Is Alexandra Shulman ‘Heroic’ For Posting A Bikini Selfie?

The former Vogue editor’s Instagram post is being hailed as ‘brave’ and ‘heroic’

Alexandra Shulman

by Rebecca Cope |
Published on

Last week, Alexandra Shulman uploaded what may or may not have been a totally innocuous picture of herself in a bikini to Instagram. The caption, ‘time for the boat trip’, as well as the messy background (would a professional influencer have left clothes strewn on the bed, or water bottles in the front of the frame?), suggest it may well have been just another holiday snap. Yet the headlines and comments turning it into something else came pretty quickly. The former Vogue editor was hailed as ‘brave’ and ‘heroic’ for her selfie in the press. Elsewhere, in the comment section, followers praised her for showing how ‘real’ women look.

Alexandra Shulman

As with Drew Barrymore’s makeup-free selfie, which betrayed her naturally bushy brows and grey hairs, Shulman’s post has been quickly fetishized as revolutionary in some way. As if a 59-year-old woman in a Boden bikini is something completely out of the ordinary. Of course, what is out of the ordinary is that Shulman, as a public figure, threw caution to the wind and decided to fly in the face of what her former industry perceives as aesthetically-pleasing. There is no thigh gap, endless limbs or exposed clavicle here. Instead, she is a trim, gym-fit middle-age woman on holiday, celebrating her choice to wear a two-piece and anyone that doesn’t like it be damned.

Shulman has said as much since the picture caught the Internet’s attention. Speaking to the Sunday Times this weekend she said: 'I happen to love bikinis and have never felt that it mattered to anyone how I looked wearing them. I fully intend to continue wearing them to my grave. I had no idea that sharing a picture of myself in a bikini on Instagram could provoke either the compliments or the outrage.'

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In an age where A-list women aren’t allowed to age, it is naturally refreshing to see such a realistic portrait of what the majority of 50-something women look like on the beach – as well as the fact that she’s not willing it hide herself away, as other women feel they have to. Indeed, new statistics released this weekend reveal that Shulman’s body confidence might not be so unusual after all: according to the survey by fashion brand M&Co, 65-year-old women are the most comfortable with how they look.

Throughout her tenure, Shulman was frequently the target of body shaming. People asked why she wasn't adhering to the stick-thin, groomed aesthetic expected of magazine editors. In the past, she's admitted that she is 'a little overweight'. On her resignation from Vogue, she spoke about wanting to find her identity outside the magazine - perhaps this is part of it.

Naysayers have seized the opportunity to criticise Shulman once again for proliferating the magazine industry’s penchant for rail-thin models – something she was held responsible for throughout her 25-year tenure at the glossy title. They ask why she couldn't have published images like this one when she was in charge. It makes one former colleagues comment ‘Why was this not our September cover?’ seem even more pointed.

But of course, you never would see a ‘real’ (cringe) 59-year-old woman celebrated on the cover of a magazine. Shulman throughout her career eschewed any blame for this, and although she was one of the most influential women in the fashion industry, it would be difficult to argue otherwise – it’s clearly an endemic attitude.

So, intentional or not, what does Shulman’s bikini selfie mean? We’d like to think it does what it says on the tin: a normal, 59-year-old woman, off for a boat trip, in a two-piece she loves, feeling totally confident in her own skin. Isn’t it sad that there’s something so revolutionary about that?

READ MORE: Why The Reaction To Drew Barrymore's No Makeup Selfie Is So Frustrating

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