Making swimsuits OK for every body

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xoJane editors in swimsuits

xoJane deputy editor Lesley Kinzel, center, with members of her staff. (Lauren Perlstein photo)

The thing I love most about the xoJane staff posing in their swimsuits— and I love a lot of things about it — is this statement, from deputy editor Lesley Kinzel.

"We all have our private moments of body shame. What made this effort meaningful is the fact that we pushed through all those anxieties to do it."

It's the antithesis of the before-and-after dichotomy we're trained to love. It's the anti-"Biggest Loser" reveal. It's the truth — a bold, open-armed embrace of now, not later. As we are, not as we could be.

Kinzel, 37, is the brains behind the photo, which is designed to push back against the avalanche of tanned, toned and taut bikini bodies we're used to digesting (and internalizing).

"We constantly get the message that a body worth putting a swimsuit on must be a long-term construction project," she wrote in the accompanying piece, posted Monday. "A prize to be won, a trophy that can only be attained through hard work, sacrifice and deprivation."

The truth is every body is worth putting a swimsuit on. Every body deserves sunshine.

To prove as much, xoJane's writers and editors marched to the roof of their Manhattan office to be photographed in all their swimsuited glory.

"For me, it's an issue of balance," Kinzel told me when I called her Monday. "I've never been one to say we should abolish models or get rid of Photoshopping. We just need more balance. The only bodies we see represented and celebrated are bodies that fit a very specific and narrow mold, and that leads to a lot of women feeling like they have no right to go in public wearing a swimsuit."

The magazine staff asked readers to submit photos of themselves as well, in hopes of collecting a gallery of diverse, swimwear-clad bodies.

"The piece went up at 9:00 in the morning and five minutes later the associate editor sent me a chat saying, 'We got one!'" Kinzel said. They've poured in steadily since.

Editor-in-chief Jane Pratt invited top editors at several women's magazines to join the effort.

In a delightful letter that begins, "Dear Anna, Glenda, Linda, Cindi, Robbie, Vanessa, Anne, Joanna, Martha, Christene, Elaine, Stella, Eva, Joyce, Betty, Lauren, Michele, Ashley, Clare, Lesley, Meredith and Michelle," Pratt made the following pitch:

"Most of us have over the years asked other women to pose in bathing suits in our publications, but have never done it ourselves, So here's your chance!

"I want to be clear that I'm not trying to coerce or shame any of you into participating," she wrote. "Instead, I want to share the positive experience we all had in rejecting that pressure to look a certain way before we feel 'allowed' to be seen in a bathing suit. And I hope to encourage all our readers to do the same."

Editors from Essence and Fitness agreed to participate, but several others declined. 

"Unfortunately we got a lot of no's," Kinzel said. "But they've been extraordinarily supportive: 'Fantastic idea! Let me know if I can help promote it!' The responses have been really positive."

As for the inevitable detractors …

"I welcome that," Kinzel said. "I don't want this to just go up and every one beats the same drum and waves the same flag. I think a woman who reads this and thinks, '(Heck) no, I would never do that,' is just as valid as someone who thinks, 'I'm in!' As long as we're talking about the cultural forces at play here, I'm happy."

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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