How to master bikini confidence in your 50s

Lisa Armstrong
·7 mins read
tracee ellis ross helena christensen cindy crawford - Instagram: Helena Christensen, Tracee Ellis Ross and Cindy Crawford
tracee ellis ross helena christensen cindy crawford - Instagram: Helena Christensen, Tracee Ellis Ross and Cindy Crawford

Last year I thought I’d finally cracked the code to bikini confidence – wear a one piece. There’s still a lot going for this approach. Even those flawless, long-limbed bikini models have to work 24/7 to make it look effortless. In their sleep they’re slathered in anti -cellulite creams and probably stress-dreaming about where to get hold of that magic oil product that makes cellulite magically disappear (it’s called the Madina Chic and Shine Stick and only available in Italy). So yes. Down with The Bikini felt like a feminist kind of thing to say. But that was 2019.

This year, giving up on bikinis can feel like unfinished business, or a bit defeatist, when there are so many “refreshed” options, like – ta daa – big knicker bikinis, which are popular on Instagram, if nowhere else. There are other “interesting” options: the one-shoulder top which looks lovely on the beach and is ultra -flattering on broad shoulders, but will leave a road map of strap marks; the bandeau, which even swimwear models find tricky; the scooped out one-piece, that leaves such large expanses of bare flesh, it could be the most pointless design ever, and the high-cut 80s-style brief (just say no). If you’re staycationing in your garden, this is an especially good year for swimwear experiments.

The Bridget Jones Knicker, which has been championed by Denise Bidot, a genuinely plus-sized model, has clear advantages in that it emphasises the waist, rather than tummy overhang, in direct contrast to those teeny briefs that always seem to cut you off at your worst point. Sure those big knickers aren’t without their issues. That “gentle hold” that feels reassuringly compressing at the start of the day, can leave you with the impression that your kidneys are about to implode eight hours in. Equally, for the chronically self-critical, there’s a possibility that the three centimetres of flesh between the tops of your briefs and the bottom of your bra might not pass the Iron-Woman Challenge. There could be a microscopic hint of wobble. To which the answer is, stop being so hard on yourself.

Nadia Sawalha Denise Bidot - Instagram: Nadia Sawalha / Denise Bidot
Nadia Sawalha Denise Bidot - Instagram: Nadia Sawalha / Denise Bidot

Maybe you’re someone who greets bikini season blithely – you’re happy with your body and that’s all that matters – in which case, have you thought about launching a self-help app, or a podcast?

For so many women, beach season is a deep pit of psychological tripwires wrapped up in four deceptively innocent triangles of fabric. I don’t think it’s an accident that Liz Hurley – she of the eat-with-a-teaspoon-to-reduce-consumption diet – created a beachwear line. By appointing herself the primary model for her brand, she made herself a Hurlier-than-thou hostage to her own self-discipline. Judging by the photographs of La Hurl on her website, it’s going splendidly. At 55 she looks extraordinary – it would be foolish to say she seems at least 10 years younger than she is, because there are plenty of 45-year-olds, and for that 25-year-olds, who’d commit crimes for that body.

Every summer brings us yet more fifty- and-sixtysomethings, from Halle Berry (53) to Helena Christensen (51) who look incredible in bits of string and twine. But inspiring as it supposedly is to see all these women who a generation ago would have been consigned to a beach hut, looking hot, hot, hot, it can still feel rather like an old-fashioned cattle market.

elizabeth hurley ashley graham boden
elizabeth hurley ashley graham boden

Blue colourblock top, £30, bottom, £28, both Boden; Sunshine bikini top, £72, bottom, £72, both Elizabeth Hurley Beach; Stripes top, £87.76, bottom, £95.89, both Eberjey;  Mix and match set, £38, Ashley Graham x Swimsuits For All

Also, the rest of us need to remember this goddessiness often entails a miserable existence – not just eating meals with a teaspoon, but not eating meals at all, forsaking alcohol and sugar in favour of celery juice, cayenne pepper and lemon juice (Naomi Campbell’s favourite diet) and exercising non-stop (the Sharon Stone method).

What seems much more relevant, or so we’re told, is the increasing number of women on social media with what would have been considered “imperfect” bodies who look amazing. “Think you need to be a certain size to wear a bikini?” asks Denise Bidot, curves spilling generously out of another big knicker combo. It’s a rhetorical question. She looks fabulous. She’s young, with dark golden Puerto Rican skin, and knows every trick there is to give herself body confidence. Then there’s Tracee Ellis Ross, the 47 year old actor who has been posting a series of not-classically skinny pictures of herself in swimwear. Or the always-gorgeous Ashley Graham. Plus size and pregnant in a bikini. She’s been posting since giving birth to baby Ashley, too.

In some ways, these women are just as much outliers as the Hurleys and Helenas, because they have exceptional self-confidence, and whatever size, they seem perfectly proportioned with well-toned skin. I’ve yet to see #riddledwithcellulite become a popular meme.

bikini
bikini

The contour bra set, £306, Arabella London;  Blush top, £45, bottom, £45, Prism2; Green checked top, £54.22, bottom, £63.26, both Amlul; Crop top, £24, high waist bikini briefs, £18, Emma Willis at Next;  Red top, £24, bottoms, £20, Pour Moi at Next

But perhaps it’s just a question of time. Nadhia Sawalha recently posted dual pictures of herself in the same bikini to show how much difference lighting and pose can make. Judging by the trajectory we’re on, at some point someone with oodles of charisma and body power will come along and make orange peel skin look hugely desirable. In the meantime, keeping skin well-oiled (the swimwear models’ favourite tip) goes a long way to give skin a gleam and texture that minimises blemishes and dimples. This Works Deep Golden Elixir, £46 from Look Fantastic, is light, lasting, non-sticky and glow-giving, while Kate Shapland, The Telegraph’s former beauty editor has launched Legology Cellu-lite Salon Secret for Legs – an upliftingly scented oil that targets heavy-feeling legs and fluid retention, £62.50. Use it with their circular body brush as part of their cellulite-vanquishing strategy.

If you can’t face those first few days without fake tan – and I must admit, a tan minimises most superficial blemishes – I’ve already raved about Sisley’s Self Tanning Hydrating Body Care, which comes with a mitt, is a steep £75 on Allbeauty, but a best in class candidate. I’ve also had good results from Green People’s Self Tan, although it takes longer to soak in (£20) – the self-tanning mitt on Victoria Health is a game changer (£5).

Lots of water to flush away puffiness. Boring. Celery Juice to do more of the same and boost your immunity and skin. Boring. Going easy on the carbs and taking an effective probiotic to reduce bloat (Mega Probiotic, £19.50 Victoria Health). It’s dull, dull, dull. But effective. To achieve anything approaching beach bliss however, it’s not really so much a question of diet and exercise, but about making an effort not to be a perfectionist control-freak, finding the most flattering bikini/one-piece/tankini/keyhole cut out that takes your fancy, and packing unputdownable thrillers.

Lisa Armstrong's column appears each Saturday in The Saturday Telegraph and is published online every Saturday at 7am on Telegraph Fashion.

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