In my life, I have maybe managed to post half a bikini selfie on Instagram. I cropped it three times, filtering until I turned my blonde hair red, blurring, repositioning and eventually captioning it ‘Obligatory poolside selfie!’ I think I got one like.
There is nothing obligatory about a poolside selfie. We’re all capable of going on holiday without documenting the event shot for shot, second by second. But we fill our phones with photos. We don’t even wait until we’re home, sticking everything on Facebook as soon as there’s a bar of communal wifi. In Malta I almost dropped my phone off a balcony as I leaned out to post something on Instagram. In one way, who can blame us? If you are proud of the way your body looks in a bikini, why not share it with the world? What’s another bikini album between friends? Surely just a sign of a magnificent amount of self love!
The trouble is that the more I think about it, the less sure I am that a hundred posted bikini pictures are an indication of great self confidence.
Even in 2015, I have mixed feelings about the selfie. I feel like I’m under some strange pressure to post pictures of my own face, every so often, when every fibre of my being is screaming: ‘But your face isn’t news! You’re saying: “Here is what I look like!” to your friends, who already know what you look like!' A lot of it comes from feeling left out. When everyone I know is posting pictures that show how gorgeous they are, an evil element in my brain whispers: ‘But you don’t look this nice in your pictures! This means you’re ugly!’ and I feel possessed by an urge to drown myself in Amaro in order to join the pretty party. It’s bad enough most of the year, but come summer, social media is full of legs, bums and tums. I can’t compete – but looking at the pictures makes me feel as though I ought to be trying.
My friend Emma, 28, a doctor, recounts with great hilarity the story of a work colleague who spent a fortnight on the Amalfi coast with 14 different bikinis. ‘Her Facebook album was called “Italy”, but I’m still not convinced that she didn’t spend the trip at home, in her own bathroom. There was no beach, no scenery – not even any of the people that she went on holiday with. Just bikini pictures she took in a full-length mirror. She isn’t even smiling in any of them! Now, if someone takes a picture of me on the beach and I look hot, I’d probably post it. I might even make it my profile picture. But I wouldn’t stick up 30 of them – and definitely not ones that I’d taken myself.’
When pressed, Emma explains that for her, it’s a vanity issue. ‘It makes me laugh, but I do think there’s something a bit sad about needing to do it. I assume that these people must still be Facebook friends with an ex they’re out to impress, but I don’t think it’s a display of body confidence – more like insecurity.’
All I want for any woman is for her to feel comfortable in her body, but I think Emma has a point. Once you’ve put an image on Facebook or Instagram, you’re seeking some kind of reaction, and surely the image is no longer just for you. My friend Rosa, a student, 24, argues that she knows people who post bikini selfies who have the best of intentions. ‘Last summer, I loved the #fatkini Instagram hashtag. I’m a size 18, and it was amazing to see girls my size and bigger looking completely gorgeous, and refusing to cover up. That said, I don’t feel good when I see slender girls posting their bikini pictures – it reminds me that we still celebrate conventional beauty first, and it makes me feel ugly and excluded. But I know that you have a right to feel good about your body at any size, and this is about my issues, not the people posting photos. Also, if I were to work hard in the gym and lose weight and I felt proud of my achievements, I’d probably get naked on the beach and post a thousand pictures to Facebook.’
Rosa’s comments outline the hugely complicated relationships we have with our bodies. We can spend our lives trying to work out how to accept ourselves and feel good, and then a single strange bikinied breast will destroy our confidence sand castle – even though that’s never anyone’s intention, and it’s likely that a Facebook friend with a ‘perfect bikini body’ will be dealing with a few issues of their own.
Being a woman is bloody difficult. Everything we encounter somehow conspires to wreck our confidence. Our heads are filled with examples of who to be, what is perfect, and how we fail to measure up. Anything that we can claw back and use to rebuild our battered self esteem has to be a good thing. But when we live in a society that constantly reduces us back to our bodies, and uses that as a way to corral and limit us, are the bikini selfies helping or hurting? We might think that we’re in control of what we’re showing, but we’re still inviting people to judge us on our bodies.
If you’re about to post a bikini picture, ask yourself if it’s the first one of the trip. If it isn’t, does the picture have some other angle or area of interest? Are you with someone? Are you doing something cool? Can you see the local area? Is there a weird fish? If any of these apply, you’re good to go. If you’re standing in front of your bathroom mirror, point and shoot by all means. But it might be worth stopping before you hit send, and asking yourself why you’re posting and who you’re posting for. But then, what do I know? Maybe I’m just jealous.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.