Nicki Minaj saved my summer—or so, I thought.
My heart sang when I saw people far more fashionable than I heralding the one-piece bathing suit as a swimwear trend for summer 2015—or at the very least a viably stylish option.
However, as I clicked through the images of this summer’s selection of one-pieces, I increasingly realized they were all perilously narrow at the crotch. Specifically, the American Apparel “Malibu” one-piece that Minaj wore indicated that I would need to be prepared to bear the most intimate part of me—and conform to stringent pubic hair-appropriate maintenance.
The painful process of going, shall we say, bald eagle is a must to wear one of the high-cut one-pieces, at least if one wants to follow the societal and Instagram rules that pubic hair is not permitted to be seen by the human eye.
Ergo my heart sank. Painful and expensive trips to salons flooded my mind, and I was back to my original bathing suit conundrum.
While the one-piece once offered extra protection for those of us who felt a bit self-conscious at the beach, it is now the newest way to show off your shape—which means it adds to the usual summer pressure to have the “right” shape.
Tabloids are featuring extremely sexy and stylish one-piece clad supermodels and starlets. Chanel Iman’s monokini highlights her toned body even more than a bikini could.
Sofia Vergara’s Agent Provocateur ensemble could barely be called a one-piece as it zigged-and-zagged across her famous curves.
These one-piece suits end up revealing more flesh than many bikinis. The security bought by a one-piece is absent. Instead, they have become yet another example of how celebrities are increasingly putting their bodies on display rather than the outfit: the physique, not the garment, is what pulls the ensemble together.
The one-suit poses a catch-22 for younger women. The unitard swimwear is known for “covering a multitude of sins.” If you’re self-conscious, the extra material acts like a shield. The emotional comfort well makes up for the fact that it makes it highly difficult to go to the bathroom (a digression worthy of its own article. Trust me).
At the same time, the one-piece has often been deemed matronly, dowdy, and decidedly square. As a result, I bought into the bikini—literally. It’s the one bathing suit I have purchased since the summer of 2010.
I caved for a few reasons. When you walk into department stores, like Lord and Taylor and Century 21, there is generally dramatically more variety in color, patterns, and cuts with two-pieces.
And with that variety comes greater coverage options: You can actually find ones that spare you too much bikini line maintenance—and firmly cover your rear-end. You can also mix and match different tops that highlight your bust or hold the girls firm.
“I think most young women like a bikini. That’s traditionally the glamorous thing, isn’t it?,” Sarah Kennedy, style editor at the New York Observer and author of The Swimsuit: A History of Twentieth Century Fashion, told The Daily Beast. “One-piece swimsuits were often stuck with school swimming and sensibility, so when you’re a teenager, as soon as you can get the risky stuff and make your own choices, you go against what you’ve had in the past.”
But Kennedy is actually a big believer in the one-piece and is a fan of what she also sees as a growing one-piece trend. “There are some amazing one-pieces. They are so glamorous and so different. I think any woman’s body can look great in a one-piece,” she said. Kennedy specifically cited the cut-out styles of one-pieces. “There are some really adventurous designs. They’re so exciting and unusual,” she said.
With the super thigh-high-cut ones, Kennedy did pause her acclaim. “That is a huge amount of pressure. I would say to any woman, you’ve got to use your judgment. I would never wear those. They’re, uh, dangerous,” she said.
There is certainly a method behind the madness of the design. It isn’t just to inadvertently profit waxing salons and the razor industry.
“The high cut exposes a woman’s leg and thigh to the max, elongating the silhouette while showing off her natural and beautiful contours,” said Debbie Attard, a swimwear designer at American Apparel, to The Daily Beast in an email. “A swim garment like our Malibu or High Cut One-Piece has the ability to complement a variety of body types. Even if a woman doesn’t want to show her midriff, she can still feel vivacious in an enticing one-piece.”
But does this barely-there one-piece actually flatter every body type, or just one as perfectly bodacious as Minaj’s or Beyoncé’s?
I ventured to my local American Apparel to engage in one of my all-time least-favorite activities: trying on swimwear. I grabbed the same Malibu cut that Minaj wears in “Feeling Myself” in two different sizes. While I physically fit into the smaller one, I was initially horrified at how much my derriere hung out of the suit. This was an unintended consequence of the high-cut I had not considered: Be prepared to show a lot of butt, not just crotch.
Nevertheless, the lengthening effect on my front was intriguing. I looked taller and leaner, and that effect was lost when I tried on the larger size. You have to double-down and commit to the form-fitting look to get the positive influence of the high-cut.
It suffices to say that this certainly pushed me out of my bathing suit comfort zone, not least of which because the “safety guard” along the crotch felt perilously near my flesh.
While I wasn’t in a state of camel-toe standing in a dressing room, I feared a strong wave could easily knock the suit out of alignment and lead to some uncomfortable scrunching. My hip bones were plainly apparent, and a scar from a surgery I had when I was 8 was visible. That doesn’t bother me, but I hadn’t noticed it ever before with other bathing suits.
Also, because the advantage of the high-cut one-piece is the lengthening at the hip, my eye kept fixating on the dramatic bikini line. I felt I would need to take extra care to not have even the tiniest razor bumps visible.
American Apparel would likely argue that fear stemmed from my own self-consciousness. Despite the company’s long and controversial history, American Apparel has tried to combat the stigma around female pubic hair, even featuring mannequins bearing the bush.
“Waxing or shaving for swim season is a personal choice that will vary from woman to woman. The most important thing is to feel comfortable and confident—whether it’s bare or with hair, she should always do what she thinks is right for her and makes her feel good,” Attard responded when asked about whether a woman should wax or shave for the swimsuit season.
The flesh on display with one-pieces mirrors the flesh on display on the red carpet. The Daily Beast’s Allison McNearney noted this trend at this year’s Met Gala when a bevy of celebrities wore “nearly nude” gowns, sheer but for a few well-placed gems or cut-outs. “We’ve reached a moment where women are regaining control of their bodies and their right to display them however they want,” she wrote for this publication. “It’s both an invitation to look and a statement that looking is not permission to objectify.”
But what is a beach-going gal to do if she doesn’t want to be as bold as Beyoncé or J-Lo at the Met? Maybe just suck it up and embrace her body.
I snapped a few selfies in that Malibu one-piece—as a reference for writing this article. While my grandmother said the swimsuit looked it was the “wrong size,” a little bit of me is enchanted by the way it hugs one’s body and forces you, the wearer, to embrace your shape.
“I would have to say that women have to stop thinking about any garment as ‘hiding a multitude of sins.’ In my view, every woman’s body is beautiful to her. Women have to stop thinking about what’s going to hide this or that,” said Kennedy. “It doesn’t matter if bits hang out. I think that’s sexy.”
Preach it, sister.