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Bikini shopping and the seven (hundred) circles of hell

You may be one of those rare women who\'s confident in a bikini from day one on beach, power to you. If not, take heart.

Published: 18th June 2016 08:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2016 08:25 AM   |  A+A-

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A woman takes a picture of Ursula Andress' bikini displayed at the exhibition dedicated to James Bond, on April 16, 2016 at the main hall of La Vilette in Paris | AFP

For every advance that women have made in the past eight decades, there has been a commensurate annual knockback in the guise of that supposedly carefree and liberating item, the bikini. Compare Thirties swimwear with today's. Admittedly, the old kind took days to dry - probably never completely reaching peak aridity during an average British summer - while today's versions wick away moisture in seconds. But is that such a big gain, when Modern Bikini makes such bullying demands on body and mind?

So excuse me if I don't join in mocking London Mayor Sadiq Khan's ban on that dumb ''Are you Beach Body Ready?'' advert. If you haven't seen it, it features a slender model who clearly is beach-ready, in the unimaginative fantasies of the "creatives" who dreamed up the ad, next to some dubious protein diet gunk.

It's not the most egregious example of the genre. On the New York subway recently, I spotted a gem enquiring whether small boobs were preventing me from going to the beach. Next to it, helpfully, was a plastic surgeon's number.

Khan's line in the Tahitian Oil-spattered sand is not a curb on free speech, or the creeping hegemony of Sharia law, as some excitable comments suggest. It's a father observing the effects on his teenage daughters. If you're young or insecure, having a bad day, or just not concentrating on your sense of worth for five seconds (the last one is exhausting), these ads represent a constant needling. At the very least, their noise is cumulatively wearing.

Then there's the faux naive curiosity about Jennifer Aniston's "miracle" late-mother pregnancy, on full display across the internet this week. Aniston's agent was driven to deny the pregnancy, attributing the curve of her client's stomach to a big beach lunch, although it could just as easily be a postural glitch.

Maybe she is pregnant, maybe she isn't. But the common culprit in all this, the serial catalyst of woe - especially if you're not a model size, don't tan easily, have the temerity to be over 40, or are foolish enough to not be Gwyneth, with all those spare hours to exercise - is the bikini.

Yet more heinous than the bikini itself is shopping for one, what with the brutal lighting, sweaty changing rooms and silly little hangers. Personally, now that I know the brands and styles that work for me, I generally shop online. Support is crucial - good straps, the right style, Isambard Kingdom Brunel-worthy engineering. I'm also mad about the new generation of rash vests and board shorts - they not only mean you don't have to keep smothering yourself in chemicals, but they look good, flatter, and are less exposing, while still looking sporty and modern. I'm constantly asked on the beach where mine are from (J Crew children's range).

Alternatively, fortify yourself with some of the ever-proliferating selection of gorgeous beach dresses, shirts, caftans and trousers.

You may be one of those rare women who's confident in a bikini from day one on the beach - power to you. If not, take heart. Almost everyone else is feeling self-conscious, even (especially) those leggy 18-year-olds.

Remember, things never look as bad on the beach as they do in the changing room. When the sun's directly overhead (forget all that stuff about mad dogs and Englishmen, you're wearing a fabulous hat and SPF30) or it's dusky and everything's cast in a rosy glow, including whatever's in that glass in your hand, you'll be amazed how every last dimple seems to melt away.



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