These are the things I'm not:
- Sexy. If I could pick from the (many) labels women are given based on physical appearances—stunning, regal, "manly," to name a few—I'd file myself under cute.
- Petite. I have an athletic build—that's how I've always been and probably how I always will be. If you ask my friends, my mom, or my boyfriend, they will roll their eyes and tell you that I complain about my legs every chance I get. I've always been insanely jealous of girls with tiny legs, wishing I could wear miniskirts and Daisy Dukes.
So a one-piece fishnet bathing suit (with a high-cut bikini line, low-cut top and back, and strategically placed pieces of more opaque fabric) is not something you'd normally see me wearing. But one morning, my editor asked if I had any interest in trying on one from Minimale Animale. I said yes (reluctantly), convinced that the sexy bathing suit, called "the Firebird," would lose all its sexiness as soon as I slipped it on.
BUY IT: The Firebird, MINIMALE ANIMALE, $300
The bathing suit gave me anxiety before I even put it on. Regardless of my editor assuring me that I would look awesome in it, all I could imagine was cellulite and my burrito baby from the previous night's Chipotle endeavors. I wear a "regular" bikini every weekend during the summer and feel totally fine, but I wasn't cool with this. This bathing suit wasn't like the others: It wasn't safe because it wasn't what everyone else wears. I see hot girls like Kylie Jenner and Tash Oakely posing on Instagram in bathing suits almost every other day. They own it and look hot. I was convinced that I would look disappointing.
But I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in the mirror. My legs actually looked long. The suit cut in all the right places and highlighted my waist. I had this incredible sideboob action going on. The bathing suit didn't become less sexy as I'd feared, and actually, I looked like dayum. So I agreed to wear it for a day over the Fourth of July weekend. (It was a red, white, and blue suit, after all.)
On the day of, I looked in the mirror and I thought, I can do this. I had a tan from the previous day at the beach, and I was still surprised by how flattering the suit looked on me. I walked downstairs to greet my family in it, unsure of their reactions. My mom said, "Oh, wow! You look like you should be in Baywatch!" (Moms <3). My boyfriend said I looked hot, and my 3-year-old niece pointed to my butt, laughed, and said, "Danielle, your tush is out!" When no one in my family really made a big deal out of it, I felt ready to leave the house and show it off. Plus, I was in a beach town where everyone's always in swimwear anyway. It was going to be great!
9:15 a.m.: Sunday Morning Starbucks Run
Wearing shorts over the bathing suit, I went to the usual Starbucks I go to when I'm at the beach. I'd gone to this Starbucks plenty of times before wearing just a swimsuit and a cover-up, so I figured the Firebird wouldn't be a big deal.
It was actually a huge deal. As soon as I walked in, I got dirty looks from every direction. Ten-year-old girls were pointing their fingers and whispering about me. One woman muttered under her breath as she stared at me as if I were worth nothing.
I could feel myself turning red. It was as if I had committed a crime, and I was being punished for it with stares and whispers.
What was the issue? I looked sexy. I looked exactly how every woman is pressured to look based on standards for women set by society and Hollywood. Every time I walk past a Victoria's Secret or a new editorial spread comes out featuring a half-naked celebrity looking flawless, I feel like the only acceptable way to look as a woman is to be sexy as hell. Here I was, finally doing it, and instead of everyone being all, "Work it, girl! Good for you!" I was getting stares and whispers that made me feel worthless.
I left Starbucks in shock. I had learned how harsh society—one that demands that women be sexy—could be when a woman actually dresses sexually.
11:45 a.m.: Kendall Jenner-Style Photo Shoot
If I was going to wear a sexy-as-hell bathing suit, I might as well take some sexy-as-hell pictures. Regardless of feeling completely shamed at Starbucks, I felt confident in my physical appearance. I looked good, but I still felt conflicted about admitting that. The nagging problem was that I looked sexy, maybe too sexy.
But during my backyard photo shoot, I felt like I was finally releasing the inner hot girl I'd always wanted to be but was too afraid to show. I'd never wanted to come off as too "forward," or "slutty." For as long as I can remember, I've been dressing for everyone else and not myself. Or at least, not just myself. I have society in mind when I pick out my outfit in the morning, and I don't think I'm the only one.
But when I was in my Kylie Jenner Instagram world, I was doing it for myself and I felt fearless. All those labels were merely that: labels. They weren't—aren't—real.
I was having fun and embracing my body for what it was. I never knew that I could take sexy, fun photos that I've seen on Instagram and then felt shitty about. All those times I thought I couldn't be sexy like Kylie were bullshit. I could be sexy.
I wasn't sure how people would respond to the photo when I put it on Instagram because of how different it was from what I usually post. I usually get 300 to 400 likes on my photos, but this time, I got a little over 200. To my surprise, my female followers who typically like what I post didn't double-tap this one. It was like I was getting the silent treatment from other women. The likes I did get were from guys I went to high school with and even some guys from middle school. It was a digital version of how I felt at Starbucks. I finally posted a sexy Instagram, the kind that everyone is obsessed with when celebrities do it, but I felt shamed for doing that same thing.
12:00 p.m.: Boat Ride
I headed to the marina to go on a boat ride, taking a golf cart from my house. I was wearing shorts over the Firebird, but I still turned quite a few heads from the back of the cart, which faced oncoming traffic. I could tell there were some conversations in cars about me.
At the marina, I had to walk across the dock to get to the boat and there were a few people thrown off by my outfit. I wear a bikini there every weekend, but this was so insanely different. Why was everyone so afraid of fishnet? This was the question in my head all day.
When we got on the boat, I was slightly uncomfortable because I was doing the typical things I do to help with family to get the boat out of the dock. My nipples kept popping out, and bending down in the suit was nerve-racking. I ended up wrapping a towel around myself in order to prevent everyone from getting a free show. It's not the most comfortable bathing suit to wear if you're moving around (Great for standing still and taking pictures though!).
Once we were on the water, I felt comfortable and actually pretty cool. I felt like a celebrity (and I kind of was—LeAnn Rimes had the same idea!). Plus, the people on the boat were people who didn't mind my outfit.
Since the Firebird made me feel sexy, it also made me feel cool. I'm typically a very talkative person, but not that day. I was quiet and posing to show off how cool I looked. I felt like I was modeling. I didn't want to talk; I just wanted to embrace what I was wearing and make people look at me like a complete badass.
1:15 p.m.: At the Beach, Where I Belonged
No one paid attention to me. I didn't feel weird or shamed. Everyone was in a bathing suit, and so was I.
4:45 p.m.: Shedding the Sexy Suit
After an exhausting day of feeling sexy, judged, and ashamed, I decided it was time to change out of my bathing suit and into one of my "normal" bikinis. Technically, I was the most exposed I had been all day, yet I felt the most comfortable because no one made anything of it. I walked downtown, I rode on a golf cart, and no one did a double take. I blended in again. I felt relief that I was no longer the center of attention and that I didn't have to watch out for any more nip slips, but I missed the way the Firebird had made me feel.
Here are some parting words from the former cute girl: Everyone wants to be sexy but no one feels empowered to wear sexy things. Why are we afraid? How come Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé get hundreds of thousands likes on their Instagram posts when they're embracing their bodies? We all want to be as hot as Hollywood, but if you aren't in Hollywood, you're shamed when you look sexy. I know because I was shamed.
I also know what sexy is now, and I'm not afraid of it. Being sexy is showing off all the awesome features you have. If you don't think you're sexy, it's because you haven't allowed yourself to be — yet. You can absolutely do what Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian do, if that's what you want. You're going to turn some heads but you'll realize that you do look good and you are sexy and there's not a damn thing wrong with that.