The BBC have covered a recent discussion on Twitter, which responded angrily to Speedo’s new ‘swimsuit guide’ for women. Swimming costumes for different body shapes are obviously a good idea, but the language used by Speedo, and the overall message of the ‘body shape selector’, sells the old notion that the main thing women should be concerned about is how we look.
Speedo uses very specific phrases on its website when it comes to describing ‘feminine’ wear – we are to ‘accentuate’ our waists, ‘accentuate’ our ‘curves’, and ‘attract attention’ to our ‘busts’. We must look for costumes that ‘flatter’ and ‘hide’ parts of our bodies. When it comes to ‘masculine’ wear however then the language is very different: ‘active’, ‘train’, ‘endurance’. Men are encouraged to buy costumes to suit their ‘swimming style’.
This obsession with women’s appearance has been around for 150 years, ever since England’s champion swimmers such as Agnes Beckwith first took to the public arena in the 1870s. The press at the time largely applauded their skill, strength and perseverance, but were also quick to focus on what Agnes and other female swimmers were wearing – or should be wearing. In this poster from the 1880s, she was required to wear a restrictive satin suit, stockings and boots.
In 1907, Australian champion Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a one piece costume – and charged with public indecency.
Rules around what women can wear to swim in have been around for a long time. Now, with the rise in the number of women swimming in the UK, it’s long past the time to change these messages.
Today 2.7 million women in England swim at least twice a month, according to a recent Swim England Report. Women and girls benefit hugely from regular swimming, with higher increases in well being and health than men and boys – our self confidence ‘more than doubles.’
But at the same time, many girls and women don’t want to put on a swimming costume because they feel exposed and judged, and Speedo’s marketing messages are making the problem worse. Providing a list of ‘hourglass’ celebrities doesn’t help.
Half a million women have given up swimming because of fears about what they look like, according to a 2015 Active People Survey. It’s statistics like this that sparked the This Girl Can campaign from Sport England.
Customers have been repeatedly complaining to Speedo. Last year they launched a new range for adult women….featuring the children’s cartoon character Minnie Mouse. Instead of replying to customer complaints, or listening to feedback, Speedo have issued this statement, and totally avoided the issue:
‘We create swim wear to help swimmers to feel confident in and out of the water’.