Body confidence: Alexandra Shulman's bikini selfie

Alexandra Shulman's holiday selfie hit the right note with many women

When a former British Vogue editor-in-chief posted a bedroom selfie little did she realise it would be seen as an empowering move, writes Margaret Jennings

YOU may have missed it if you’re not online, but an amateur selfie taken in a hotel bedroom by a 59-year-old bikini-clad woman last week, sparked a sensational response.

Alexandra Shulman, is no ordinary woman of course. She is the longest-serving editor-in-chief of British Vogue magazine, who stepped down from her role after 25 years, earlier this year.

Which is one of the reasons the picture she posted to her 100,000 followers on Instagram, has a double-take factor: Shulman, who worked in a world obsessed with perfectly choreographed fashion shoots, glossy images, and youthful bodies, upturned all that with her depiction of herself standing in an unglamorous bikini, in a holiday bedroom without using any Instagram filters to smooth or ‘soften’ the effect.

There is a casual intimacy to the undoctored picture, as if we are looking at her, looking at herself, in the mirror — not in a hot red sexy number that made the headlines for Helen Mirren 10 years ago at the age of 62, but in all her raw, ordinary glory, which speaks to ordinary women.

And while we women — of all ages — may be full of judgements about what we see in our own mirrors, in our own bedrooms, she has boldly shared hers in a public platform — a brave move, undoubtedly.

Holidaying in Greece, she posted it with the tagline “Time for a boat trip” and seemingly thought no more about it, until the responses came — including over 7,000 likes so far, to her Instagram account, applauding her empowering move.

Speaking to the Sunday Times last weekend she said: “I happen to love bikinis and have never felt that it mattered to anyone how I looked wearing them. I fully intend to continue wearing them to my grave. I had no idea that sharing a picture of myself in a bikini on Instagram could provoke either the compliments or the outrage.”

Her love of bikinis is confirmed in her book, Inside Vogue: My Diary of Vogue’s 100th year, which was published in June, where she reveals her ideal streamlined wardrobe list for going on holidays, includes “two bikinis, one swimsuit”.

Alexandra Shulman
Alexandra Shulman

In her candid, entertaining and informative account of her life as Vogue editor during the centenary year of the magazine, juggling a hugely busy professional role with domestic upheavals, the mother of one gives some personal insights into her body image, feeling like a ‘sequin sausage’ for instance, when being fitted for a dress for the Vogue gala party, until the designer transforms her. And in a struggle many women would identify with, she refuses to give up ‘signing off with a plate of food and a glass of wine’, at the end of a stressful day, although she knows she’s gaining weight.

“I am comfortable in my body. I don’t think it’s particularly great, but it doesn’t bother me hugely and makes me realise that being comfortable with your figure has relatively little to do with how you actually look,” she wrote, prior to her bikini furore, in a Daily Mail column.

“Perhaps I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by men who have been very appreciative of it, educated enough to know that there are more interesting things one can offer than a flat stomach.”

While there’s a growing trend of including mature models in the fashion and cosmetic industry, in a bid to appeal to an older audience in a more authentic way, these have been carefully marketed endeavours.

Shulman — whether she consciously knew the impact of her picture, or not — has blasted right through those strategically constructed campaigns, which ironically she has been a party to, in her career at Vogue, by saying: Here I am. Just like you.

It hits the zeitgeist which the personal care brand Dove, has been promoting for well over a decade now, in their ‘real beauty’ campaigns, reaching out to ‘real’ women.

We yearn to be seen and accepted for who we are, but get a totally different message from the global advertising brands that feed into our vulnerabilities.

No matter, Shulman’s selfie also co-incides with the results of a small study just carried out by a British online swimwear company MandCo, which got 1,300 responses from customers, ranging in age from 18 to 80, when it surveyed them about their body confidence.

While the average response put body confidence at 5/10, women in the 56-74 age group were above that, at 6/10.

A total of 46% of 55- to 64-year-olds said they had more things to worry about than how they looked in swimsuits, with this increasing to 51% among those aged 65-74.

While ‘worry about’ can be interpreted in many ways, it’s hopeful to think that what they mean is that life is too short to be self-obsessing about how well we look in a swimsuit: just go ahead, jump in and ride the waves.

In the meantime, Shulman’s selfie may inspire not only our generation, some who bemoan feeling ‘invisible’, but also younger women who may be further crippled by the social media farce of the perfectly projected world.


Mulranny, in the shadow of the Nephin Beg Mountains on the north shore of Clew Bay, is a hill-walker’s paradise.Old Irish goats deserve to be nurtured

In awe of nature’s bounty on a glorious September dayIn awe of nature’s bounty on a glorious September day

Rotten by name but certainly not by nature.Islands of Ireland: Rotten to the core

There’s a revealing story well told by the writer Alice Taylor about the day a neighbour gave a present of a poached salmon to her family.Alice’s salmon of knowledge

More From The Irish Examiner