At this time of year we are bombarded with magazine and website articles telling us how to get “bikini ready” for the New Year. As a Woman Of A Certain Age with a beach holiday on the horizon, I alternately devoured these articles or shunned them completely, knowing that I had failed in my plans to lose 5kg before our holiday and that my bikini body was nowhere in sight.
Fast forward to the day before we fly. I stand in the fitting rooms in Target with an array of bikinis, having convinced myself that my elegant but sensible black one-pieces would not be enough to tide me over for twelve days on a tropical island. I buy a purple two-piece, two sizes larger than my usual size in the desperate hope that it will somehow make me look thinner.
Two weeks later, after piling on even more pounds in the winter wonderlands of the northeastern United States, I stand on the balcony of our beachfront apartment and know I am going to spend the whole beach holiday in that purple bikini. I am so happy to be in the sunshine, on one of my favourite beaches in the world, with good company and (god help us) excellent food, that I no longer care how I look. All that matters is how I feel, and I feel like a Tropical Queen.
By day two I have perfected my sashay down the beach before immersing myself in the turquoise water to cool down. The purple bikini is now way too big for me, having already stretched in the seawater. I fold the bottoms down to make them even smaller – the suntan is all that matters now.
Every day I watch a procession of tourists walking past. Women of all shapes, sizes and ages sport a staggering array of swimwear. Without the aid of a spreadsheet (this is a holiday, after all) I watch and analyse, and the Five Commandments of Bikini Wearing emerge (specifically for Women Of A Certain Age, but relevant to any woman who is a little less than confident in her appearance).
- Choose a bikini. Don’t choose a one-piece. No piece of swimwear is going to make you look like Halle Berry coming out of the sea in that Bond movie, and anyway all that fabric on your tummy in the sun will be really uncomfortable. Relax. You are on holidays. By day three you are going to feel like a Tropical Queen and will believe you look like one too. You look fine, and anyway nobody is watching you because they are either worried about their own wobbly bits or they are already at Tropical Queen status in their head. If you are still unsure, throw a sarong in to hide your curves until day three.
- Avoid Large Bikini Bottom Syndrome. You have already decided to wear a bikini. Don’t spoil it by going large. Any stylist will tell you that swathes of patterned fabric draws attention to any area of the body, and anyway it will make you look middle-aged. In the past week I have seen a size 18-20 lady at the water’s edge, shoulders thrown back, rocking a skimpy sunshine-yellow bikini and looking like a goddess. I have also seen a couple of thin, athletic women of a similar vintage, slightly stooped, looking like apologetic grandmas in their big-knicker bikinis. Don’t do it unless you have a real reason for that extra support like a post-op scar. You may not be able to see this in the badly lit fitting rooms of your local mall, but take my word for it: you want a fairly skimpy bikini bottom, no more than an inch and a half or 3cm of fabric at the side of your body. If you can find one that ties on the side, so much the better. Remember, the fabric will stretch after a few days and the last thing you want is a bikini bottom that looks like a full nappy, or one that falls off as you get out of the water (it’s happened on this beach twice in the past week).
- Bikini tops must be multi-functional, or else you will need more than one bikini. In fact, you probably need at least two or three bikinis for a two-week holiday. Remember, this is essentially your “working wardrobe” of the trip. Never mind how many frocks you pack for the evenings – you will be spending up to ten hours a day in your swimwear, and you will be doing more than lying on a sunbed in that time. Your bikinis need to work for sunbathing, strolling on the beach, jumping into the water and drinking cocktails at the bar. Bandeau type bikini tops are great for minimising tan lines; the ones with a removable halter straps are great for a bit more security when wandering about or when hit by a rogue wave. More well endowed ladies will need properly fitted bikini tops in the appropriate cup size. Again, a halter-neck top will help with the support and look great.
- Choose strong colours and patterns. This is no time for nuance: look for bold colours and designs especially if you are a pale-skinned person like me. Pastels are all very well but they look washed out under the bright tropical sun. Go for bright greens, reds, oranges, blues and purples. Avoid all-black items unless you are already sporting a fine tan – if you absolutely must choose black, find one with white piping around the edges. It’s softer on the skin. If you have had your colours done, opt for the stronger colours in your palette.
- Accessorise. Again, this is your holiday daywear. Bring cheap and cheerful jewellery to accessorise each piece of swimwear you bring. A pair of matching earrings here, a statement bangle there, some toe-rings, a wide-brimmed sunhat and a matching cover-up or sarong, and you are making an outfit out of your swimsuit. Bring a simple crocodile clip or two if you have long hair. Don’t forget the footwear too: they will have to be sturdy enough to get you down the beach without falling over, but fabulous enough not to ruin the overall ensemble. Think pretty coloured flip-flops or a summery pair of Birkenstocks.
The most important accessory is, of course, lashings of sunscreen. Go one level higher than you think you need, especially if you are aiming for eight hours a day on that sunbed. You can always go down a level after your first four or five days when you have built up a base. The last thing you want is sunburn that keeps you out of the sun, ruins your coordinated look and quite frankly can lead to premature ageing and skin cancer.
Above all remember this: you already have a bikini body. You already look great. You just mightn’t feel great yet. But by day three when the Tropical Queen comes to town, you’ll look back and thank me. Promise.