Why is it still so hard to find a good plus-size swimsuit?

Between the unflattering fluorescent lighting and just how grueling it can be to find something that actually fits both your top half and your bottom half, swimsuit shopping can be a living, breathing hell.

Now multiply that experience by, say, 20 or 30. That’s about how bad it is for many plus-size women to find a swimsuit that not only fits but is actually cute.

This point was illustrated best by blogger Aliss Bonython, who posted a picture of herself struggling in a dressing room, wearing a swimsuit that barely covered her body. “The reality of bikini shopping as a plus-size woman,” she wrote in the photo’s caption.

Although Bonython’s experience was harrowing, it pales in comparison to what it would have been like 10 years ago for a plus-size woman to find a suit that fits. You can credit the body positivity movement — and high-profile plus-size women like Ashley Graham — for some of this progress.

“I think that it used to be easy for companies to ignore the plus-size market, because you didn’t see a lot of diverse representation in mainstream media,” Sara Mitzner, the creative director at Swimsuits For All, one of the few companies creating high-quality and cute swimsuits for women who wear up to size 34, said in an interview. “Now, thanks to the overwhelming support of women like Ashley Graham, Hunter McGrady, and GabiFresh, brands have to take notice and start offering pieces for women of all different sizes.”

Still, companies like Swimsuits For All remain in the minority. There are brands — like Torrid, Target, Monif C, ModCloth and soon Eloquii, which will be launching its first swimsuit collection in mid-April — that carry plus-size swimwear, but most mainstream brands do not, and the industry as a whole remains largely uncharted.

So to find out what’s really going on here, and what needs to change, we spoke with a number of brands and a plus-size model about the issues facing the industry and how progress can actually be made.

What are the problems facing plus-size women now?

Options, options, options

The most overwhelming problem facing plus-size women is the lack of options when it comes to swimsuit styles. For Nicole Spiezio, a plus-size blogger and model, right now she sees two types of women being targeted for swimsuits.

“The options are either like a tankini and the swim-dresses, which feel a little bit more conservative than my personal style,” Spiezio said. “Or you can go the sexy bikini route, which I love as an option but it’s not right for me.”

It’s either super-matronly or super-sexy. Beyond just fit concerns, plus-size women are yearning for more options when it comes to styles too.

“The issue for plus-size women has been finding a cute swimsuit that is not ‘skirted’ or trying to hide something or looks like it was made for her grandmother,” Jodi Arnold, Eloquii’s vice president of design, said. “Everyone wants to look and feel good no matter what the occasion.”

It’s not one-size-fits-all

Also holding back progress is the fact that most plus-size swimsuit models have hourglass figures, meaning that women like Spiezio, who described herself as “oval-shaped,” only see prospective suits modeled on a body that looks nothing like their own.

“It’s not the shape of my body,” Spiezio said. “It’s hard to visualize what’s going to look good on my body. I think that the great thing right now is we are pushing how sexy and cute and feminine plus-size swimsuits can be. And they are making cute stuff than they made previously, but I struggle to see how I fit in.”

This is a problem that retailers have noticed. As one of Torrid’s own designers said, retailers often fit and design swimsuits according to just one body type, not considering the rest.

“Plus-size women aren’t all shaped the same; they can carry their weight in different places,” Keni Rivas, a Torrid swim technical designer, said. “Oftentimes, retailers do as little work as possible, offering suits that would fit ‘most’ bodies — which just doesn’t cut it in this customer segment.”

Online only

What’s making this process even more difficult for women like Spiezio is that most of the swimsuits in sizes for her (she’s a size 24) are online. So imagine trying to buy a swimsuit that’s only modeled on a person several sizes smaller than you, with a completely different body type. It is, to say the least, difficult.

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