A newly-confident generation of curvy women are throwing away their inhibitions, determined to embrace the bikini bodies they were born with, writes Deirdre Reynolds.
AS one of Ireland’s hottest new plus-size models, Nicola Furlong has worked the runway in lingerie and posed in nothing but a bed sheet.
Until last year though, the mum-of-four from Enniscorthy never even dreamed of donning a bikini on the beach.
“I love sunbathing,” says Nicola, who’s 35.
“Usually we go to Salou [in Spain] on holiday because it’s great for families.
“Normally I would wear a swimsuit like the blue halter-neck one I bought on SimplyBe.ie about two years ago. Then last year, I was holidaying in Turkey with my friend when she convinced me to wear a bikini instead.
“At first, I was a bit unsure,” she recalls.
“I had never even tried on a two-piece before. But after about five minutes, I was like, ‘Feck it!’
“There were girls bigger than me wearing bikinis, and they didn’t care.”
Back home, she prefers to wear a tankini as it feels more comfortable.
“Some people will judge you. They might not say anything but it’s the way they might look at you,” she says.
“When I’m abroad no one cares or pays attention.”
Newly body-confident Nicola is just one of a generation of curvy girls throwing their inhibitions — and sarongs — to the wind this summer.
Buoyed by fashion website Refinery29’s #TakeBackTheBeach campaign, they’re not only reclaiming their place by the pool.
They’re making their bronzed presence felt on social media too thanks to the #fatkini trend started by blogger and swimwear designer GabiFresh.
At dress size 16, curvy fashion and lifestyle blogger Sian Howell represents the average Irish woman on a sun lounger this summer — and is more than “beach ready”.
“Beaches can be intimidating places for women of all shapes and sizes,” says Sian, aged 26, from Dublin.
“And there can be immense pressure to get “bikini ready” around this time of year.
“After the first day of your holiday though, it’s amazing how little you care! I’m off to Majorca on holidays next month and plan on packing the most colourful bikinis I own.”
Making waves as the face (and body) of Violeta by Mango’s summer 2016 swimwear range, available online up to size 24, Candice Huffine certainly isn’t trying to hide her wobbly bits either.
If beaches are the new battleground for body confidence, the 31-year-old, together with size 26 supermodel Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham, who made history when she became the first plus-size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue earlier this year, is on the front line.
Speaking about her status as a role model recently, the Washington native told one British newspaper: “I have a short torso and carry a lot of weight in my midsection.
“[But] if showing my skin and my imperfection and my tummy is going to have a positive impact on someone, then I am very happy to do it.”
In the year that even Barbie piled on a few pounds in response to changing global beauty standards, one survey by Refinery29 shows how the “fatlash” appears to be working — with more than half of women aged 18-54 claiming to be happy with their bodies, compared to just 12% who aren’t.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that some are also more willing to flash the flesh, according to Figleaves.com, which reported a 35% rise in sales of G-cup swimwear over the past 12 months.
“Nowadays, someone who is size 14 is not really what you would call a ‘curvy’ lady,” says Bridget Kearney of Belle Femme Lingerie in Kilkenny.
“She’s our everyday size.
“I would fit [women who are] G-cup every single day of the week in swimwear.
“This year I’ve seen a lot more people wearing two-pieces no matter what size they are. A lot of bikinis are actually sold to that curvier lady because they’re getting that brief that’s a little bit fuller [and] comes up a little bit higher.
“My advice for somebody who’s buying swimwear for them to feel confident with what they’re in is to get fitted,” she continues.
“Swimwear is very, very different to buying a bra.
“We are all fuller cup; we think we’re the 36C when we are all in the Ds, Es and Fs. Likewise with the briefs, don’t automatically think that you’re the 14 because, believe it or not, the 16 might actually fit a lot better.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to get fitted.”
With high street giants such as Forever 21, H&M and River Island all now carrying plus-size swimwear, happily it’s never been easier to sizzle by the sea, whether you’re size 6 or 16.
This season’s curve collections feature plunging necklines, high legs and slashed bodices.
Those that do include high-waisted bikini bottoms are far more ‘glam’ than ‘gran’.
“We do really well with the DD-plus cup size in swimwear,” tells Rachelle Hanley, lingerie and swimwear buyer for Arnotts on Dublin’s Henry Street, “and Fantasie, which caters for women with plus-size busts, probably is our key brand among this group.
“Our plus-size customers are going for more actual bikinis and the swimsuits they are going for are not necessarily completely covered either.
"We’re also finding a real growth in beach dresses and kaftans. So they’re happy to wear these amazing bikinis and swimsuits on the beach, and then they’ll have a little throw-on to cover up in the evening if they need to.
“Swimwear, in general, is having an amazing season,” she adds.
“There is a massive trend for that sort of Bali-inspired leaf and flower print. It’s all about standing out on the beach — you don’t want to be just wearing black and trying to blend in.”
As she prepares to jet to sunnier climes next month, Forever Fabulous in Bows blogger Sian, who is single, is sure to be hoping to capture a few Instagram-worthy snaps to share with her followers.
“As a size 16, I’m proud of my curves,” she says.
“Sure, I’m looking to shift a few pounds, but ultimately a few stretch marks and a wobbly tummy certainly won’t stop me from wearing a bikini.
“Every woman has insecurities, and in my own experience, people are far more concerned with how they look in their own swimwear than how you look.”
However, she urged other curvy girls here not to feel under pressure to let it all hang out on the beach this summer either: “At the end of the day, it’s [about] how comfortable you are.
“If your comfort level is a swimsuit, that’s fine too. If you feel good, you’ll look good!”
After decades of hiding away on holidays, meanwhile, Nicola Furlong told how she’s determined to finally embrace the bikini body she was born with.
“I used to hate going to the beach because I was not so confident,” reveals the newly-crowned Face of Curvy Cork 2016.
“I used to think, ‘Oh, I’m heavy’ and [that] people would be looking at me.
“In the last two years, with my confidence growing [from] doing the bit of modelling, it doesn’t bother me now. I am the way I am today — and I have accepted that I am a heavy girl.
“There is a lot of girls out there who haven’t got the confidence [to wear a bikini],” argues Nicola.
“But you only get one life so you might as well enjoy it.
“It’s important to hold your head high and be your own kind of beautiful.”
“We spend so long wrapped up in our winter woollies that it’s nice to shed a few layers when you can!”
HOW TO TURN HEADS WITH YOUR CURVES
1. Boohoo Plus Laura Mesh Crop High Waist Bikini, €27, available up to size 24 from www.boohoo.com
Black doesn’t have to be boring on the beach - simply watch for see-through or even missing panels to sizzle in the world’s most slimming shade.
2. Rochelle Humes Underwired Shoulder Bikini Top, €30, available up to size 38D and Hipster Brief, €22, available up to size 18, from www.LittlewoodsIreland.ie
Forget the “bikini diet” and just draw eyes away from a less than toned tum in one of this season’s on-trend asymmetric numbers.
3. Cleo by Panache Matilda Bandeau Bikini Top, reduced from €50 to €15, available up to 36G and Drawstring Bikini Brief, reduced from €29 to €8.70, available up to size 16 from Arnotts.
Thick straps that destroy your tan are a thing of the past thanks to today’s gravity-defying bikinis by top bra-makers such as Panache.
4. Butterfly by Matthew Williamson Pink Floral Cut-out Swimsuit, reduced from €62 to €43.40, available up to size 16 from Debenhams.
You don’t have to don a “fatkini” to take back the beaches — a cut-out swimsuit is another way to make wakes this summer.
5. Rédition two-piece Jacquard Bikini, reduced from €48.99 to €29.30. www.laredoute.com
Curves never stopped Marilyn from owning the beach in the type of retro high-waisted bikinis that are red hot right now.
6. Accessorize Fuller Bust Iris Print Moulded Cup Bikini, €25.90, available up to 36F and Fold Down Bikini Brief, €19.90, available up to size 18.
Stop stressing about your wobbly bits, and start investing in foldover bottoms that allow you to choose how much flesh to flash.
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