It’s “bikini body” season, the time of year when women are reminded by diet plans and gyms to get “bikini ready.” As a surfer girl who spends weeks of each year at the beach, I can authoritatively say that women — no matter how fit or fat they are — are never “bikini ready.”
From my perch, floating on a surfboard, looking at aqua waves crash into limestone bluffs, I watch as women in bikinis and rash guards, usually petite or thin, enter the ocean with their surf instructors. Many are certain and confident. It’s exceptional to see a woman over size 12 head for the waves.
I see some women, first time surfers, get dangerously caught in crashing waves. Often, those not strong enough to paddle back out were weakened by “bikini ready” diets. The surfing and diet industries implies that if they are “bikini ready,” they’d be surf-ready — but it’s me, a 5’9”, size 14 woman, who recovers them from the rocks.
When I started surfing seven years ago, the sport didn’t strike me as a litmus test for body image and female confidence, but through it, I’ve been able to see women’s body images play out with sometimes dangerous consequences. I spend one to two months each year working remotely and surfing in Barbados. Bim, as it’s affectionately called, is the unofficial nation of the bikini, where hundreds of thousands of vacationing women don a bikini on the tropical island’s sandy beaches and world class surf spots.
In my twice daily surf sessions, I see dozens of women out on surf lessons. Women in sarongs and coverups sit onshore, snapping photos of their boyfriends and husbands, wishing they could be out there. Surfers talk a lot between sets, and women onshore often talk me up. From them, I learn that many dieted or did a juice cleanse to get “bikini ready.” For those who try out surfing, many find the images they’d been sold of skinny surf girls didn’t match up with the demands of paddling for a wave.
Both groups have been fed a lie about women’s bodies: that “bikini ready” means petite, slim, and, by default, strong, because they’re not “fat” nor “lazy.” Out on the waves of Barbados, women come to…