AD in collaboration with Selfridges.
“Do you not get nervous taking photos in front of other people?”
The question slowly spins in my mind as I stand on the beach, about to strip off with rain clouds overhead and a gaggle of intrigued seasiders in the wings.
Usually, the answer is no. I’ve been taking outfit photos for years and years now, and I’ve experienced everything from people believing their invisible if they peek from behind the blinds in their office, to hi-vis champions lunging into frame and heckles from passing cars. I’ve been told to smile. I’ve been given unsolicited photography advice. I’ve been laughed at. I’ve been complimented. I’ve been tapped up for outfit details in an IRL “babe, where are these [x] from?”. In short: I’m used to it. But in this moment, standing in the sand with an audience an arm’s length away, I did feel nervous.
Bikinis are scary territory for me. I’m not uncomfortable with my body but I’m used to it being covered up - even when I’m in bed I’m usually wearing some kind of tired old t-shirt or a pair of tracksuit bottoms in one of my varying shades of grey. I don’t go on beach holidays, either, so it’s not like I’ve had years of sun-swathed practise on some picturesque peninsula somewhere. Here and there there’ll be a girls’ weekend with a hot tub or a day taking photos, but other than that, swimwear is kind of alien to me. I’m still in the process of swearing myself into the, it seems, but working with Selfridges to share this Seafolly bikini is as good an initiation as any.
It’s time to undress. My friend Jess has kindly offered to help me shoot and so she’s standing there, holding up her coat as I whip off my dress and blazer. The clouds are ink-stained and creeping slowly closer, and a group of teenagers stare as I wriggle to readjust my bottoms. The fact that I’m wearing white makes me feel an inch further outside of my comfort zone; I’m usually kitted out in an all-black ensemble, the equivalent of a reversed Viennese finger with a blonde dunk of hair on top. All at once I feel very seen.
Surprisingly, this isn’t my first foray into designer swimwear. I don’t do bikinis often but when I do, I like the pieces to feel special. I think an air of disposability has been conjured around swimwear (here’s looking at you, £1 bikini), and whereas a couple of mix’n’match pieces would have previously been enough for a week by the pool, now an arsenal of ensembles are pulled out from the suitcase, complete with their own shoes, bags, jewellery and sunglasses. The drive is quantity over quality for a sake of different social shots, and these trend-led pieces are often then discarded in place of something newer for the next trip. They become redundant so quickly. I don’t want that to be the case for the few swimwear pieces I own; I want to be able to revisit them time and time again as classic items I know and love, and investing in higher quality brands means I know that they’ll last and that they feel more special to me.
Not wearing high-waisted bottoms was a challenge for me, though. That’s my happy place - my I-may-be-on-show-but-I’m-still-a-bit-covered-up place. Seafolly swimwear have some beautiful bottom options which echo that retro-esque higher waistline, but I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something different. I loved the thicker band on the matching top (if you get side-boob chub like me then I’d always recommend a top with a thicker band underneath) so the deal had to be done.
So there I am, the only person across the immediate stretch of beach in a bikini, shooting on the shoreline with a stream of people passing by on the path. I feel awkward in my own body; “I don’t know how to stand when I’m not wearing normal clothes”, I tell Jess. I shuffle and shift, I step out and take strides and spin and stop. We snap and snap and snap, until I ask if I can have a quick look at what we’ve taken so far.
And you know what? They photos are actually okay. They’re alright. The image I had in my mind of being awkward and uncomfortable isn’t translated on the screen, and gradually - gradually - I start to relax. I start to remember that often the picture we have in our mind of ourselves is not the one that other’s see, and every foible and fault that we pick out with a microscopic attention to detail - they’re magnified by us. They’re made into bigger beasts by us. And actually, something as trivial as a bikini with a lower waistline can make us feel good about ourselves (well, me at least), by way of forcing us to confront the judgements we make about our own bodies and the narrow parameters we set for what will and won’t look good on us. Which is why I think they’re worth investing in, coincidentally.
The final shots are ticked off the list and the promise of rain grows tangibly close. I squeeze back into my dress and frantically dust the sand away from my toes (isn’t that the worst?! I hate feeling grains of sand on my feet), and the remainders of our little trip - the picnic basket, the books, the oversized bougie hat - are all packed away. I anxiously anticipate flicking through the photos and deciding in hindsight that I hate them, but later when I sit down with a brew and an air of impatience, I’m happy with what I see. I reflect back to when I first started taking photos and I had to wait for the road to completely clear before I’d dare strike a pose, and I feel proud, despite it’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things, that I’ve continued to challenge myself and force my confidence forward.
Plus it’s a real cute bikini, right?