YOU with the Bikini Body

Warning, the topic I’m about to tackle may leave you shaken, feeling pale and insecure, and could bring on a life crisis that makes you swear to live “clean” like Gwyneth Paltrow from now on (or at least for an entire morning).  Yes, I’m talking about bathing suit shopping!

Wait — this is a good thing… It actually appears to be springtime in Canada after many months of gloom and despair. I’ve noticed that people are leaving their cubicles at lunch time, going outside, and turning their faces toward the sun like sad little plants kept too long in the dark. So let’s not let a little deathly fluorescent mall lighting, some cellulite, and horribly inconsistent sizing get between us and bodies of water. No! Let’s bravely dive (har har) into a new swimsuit adventure.


My favourite bikini: black and red patterned halter top with ruffled edge (La Vie en Rose). Not shown: black cheeky low-rise bottom with ruffled edge and ruching on the booty (Victoria’s Secret)

In the last 2 years, I’ve made the complete switch from one piece suits to bikinis with a transitional “tankini” period in between. And don’t think this happened because I’ve suddenly become a buff babe; no no, I’m 5’4” and a size 8/10/12 depending on which retailer you ask (anger: I’m even a 6, or a 14 sometimes; you gotta try on ALL the sizes). But I’ve decided, probably at the exact age at which women usually start covering up, that life is too short not to tan my belly. And it’s also too short to have to pull down my entire bathing suit just to go pee. So bikinis it is for me! In the last few months, I’ve actually purchased 4 bikinis in total and I’m starting to get the hang of this. I even ordered the last 2 online (and they fit!).The key is knowing what you want and what looks good. I’m going to try to help and encourage you as best I can, my only expertise being that I’ve been there and I’m a keen observer of beach fashions.

Many many bikinis: I am a firm believer in owning at least 2 bathing suits that look awesome. First of all, it’s practical — bathing makes you wet; therefore, it’s nice to have another dry one around in case you want to change. In another scenario, you might want a more modest suit for being around family, and a more naked suit for being in the Caribbean with your man. Either way, it’s a 2 suit minimum.

Marilyn bikini

Marilyn Monroe playing up her hourglass figure in a high-waisted ruched bikini (love the pile of books next to her!)

Body: I’m sorry to say it, but while the right bathing suit will make you look as good as you can possibly look while practically naked, it cannot fix what you don’t like about yourself. Jiggly white thighs might be your fate in life so just embrace it. And if you’re disease-free, eat mostly real food (as opposed to industrial junk), and aren’t a total couch potato, chances are you have a healthy woman’s body. Remember: Lots of other regular women will also be on the beach with stretch marks, flat butts, and wrinkly cleavage. Hurrah! Please do not stay covered up and feeling bad about yourself — live. NOW!

Colour: Usually, colours that look best on you while clothed will also work while semi-nude. I do think, though, that bright colours are especially nice for swimwear. There’s nothing wrong with a black suit, and white can look awesome too (as long as it’s properly lined), but do try to get a little playful with colour, especially for your second suit. One of the suits I ordered online (from La Vie en Rose Aqua) is a very saturated orange (“paprika”) that looks great with my yellow-based pale skin. My other suit, my favourite one, is black and red… which happen to be the 2 colours I wear most often in every day life. My third suit, which I ordered online from Victoria’s Secret, fits nicely but the fabric is a shimmery beige that is way too close to my skin colour. I had envisioned it as a grey-taupe that would enhance the gold in my skin. Lesson learned about ordering online: colours may not be exactly as shown.

Style: Obviously, finding the right style to flatter your body is the most important aspect of this whole thing. Usually, magazine articles with titles like “the best swimsuit for your body type” cover all of 3 or 4 types, something along the lines of: straight, athletic, curvy, plus sized. But we all know our bodies are much more unique and special that this would imply! I’m going to try to break it down for you —

Bust: If yours has some volume, you’ll need a cup that has padding (for shape) and/or structure such as underwire. This is why I buy my swimwear from lingerie shops; they’re good about wrangling the kittens.

  • Small: You can pretty much wear any style, including those bandeau styles or string tops, because you don’t need the hoisting action, but you might benefit from some ruffles, a scalloped edge, some ruching (actually, a scalloped edge and ruching are really pretty on everyone), or a busy pattern. Don’t shy away from padding or push-up action if it makes you feel good (it’s not “cheating”, just subtle enhancement).
  • Medium sized: You can do a halter or a bra style, but it should have some structure such as underwire or light padding.
  • Very large chest: Your only option may be the bra type style if a halter pulls too much on your neck. Keep patterns simple and graphic, or go unicoloured. And I’m sure you already know that a string won’t work (unless your boobs have been purchased at the surgeon’s office and magically stand up all on their own).
Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba wearing a low V halter top bikini with low-rise string bottom in a bright colour. This flatters her narrow hips and tanned cool-toned skin perfectly.

Shoulders: Ladies, you have narrow shoulders if they are much more narrow than your hips. Most women’s shoulders are slightly narrower than their hips. I have broad shoulders; they are a tiny bit wider than my hips.

  • Narrow: Skinny straps, or strapless, works best on you and the most flattering necklines are the ones that add volume, like scoop necksweetheart, or straight across (no high necks for you).
  • Average: You have your pick of necklines, but you may want to stay away from straps that are very small.
  • Broad: Really, us broad shouldered girls only have 2 options: Deep V, and high neck. Halter tops work best with these shapes.

Bottoms: Think about what kind of panties look cute on you and try to replicate this in the bathing suit world. Be aware that bottoms tend to sag when wet so go for the snuggest fit possible in order to avoid saggy beach butt.

  • Broad hips (or “pear” shaped, but I try to avoid comparing anyone to fruit, honestly): Your hips are broad if they are much wider than your waist and shoulders. You are the lucky gals that can wear boy short bottoms and still look feminine. You can also do a sort of 80s style bottom with the leg holes cut high at the hip, and you can try a cute skirted style too. Stay away from anything with a very low rise cut straight across the hip because this will emphasize the widest part of you.
  • Hourglass: Hips and shoulders that are roughly the same width with a narrow waist describe the classic hourglass shape (think Scarlett Johansson). Play up those curves with a low rise bottom, or a very high waisted 1940s style. String bikinis may look too flimsy on you.
  • Narrow hips: Hips that are only slightly wider than your waist are narrow (even though I feel anything but narrow, this technically describes me). Go for low rise bottoms with very slim sides, or strings. Bottoms that hit at the widest part of you will make your waist look smaller in comparison. I rarely see this, but I love a chevron shape (or V) in the front.
Florence Welch

Florence Welch illustrates why a straight across bandeau top and high-waisted retro bottom does not flatter someone with broad shoulders and narrow hips (best left to hourglass ladies). She’d be much better off in Jessica Alba’s suit in red, orange, or green to flatter her fair yellow-based skin.

Trying it on: Let’s all agree that it feels gross and weird to try on swimwear in stores and that the lighting is usually awful  Nevertheless, unless you know a brand’s fit very well, it’s probably best to try things on and not order online. My little trick for getting an objective view of myself is to take out my phone and snap a photo of myself in the mirror. An over-the-shoulder shot is also useful for seeing how you look from behind. I think the picture helps me to remove the emotion from the situation and get a real idea of how I look. Just remember to delete the bad ones when you’re done!

Just a word about men’s bathing suits — please aim for sexy as well, guys. Surfer shorts are too long and are not hot! And itsy bitty speedo styles go too far in the opposite [sleazy] direction. But there’s a happy medium: the body hugging short square leg style suit, yesss. If it’s good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for you.


Daniel Craig in square leg swim trunks; these look good on almost all men.

That said, it’s time for us to channel our inner Bond girl and let the world see us looking confident and care-free in all our bikinified glory this summer. We’ll all be gleefully splashing around in pools, rivers, lakes, and oceans soon! Good luck, and I’d like to hear about any swimsuit tips you have as well.


  1. The June U.S. edition of Elle has swimsuit recommendations for 3 body types: petite, hourglass, and athletic. So not helpful!!!


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