Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Why Speedo Sculpture suits do women no favours....

Swimwear company, Speedo, have launched a women's swimsuit line called "Sculpture". It's a product which, we are told, uses "exclusive body shaping fabrics and visual design tricks to smooth, shape and enhance your curves, so you feel confident and comfortable in your swimwear from the moment you're wearing it", not only in the water, but also in the changing room and poolside. The suits apparently use "optical illusions" to slim, lengthen and balance the body, as well as cleverly "distracting" from "the bits you're not so keen on".

These magical"camouflage" suits, we are told, will disguise lumps and bumps, minimise your hips, slim your body, narrow your waist and enhance a small bust.

My problem with these is, firstly, that they preach a message of body confidence for women while telling women that they can only feel confident when their 'flaws' are covered up; Speedo offer unambiguous confirmation that, yes, small boobs / thickened waist / lumps and bumps etc are flaws, and yes, disguising them will make everyone feel more comfortable. Encouraging women to cover up their bodies before they can be acceptable betrays a contempt for women and their bodies.

Secondly, the website assumes that women should consider themselves objects of surveillance by others; that they should need to worry about how they appear on the poolside (or in the changing rooms!!!) takes for granted that women should be aware at all times that they are objects of the gaze and should discipline their bodies accordingly.

Thirdly, the entire logic of the suits is to make women's bodies disappear. With the predictable exception of breasts, the suits are oriented towards making the body smaller, flatter and smoother. Women's bodies should be allowed to take up space, both in and out of the pool, and that should never be conditional on their size and shape.

And finally, who are they kidding? Unless these suits are hand-stitched by fairies, the body is the body and no amount of clever strips of fabric or neck-lines are going to change what it is. And why the hell should we?

I am not so naive that I don't know that for many women, the semi-nakedness of the pool is a very stressful environment, and I know that body confidence (whatever that is) cannot be brought into being simply by wishing. There are very real social costs to having a body that doesn't 'fit' and to seek to minimise that stigma is a rational choice. But for a company to play on these insecurities instead of shouting from the rooftops that swimming is amazing and there's room for any body makes me very sad.