How These Autostraddle Writers Do Queer Swimwear for the Beach or Pool

I have a confession: I don’t own a swimsuit. I live blocks from Lake Michigan and spend many summer days at the beach, and for the past several years, my “beach party” look has been cheap sports bra and athletic shorts. But the summer of 2021 is a summer full of promise, and it’s begging me to improve my queer swimwear game.

For many of us, finding swimwear that feels both hot and affirming can seem nearly impossible. These past and current Autostraddle writers are here to give us hope that finding comfortable (or at least semi-comfortable) swimwear is within reach.

Shelli

Shell, a queer person in swimwear,i wears a blue and white striped bikini top and a yellow pleated skirt

What’s your history with swimwear?

I haven’t had a great love with swimwear. I had a hateful relationship with my body for so long. Even when I was in middle school, I hated it. Then after that, there was years of abuse I did to it — the scars left from self-harm and suicide attempts, the pain I’d put it through with going in between dieting and gorging to my body far smaller than it naturally wanted to be — just everything. I barely wanted to wear short sleeves let alone a swimsuit. Then, about five years ago…it clicked.

I had already stated living in and loving my body about five years prior to that — wearing things that I wanted, saying “fuck it” to whoever didn’t like it, and much, much more — but I couldn’t quite make it into a swimsuit. Then, like I said, it just clicked and I started. First with one-pieces and cover ups, then no more cover-ups. Then about two years ago, no more one-pieces. I found bikinis that I loved and started seeing curvy, fat, plus women on social wearing them and was like “SHIT ME TOO BITCH!!!” And every since then I haven’t looked back. I love a pool moment more than ever, but only on the shallow end because my biggest fear is drowning, so I opt to walk around the shallow side with champagne and sunglasses.

Where did you get this swimwear?

This particular set is from Gabi Fresh — most of my swimwear is! It fits perfect. It’s made for larger bodies, it comes in minimal sexy vibes, and there are new ones every season.

How does this swimwear make you feel?

Hotter than fresh buttered biscuits right out the oven.

Abeni

Abeni, a queer person in swimwear, stands in water in front of mountains in a black swimsuit

What’s your history with swimwear?

I am a trans woman, so I very much DON’T like swimwear lol. Typically I have to wear like, a thong under my swimsuit so that I can kind of tuck. But generally I end up having to readjust every five minutes while I’m underwater. I haven’t swam in a pool since I transitioned. In a river, lake or ocean, surrounded by friends and not too many strangers, I feel a little safer. Or if I’m just sunbathing. But it’s always an ordeal. Typically I’ve liked a high-waisted bikini because it gives me a little bit of shape and kind of screams “woman,” so at least people know what I’m going for? But I’ve never been comfortable.

Where did you get this swimwear?

This photo is of me at Lake Tenaya in Yosemite National Park. I didn’t get a better pic of the actual swimsuit — or one with my eyes open — sorry? But it’s the first ever one-piece swimsuit I’ve ever owned. I always kind of wanted a one-piece just for simplicity’s sake, but they are never long enough in the torso (I am 6’5″), which is another reason I always did the bikini thing. But! I researched all over to find “tall” swimsuits, and “long torso” swimsuits, and I landed on andie. They seem to have lots of sizes, their marketing seems to be moderately inclusive and they have “long torso” one-pieces. This is the Havana. It fits pretty OK! I don’t know if $100 is affordable for a swimsuit; it seems average? But it seems pretty high-quality.

How does this swimwear make you feel?

I feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable in this swimsuit, just like in every other swimsuit I’ve ever worn. But …slightly less so, maybe, than in another one? Unless some trans woman decides to make affordable swimsuits for trans women — which…why would she? We’re such a small market. And even among trans women I have a unique body type, so it probably still wouldn’t fit perfectly — I’ll always feel that way. Until I get bottom surgery, maybe. Or a critical mass of humanity gets over their sexism and transphobia and I won’t feel like I have to hide and tuck and be self-conscious. But I’m not holding my breath. This is a nice swimsuit for the meantime! I think a normal-sized trans woman (like, under 6’2″) might even find that it fits amazingly!

Kayla

Kayla, a queer person in swimwear, stands in a body of water wearing a hot pink bikini top and black bikini bottoms

What’s your history with swimwear?

I’ve never really thought much about my swimwear. I usually found a two-piece suit that I liked at Target and then wore it for 3+ years. I rarely owned more than two suits at a time. Which is weird because I love swimming?! But I think it has always been a little hard for me to find the exact kind of suit that I want. I like a high-waisted bottom, and I don’t like a bunch of padding in tops. I don’t like too many strings. I don’t like anything that’s going to lead to weird tan lines. So if I found a suit that I liked that fit me, I just stuck with it.

Then, at the start of the pandemic, I started wearing a bikini top as a shirt around the loft I shared with my girlfriend in Vegas as sort of a bit/ sort of an acknowledgement that fashion felt meaningless during isolation. THEN, I moved with my girlfriend to Florida, and everything changed. I was at Target with her one day and was debating between two different tops that I liked, and she was like……get both? You live in Florida now????? And from then on, I’ve been VERY into swimwear. I have several pairs of black bikini bottoms and then I switch up the colors/patterns for the tops. I haven’t found a one-piece that I like yet. Also, I STILL am wearing bikini tops as shirts a year into the pandemic.

Where did you get this swimwear?

This suit is from Shein, but most of my bathing suits come from Target.

How does this swimwear make you feel?

I feel hot af in this suit. I was a bit nervous at first, because the bottoms are way more revealing than I’m used to. But that’s absolutely the style in Miami. Eeeeeeveryone is in a thong or super tight cheeky swim shorts. Miami Beach is a parade of butts, and I love it! I spent several weeks being like, “I think I wanna try thong bikini bottoms” without actually pulling the trigger, and then I finally bought a two-pack (the black ones pictured and matching white ones) and have zero regrets. Going with a highlighter pink string bikini top was also inspired by my move to Miami, where I’m embracing a lot more color in my wardrobe than I did in Brooklyn.

Lazarus

Lazarus wears royal blue board shorts

What’s your history with swimwear?

I’ve always had a rocky road with swimwear. As a teen, I hung on to wearing a one-piece for as long as possible while my peers moved on to the world of bikinis. Part of it was discomfort with my stomach and a long history of disordered eating and what I now know was gender dysphoria. I never got my bra size measured and would just grab whatever bikini I could from the shelves. In college, I moved into the world of just wearing a sports bra and soccer shorts. This pair of swim trunks was the first I bought post top surgery, and it was a real treat to find something I actually wanted to wear, not just out of necessity. I wear trunks for more than swimming and am grateful for all of the outdoor adventures I’ve been able to go on in this body that finally feels like my own. I need trunks I can hike in, kayak in, schlepp wet puppies around in, and play in sprinklers. I was mad at how long so many swim trunks are! I was very grateful to find the booty short equivalent of trunks that met all my outdoorsy needs.

Where did you get this swimwear?

I got this pair at H&M ages ago — they were affordable and had pockets, what more does a queer need?

How does this swimwear make you feel?

These trunks make me feel like the boi I knew I always was. I remember being so envious of the boys at the pool running around with their shirts off in roomy trunks. Slipping on these trunks and sliding into the water feels like a homecoming.

Vanessa

What’s your history with swimwear?

I definitely used to hate swimwear. As a fat girl with big boobs, I was really self conscious. I remember so clearly the fear I felt in middle school anytime I was invited to a pool party; in 8th grade the whole school got to go to a water park at the end of the year, and while it seemed like everyone else viewed it as a treat, I spent weeks beforehand worrying and crying, thinking about how awful I was going to feel when all my classmates saw me in a bathing suit. I ended up spending a lot of money on a one piece “spanx” suit that “sucked me in” and I was really uncomfortable all day. I wish I could say that was the last time I felt bad in swimwear, but no, this pattern continued for a long time.

And then…something shifted. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my relationship with my body changed, and it was a gradual process for sure, but I slowly unlearned my own toxic thoughts and feelings about being a fat girl (this isn’t a piece about fat liberation so I won’t dive into this too much, but I do want to highlight the fact that without fat activists, there is no way I ever would have arrived at the mental place I now live when it comes to my feelings about my body). Coinciding with this, it seemed like the market was finally starting to realize that…fat girls wanted to look cute in bathing suits. Or more specifically: we were accepting and celebrating that we always look cute, and we wanted bathing suits to reflect our confidence! It’s honestly very frustrating to get to a point in your own fat liberation journey where you can look at your naked self in a mirror and say, damn, I look amazing, and then try to shop online for some clothes that also look amazing only to be met with boring solids, infantilizing prints, or ugly color combos. I know that some designers have been creating clothes and swimwear for fat babes for a very long time, and some designers still have a very long way to go before their sizing (even their “plus” sizing) is actually inclusive to all fat bodies, but it did feel like for me, my confidence coincided with a moment when there were more options for small fat girls with big tits. So suddenly shopping for bathing suits, a thing that had brought me a lot of anxiety for my whole life, was something I was…cautiously excited about. That felt really cool, and I definitely leaned in hard.

Where did you get this swimwear?

To be honest, 75% of my swimwear is Gabi Fresh! She was the first designer I bought a bikini from in my adult life, and the experience was a revelation. Gabi is a fat girl herself and I love her style, so I felt really good about supporting her designs and I genuinely loved all the options. I’ve spoken quite a bit about being fat and how that affects my swimsuit vibe, but I haven’t focused too much on my other big swimsuit hurdle: my boobs! As anyone with big boobs knows, finding suits that fit, even if you’re thin, can be really challenging!

I have another disappointing swimsuit memory from childhood (I think I was 14?) when a brand of bathing suit came out specifically for people with larger breasts. It was, as with my spanx suit, very expensive, but I hoped it would be worth it. I really just felt so left out when all the girls I was friends with would get together and trade bikini tops with ease; I wanted to be able to go to Old Navy and buy cheap bikinis and trade with my friends. I know in the scheme of life it’s not the biggest deal, but it really sucked for my self-esteem. Anyhow, I thought this new bikini line would change everything – it was genuinely pretty, a simple black suit with bright red cherries printed all over, and it promised to fit my boobs…but nope. The largest size, DDD, was a joke on my body. At 14, I was not trying to have my tits explode out of my bikini (which now, at 32, honestly sometimes is my goal) and I was just so disappointed.

ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY…I find it very cool that Gabi Fresh’s line includes a lot of cup sizes. It’s not perfect — I know it hasn’t yet expanded to sizing that would be truly inclusive — but for my specific body, it works. I especially like how so many of the styles feature actual cups in their bikini tops, because they give support that I rarely find in even my favorite bras. The suits ARE pricey, but they often go on sale and then super sale, so if you’re open to buying in the off season, you can get really good deals.

I’ve also dipped my toe into swimwear from Forever21‘s plus size section and some random other spots — I recently got a HEAVILY discounted Juicy Couture plus size suit for $10! With these cheaper brands, it’s definitely hit or miss; sometimes they just don’t fit at all or if they do it’s like, good luck taking one vaguely bouncy step, your tits are going to fall right out of that top, Vanessa — but like I said, sometimes these days, that’s not so much a liability as my actual goal. So you know, proceed with caution but also, you’re welcome.

How does this swimwear make you feel?

If it’s not already clear, my relationship with swimwear has TOTALLY changed, and I am now obsessed with it. These bikinis (and the few one piece suits I own) make me feel amazing. I love that as a fat girl with big tits, I now live in a world where I have options when it comes to swimwear, and all of those options make me feel really good about myself. The bold patterns and the stylish cuts make me feel considered, and the more I see myself and other people with bodies like mine in bikinis, the more I want more bikinis. Some of my fat friends and I will often buy the same swimsuits so we can take photos together of us in our matching suits all summer long, which adds a fun element to things and gifts me the experience I wanted so badly as a preteen: trading bikini tops with my pals as if it was no big deal.

As I said above, my relationship to loving my body has been long and gradual, and I think it would be really reductive to say “cute bikinis helped me love and accept my bod!” but I’d be glossing over something important if I didn’t acknowledge how helpful cute bikinis have been in my fat acceptance journey overall. For small fat femme of center babes, I can’t recommend Gabi Fresh and her bathing suits enough. She did change the game for me, and I’m grateful.

Kaelyn

Kaeyln relaxes in an inflatable unicorn-shaped pool while wearing a black bikini and black bikini bottoms. A child stands near the pool.

What’s your history with swimwear?

I like to think of my body as in its swimwear prime right now, because it took me this damn long to get mostly comfortable with showing skin and feeling hot in a two-piece. I got my first true two-piece two years ago, at the ripe age of 36, to wear to A-Camp, incidentally. I figured there was no better place for working on body confidence. Coincidentally, I wasted years of what our white supremacist Capitalist society deems my most attractive years (a.k.a. my teens and youth a.k.a. my thinner years) hiding behind blocky one-pieces and athletic-looking suits. Part of what got me here is my own self-love journey, part is following and surrounding myself with hot fat babes and part is watching the freedom with which my toddler moves and loves her body. I remembered that I used to wear cute little frilly two pieces as a little kid, when my round tummy was considered “cute” and not “gross,” and decided to take back that part of my that got wiped out by puberty-era shame. I literally just a day ago bought three more swimsuits for this hot-as-hell summer, two of which are bikinis. Maybe one day I’ll make it to a place where I feel comfortable in a string bikini and not just a high-waist bikini, but don’t rush me — I’m working on it.

Where did you get this swimwear?

This is that first bikini! It’s a basic suit from Torrid and I also got a sheer black duster as a coverup.

How does this swimwear make you feel?

Honestly, a little vulnerable. And a lot hot. I wore it for the first time at A-Camp, where I felt super sexy among many other people of many genders and body sizes also wearing whatever they wanted. It’s become my go-to suit, but I admittedly felt a little nervous wearing it to a very heterosexual beach in a very heterosexual rural area later that summer, in front of my partners’ family and my family and to the public waterpark. That said, everywhere I wore it, I got compliments and it definitely felt good.

Archie

What’s your history with swimmer?

Swimwear has always sort of sucked for me, but I think this is because I genuinely hate swimming! For several years, I didn’t own a swimsuit because I avoided getting in the water. This is the first year I really sought out a swimsuit that might work for me. I previously had an Outplay Compression Swim Top (it’s living strong in an ex’s closet) which I really loved! Binding while swimming was IDEAL! However, my relationship to my chest has totally changed, and now when I’m in the sun, I just wanna be tits-out. I don’t have a swim top for this reason — if I’m in the water, I’m going to be around people I love and trust and thusly nude on top. I resent my chest being policed and don’t wanna play the game of “if it’s not a flat chest it must be covered.” Again, I don’t go swimming, so if I’m in the water, it’ll be at a pal’s pool or whatever. I’m sure if I ever wanted to go to a public beach or pool this would be different, but I don’t want to do those things because 1. indoor kid and 2. I wanna be tits out, and if I can’t be, then I don’t wanna go.

Where did you get this swimwear?

I got these two swimsuits from Lockwood51. I love some of the shirts they’ve printed, and they’ve been on my radar for awhile. I liked that they labeled their clothes as gender-neutral, and I was pleasantly surprised that they fit my ass and thighs when I put them on. Frequently, “men’s” clothing doesn’t account for thighs. They’re both super comfortable, and the little leopard shorts fully cover my butt, which is what I wanted.

How does this swimwear make you feel?

They make me feel great! I LOVE the loud prints and colors. I think they reflect my aesthetic perfectly. I can’t wait to lounge next to the pool in these looks.

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Ro White is a Chicago-based writer and sex educator. Follow Ro on Twitter.

Ro has written 59 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this article, especially the range of experiences and preferences. One of my first self-aware experiences of gender euphoria was when I stopped trying to find “boycut” swim bottoms in the women’s section that remotely approximated the fit I wanted and instead paired swimsuit bottoms from the men’s section with a bikini top. I felt awesome, and the fact that it came with nerdy character options (I went with X-Men) was an added bonus.

  2. Im a year-round lap swimmer in addition to loving and active and sporty beach day and it took me years to embrace bathing suits that actually let me move, body surf, and feel good. I remember watching Olympic women’s volleyball when i was like 12 and wanting those Nautica suits so badly! Im masculine-leaning but with all the feminine curves and now Im even pregnant so things can be weird in this body. Before 7 months ago I usually went with a boyshort bottom or even a mens square-leg speedo from some random brands at SwimOutlet and now that my belly and chest have tripled in size Im wearing HM mens swim shorts with lots of room and any sports bra type top I can strap these new boobs into. Its an adventure for sure but once I started prioritizing activity and movement I got so much happier in swimwear.

  3. Hey! I’m a transmasc nonbinary person and this spring in preparation for Slutty Summer I bought my first swim trunks and they have been so amazing! I got baggy knee length pink ones that to me scream “gay man”, short blue ones with green sea turtles, and shortish tight fitting light blue ones with a rainbow on the ass. I am happy to be the person who now wears swim shorts as regular shorts, and now live in a beach town so it’s an especially great vibe. Additionally, I had made it my goal to try topless swimming this summer, which I have now done twice and it felt so very extremely euphoric and amazing! I haven’t had and don’t want at all top surgery, so I’m not sure if topless swimming is legal and almost certainly isn’t culturally acceptable here in MI, but it feels damn good and I haven’t had a single problem yet!
    I am a skinny, white, passing-as-a-man-if-I-wear-the-right-clothes transmasc enby, so I know I have the least likelihood of having problems being so visibly out. But, I have had literally zero problems in my two swims on public beaches and I even talked to a stranger on my second one!

  4. I really loved this article! I am masc of centre and bikinis always made me feel so uncomfortable and exposed – there’s never enough material. Then last year I moved to a small town on the UK south coast and thought “fuck it, I am not gonna spend all my time on the beach feeling crap”. So now I have 5″ board shorts (with pockets thank you very much!) and a top which could double as a racer-back sports bra. Sometimes if I am feeling less-than I have a rash shirt. I basically live in these things now and finally enjoy being outside in summer!
    It’s so nice to hear everyone else’s experiences, hope y’all find what you need to have a good time out there!

  5. I am deeply inspired by Archie committing to getting some chest sun. I’m gonna commit to finding that experience too.

    I’m here to plug Chromat, which has (relatively) size inclusive marketing and sporty looks. https://chromat.co/collections/swimwear

    I got the Tidal suit, a high neck, short sleeve one piece with a sexy mesh boob window, on sale in XL. It will also work as a bodysuit at the lesbian club when that becomes a thing again!

  6. Vanessa, I feel you so much on not being able to find swimsuits that fit big boobs! And the disappointment when a brand claims to offer an expanded size range but still only goes up to DDD cup. My favorite swimsuit top right now is a high neck tankini top from Land’s End. It’s not super sexy but it’s flattering and supportive enough that I can actually be active in it. The only problem is it’s really hard to get off when it’s wet. Sometimes my wife has to help me and we have a good laugh over it. If you find sexy swimwear in H/I/J cup size please let me know!

  7. Well, the main thing I learned from this piece is that the AS writers are CUTE and HOT in their swimsuits!!! I’m 6’0 and always needed long torso one-pieces, so Abeni, I feel your pain in that department! It took me a long time (and a lot of avoiding water/wearing a sports bra) to figure out swimwear, but what’s working for me currently is a pair of shorter swim trunks with a gender-neutral cut from Humankind and a bikini top from Vuori that’s athletic enough for my tastes but doesn’t feel dowdy – and the T-strap lengthens out enough to reach all the way over my extremely tall shoulders. As another tip, I know Girlfriend Collective has some swimwear and they go up to 6X I believe – I haven’t tried their swimsuits yet but I love their athletic gear so might be worth a shot! Good luck in the water this year, queers!

  8. this is awesome!
    I totally feel Archie regarding the hate of swimming. I just mostly don’t like swimming (I am also, just, unable to and always need to be held by friends so I don’t drown which is panic-inducing). I still like the sea and two years ago I actually felt so comfortable and fearless that I spent some days in the sea with friends (the first day I even jumped in in my clothes bc I had not planned on it at all). also, I don’t know if anyone can relate, I am AFAB nonbinary and do have enormous social and some body dysphoria, and my aesthetic wildly alternates between dapper and high-femme vintage 50’s dresses. I particularly favour the latter regarding swimsuits, my favourite one (and the only one I really use tbh) is a high-waist two-piece with a frilly mini-skirt and a shoulderless top. I love it so fucking much and it also makes me feel good about my belly. it’s just so cute. but of course, on a day where I feel more dysphoric/more on the dapper side, I feel uncomfortable in it.

  9. My swim gear from TomboyX is the first time I’ve felt like myself in a swimsuit. It’s basically a racer back sports bra and boxer briefs, but like the swim version. I feel like I can be active and also lounge in it! highly recommend!

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