Ever googled postnatal swimwear? Don’t bother. Not until the fashion industry has reassessed the models they’re using. We speak to a load of mums – including Clemmie Hooper, Clemmie Telford and Natalie Lee – about new mum bodies (and where to get the best swimwear)…
As a new mum, it takes time to accept the changes to your body. So summer time (holidays, skimpy clothes, bikinis) can cause body image issues to surface. I’ve written about how I wish I wasn’t so disappointed with my post-birth body but the truth is, sometimes I can’t escape those feelings.
That’s why I found it quite infuriating when I began an online hunt for a swimsuit that would make me feel good and kept coming across size zero models.
Some new mums may be size zero but most aren’t
I typed ‘best swimsuits for post-birth bodies’ into google – hoping to find postnatal swimwear that was flattering and not too revealing. But I was inundated with images of women who clearly hadn’t just given birth. They looked great but how can you buy a swimsuit modelled by someone whose body is so different from your own?
Someone pointed out that I don’t know whether these women have just had babies. My response was: yes, one or two of them might have. But the chances of them all being new mums? As slim as me being a size zero before my summer holiday.
It’s not about criticising individual models, it’s about appealing to a broader (scuse pun) section of potential buyers, by having a more diverse range of body shapes amongst the models used.
This is an issue with the fashion industry in general – using skinny models, when your average UK woman is a size 16 – and it’s not a new one. But when you’re advertising something so specific as postnatal swimwear, it seems fairly shortsighted to use models who haven’t just had babies. It’s akin to using a size zero model for plus-size clothes. It makes no sense.
I get that these brands want to sell their swimwear, and fashion is aspirational – products sell because we see that they look good on the model and think that we will look like them if we buy the same gear. But let’s get real about this and start looking into using real mums to advertise postnatal swimwear. New mums can look amazing too. Like…
Real life, actual mum, postnatal swimwear model #1
She said: ‘This photo was taken a few days ago. When I first looked at it I felt repulsed. Particularly because of my tummy. But I’ve revisited it a few times since and I can see that it’s ok. And the important thing is not my shape but that I looked happy and relaxed and this was a snap shot of a precious day with my family. So I’m going against all my self-conscious instincts and am sharing it regardless of the belly bulge.’
Real life, actual mum, postnatal swimwear model #2
Here’s Natalie Lee of Style me Sunday…
Natalie says, on postnatal bodies: “Mothers often find it difficult to adjust to their new mumbod. My mission through The Warrior Woman Project is to help mums feel better in their own skin and to celebrate their powerful bodies no matter what shape, size or form they take. And not let their insecurities hold them back from achieving whatever they want to.”
Real life, actual mum, postnatal swimwear model #3
Clemmie Hooper, midwife and @mother_of_daughters on Instagram (with an impressive 335k followers), says:
‘I feel really proud by what my body has achieved, I’ve carried and breastfed four babies including twins. I try and remind myself that if struggling to fit into some clothes. It’s not the shape it was and with time and effort I could probably work harder at toning some areas. But right now I’m happy with the way I look. I’m enjoying clothes more and I really don’t care what size label I wear as long as I feel confident in it, confidence is key.
100% the more we see of real mums the more normal we will feel about our bodies, especially in swimwear.’
Real life, actual mum, postnatal swimwear model #4
Emma Paton (blogger at Finlay Fox) wrote a great post about embracing the bikini – and the ‘mum body’ in it. On the subject of postnatal swimwear, she says…
‘The thought of putting swimwear on post-birth is a terrifying, especially if you have the kind of body where you still look like you are pregnant months down the line – like I did. You gain lumps and bumps where you never thought you would have them. But you have put your body through this to create human life…! I say embrace your body, you are a mum now and your priorities have changed.
Finding swimwear is a challenge anyway, let alone post-birth and I would LOVE to see more real mums modelling for the high street. I think seeing swimwear on real people still sells it – Instagram is evidence to that in the rise of real women selling clothes on real body shapes.’
And on Instagram, I had so many lovely responses when I asked for tips on buying postnatal swimwear. This one particularly stood out…
maxigall: ‘My tip: go to an Italian beach seven months after the birth, when it’s very hot and you can’t wear a mumu. Wear a bikini, and stand tall. Look around at all the other women, and realise that no one is hiding their bellies.
Realise that you can tell the women who had babies by the way their stomachs insist on standing proud of their rib cage, no matter how slim they manage to be. You can always tell. They carry a visible marker to show that they created a life, they carried that life for a long time, and put up with it, and loved it (sometimes hated it), and gave birth, however it turned it, it was the right way, but it was not easy.
And now they nurture that little being, no matter how hard it seems to be sometimes, but they love it with all of their body, and would never change their new life for the world (except at 5.22 am when the day starts against your will). But that belly made a person. It’s no surprise it wants to tell everyone of its amazing achievement. Why would anyone want to hide that?’
For the fashion brands looking to speak to new mums (there are lots of us, with money, ready to invest in your swimwear), this is what new mums want…
malwinag: ‘Just had my second three months ago and heading on holiday so also wanted to find something to hide my “mum tum” (also felt bad about wanting to hide it as I am very proud but maybe not quite there in terms of showing it on the beach). I found a great simple suit at John Lewis that’s also quite flattering and one at M&S (red) and I got high-waisted bottoms as well to try with a bikini top.’
mariabridgetevans: I second M&S – can’t go wrong! I searched for swimsuits and mix and match tankinis when my daughter started swimming at 3 months and got a plain navy swimsuit. I had wanted something a bit more fun (it does come in other colours) but most importantly I feel comfortable and supported!
steph__burgess: I got one from Bravissimo when I was pregnant with my first and it’s excellent quality, great bust support, detachable strap and still going strong 3 years later through pregnancy and post birth and I’m using it again now in this pregnancy!
e_d_and_i: The Boden Santorini swimsuit is great – but ignore the models!
deborahleighoconnor: It’s all about Bravissimo. Nicest staff ever and they have everything in every size unlike M&S which sends me into a rage. And when it comes to post baby bodies they have serious skills.
wholeclothstudio: Check out Seafolly – bought after having baby no 1 and 6 yrs and two more babies later still my only swimsuit. They’re pricey but great quality and mine still looks like new.
claryandpeg: I found a great selection at George at Asda and Sainsbury’s Tu range! I bought maternity ones from there last summer as they were really reasonable and lovely and went back to look this summer and was so impressed as I couldn’t find anything that I liked elsewhere. And they are flattering as they have a control tummy panel thing and a lot of them are bandeau with detachable straps – really recommend!
nareece_co_nook: I’ve got a good one from M&S that hoists my boobs up and straps down my tummy!
oliviaockelford: Models chosen by major shops make online shopping difficult. A personal bugbare of mine at the moment so I’m glad you addressed this issue. I am pleased to see these recommendations as the struggle to find a swimming costume that feels comfortable is an age old saga in my life!
archsirizanelli: I actually prefer Sweaty Betty, a bit sporty and therefore very tight so the suit stays put in spite of little boys hanging off every strap.
pennywincer: I love the suit I just got from Topshop – classic black and white, structured top, halter neck – love it! And not expensive. I also have a Boden one which is flattering and the kids can yank on it and it doesn’t fall off.
fifi_feefs: My last few (pre-baby) have been from Gorgeous by Debenhams – I’ve got quite big boobs anyway so they have wired cups/come in cup sizes and my swimsuit has a control panel for the tummy area. I’m not sure if they ship in the UK but @aerie is a brand that uses real body types. I haven’t bought from there but admire their message.
thecompanyofmums: Maternity swimwear was good for me post birth (baby was only 8 weeks old and I don’t just ‘pop back’ into shape, still haven’t!). But eventually tankinis, and now a bikini at a stretch, and when no one’s looking! Actually, no one is looking as they’re all too worried about their own mum bods. I’m hoping that this summer I’ll give no fucks and just be grateful for some sun.
goldkindphoto: So frustrating right? I need SUPPORT… of the underwired kind. Bravissimo do a simple black one. Alternatively just go to a nudist beach and celebrate your shape!
joyston13: I got some from M&S with ruching (is that how you spell it?) on the stomach. Helped me feel a bit more confident the first time swimming post babies!
slicesofquince: After my second baby I bought a brilliant Boden one-piece, and I’ve just bought another after having my third baby. It’s so depressing that even companies that surely must cater for women ‘post-birth’ still use such unrealistically small (and perky!) models.
dressing_my_mum_tum: I also have the Santorini swimsuit from @boden_clothing which is very supportive and smoothing. The only downside is that the pants don’t quite cover my bottom (or they ride up and then cut my cheeks in half). Maybe I should’ve gone for a bigger size! I find #postnatal swimwear a nightmare overall…. It also needs to give some shape to my shrivelled boobs post BF!! Seafolly do have some lovely stuff and although pricey, I agree with @wholeclothstudio that you get what you pay for. Maybe I need to pay them another visit!
openingpheramony: I had insider info and bought a @hunzag suit, they have super flattering cuts. As above, sadly you have to ignore the models. I’ve found it similarly hard with all post baby clothing options, especially breast feeding friendly clothes.
maxigall: Super skinny models talking to post-pregnancy mums? Not good. I wish brands would be braver. They could get a much better conversation going with their audiences.
What do you think: should brands use women who’ve actually given birth to model their postnatal swimwear?