Beefcake Swimwear: The Intersection of Body Positivity and Queerness
By Mel Brittner Wells.
When I started Beefcake Swimwear, I didn’t realize that it was part of a radical disruption happening in fashion on two fronts: The body-positive movement, and gender-neutral design. It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that these two approaches to fashion overlap and intersect in several ways.
Most LGBTQ+ people were not raised to love our own queerness. I was raised as a fifth-generation Mormon in southeastern Idaho, so I know I certainly wasn’t. Until very recently, queer people rarely saw ourselves in the media. On the rare occasion when we did, it wasn't positive. Same goes for most body types of average size and larger. If the body size spectrum is plotted on a bell curve, in fashion we only see the outliers on the side of thinness. I’m six feet tall and have what I often refer to as a “sturdy” build. I spent most of my teens and twenties disliking my body and wishing I could be smaller. My queerness was also something I tried to tamp down.
I think a lot of people share that overlapping history of both underrepresentation and shame for our bodies for not fitting into the societal ideal of thin/fit and heteronormative. But once a person breaks out of one box by accepting (and even *gasp* loving) some part of ourselves that society deems transgressive, the others boxes become easier to smash, too. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it often happens in tandem.
This disruption is so powerful because it not only upsets established power dynamics: It creates the possibility for more joy. For folks who grew up feeling isolated and/or shamed for how they looked, acted, or loved, both movements are about creating spaces of acceptance that can be absolutely transcendent. (See: the pool party scene in Shrill.)
Brands presenting images that disrupt gender binaries and body shaming are creating a new aspirational image—one that stops trying to force all of us into a couple narrow boxes of "attractive" and instead makes room for unique and diverse best selves. There is power in self confidence, and it’s extra revolutionary in swimwear, a category whose primary marketing tactics have long been built on shame about not being thin/fit/male/female enough.
We get emails from people who say they cried the first time they put on our swimsuit because it felt so perfect. My hope is that this new-found confidence to get in the pool, or go to the beach, doesn’t stop there — I hope it spreads to every other part of their life, too. I hope they feel confident enough to stand up to power when it says they aren’t good enough, to tell their own stories and counter the thin/cis/hetero mainstream. Everyone deserves to feel seen and appreciated.
I continue to appreciate that the original LGBTQ+ rainbow is so clearly not about conformity — it’s about the beauty of simultaneous differences. Body positivity is similar, since it’s about celebrating the rainbow of size/shapes. I hope that Beefcake Swimwear continues to help folks who’ve struggled with their body confidence in the same way I did feel more confident about themselves. I feel proud that we’re part of changing the narrative of who gets to feel good about themselves and seen in the world.
Photos by Ashe Walker.
Beefcake Swimwear is one-piece androgynous swimsuits inspired by 1920s style. Sizes XS - 5X. They use eco-friendly and ethical practices to make their swimsuits in the USA.