statement…but I miss art that is beautiful to look at, art that tries to capture an ideal and inspire us. It’s not like I would want this installation in my house!

    That said it is interesting, and it does make a point, though I doubt it will change anything. Those who see body image as an issue will be reaffirmed, for those who don’t care, well, they’ll go on not caring.

    As for me I am not bathing suit ready, but at the end of the day if I want to go swimming I’ll go! I wish those swimsuits from the 1940′s would come back in style already!

    • Katie says:

      I completely agree with you that much modern art has taken a turn away from the traditional, “ideal” images that are based more on beauty and technique than on any kind of social or political statement. And unfortunately I think you correct that art like this will reaffirm those who are already aware of body image issues, but totally miss those who aren’t. Because honestly, the people who would go to see this exhibit in the first place are probably already somewhat enlightened about the topic.

      Love your attitude when it comes to bathing suits and swimming! :)

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