Photo by Bronwyn Green
I wore a bikini in public. While being fat.” So begins a poignant and funny essay on body image, written by blogger and novelist Jenny Trout. It’s touched a collective nerve this week, and its wide impact — more than 350,000 likes on Facebook thus far, along with 45,000 shares and thousands of supportive comments — has perhaps surprised no one as much as its author.
“WOW. Did I vastly underestimate women’s need to see ‘imperfect’ bodies just doing regular, human stuff,” Trout wrote in a follow-up to her original piece, which ran in longer form on the Huffington Post over the holiday weekend. “Not only am I getting messages going, ‘You’re helping me with my personal stuff,’ but the support I’m getting is overwhelming.… Obviously, that’s not why I posted the article, it’s a broader social commentary (the point of which was that it doesn’t matter how you look, you’re still entitled to wear whatever you want and be comfortable doing it), but the fact that I’ve received more of those messages than negative ones makes me really hopeful for the future of fat people.”
Trout, a 33-year-old Michigan mother of two, tells Yahoo Health that, until this summer, the last time she wore a bikini was when she was a little kid. During her teen years she was an avid figure skater who was underweight, she explains, “so I wore T-shirts and board shorts because I was self-conscious.” Her weight didn’t go up much until she became pregnant with her first child (a son who’s now 11), gaining 75 pounds that she had trouble shedding, particularly after developing fibromyalgia, which left her unable to exercise.
Though Trout has turned out several works of fiction in both horror and romance genres (some under the pseudonym Abigail Barnette), — it’s this piece of nonfiction that’s causing the latest buzz. In it, the blogger talks about making a New Year’s resolution that confused many people in her life:
“Me: ‘Next summer, I’m going to wear a bikini.’ Them: ‘What a great goal! What are you doing? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig? Are you going vegan? Paleo? Are you having the surgery?’ Me: ‘I said I was going to wear a bikini. I didn’t say I was going to lose weight.’ Them: Face melts off like they’re staring into the Arc [sic] of The Covenant.”
Trout, who goes on to explain that she ordered her “fatkini” in March in order to beat the rush that caused it to sell out last summer, describes the various ways people expressed their surprise at her audacity: concerns about her health, wonderings aloud about whether or not her wearing a bikini would “glorify obesity,” and worries over her discomfort. “‘Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a one piece?’ Or perhaps I would be more comfortable if I didn’t go to the beach at all,” she quips. “If I venture into the water in a bikini, the sight of my melanin-deficient Michigan belly might attract beluga whales.
“No one I had the above conversation with had the audacity to tell me directly that I shouldn’t wear a bikini because my fatness would offend their eyes,” Trout writes. “Not one person would admit that they didn’t want me to wear a bikini because of their aesthetic preference — a preference that is shaped by our cultural perceptions of what is and isn’t beautiful.”
She ignored all the advice, of course, and ventured out on a chilly, early summer day to the shores of Michigan’s Copper Harbor, wearing her new floral two-piece. And when she did it, she notes, the world did not come to an end.
Since that afternoon, Trout tells Yahoo Health, “I’m just not as shy now about my body. I wore my bikini and nothing happened, so my weight must be a bigger thing in my mind than it is in reality.”
The essay has drawn Twitter praise for being “outstanding,” “excellent,” and “everything,” and it even had writer Anne Lamott chiming in with, “This is my favorite article in months, maybe ever.” And there’s another person who’s impressed with Trout’s work: her husband. He’s “proud of my success with this piece,” she notes. “He’s also very conscious of how stress, even good stress, can overwhelm me, so he’s been really great.”
Trout wraps up her piece this way: “The reason these people do not want to see a fat body in a bikini is because traditionally, that garment is something a woman earns by proving herself attractive enough to exist. If fat women begin wearing them without shame or fear, what’s next? Will they have self-esteem? Will they demand respect? Then what will keep them in their proper place? How would conventionally attractive people judge them?
“As a society, we need to be more honest in our discussions of others’ bodies. If we can’t avoid those totally unnecessary conversations, then we should at least admit the truth to ourselves: That this has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with the control we believe is our right to exert over others.” Amen to that, sister.