screen time

When Did Wearing a Bathing Suit Get So Complicated?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: SplashNews

Now more than ever, people are experiencing fashion through their phones. In “Screen Time,” fashion writer Emilia Petrarca shares all the screenshots, double taps, and swipes she made this week.

Lately, TikTok has been serving me video after video about how I’m wearing bikinis wrong. Well, not “wrong,” exactly, but not optimized to their full potential. Women are not only wearing their bikini tops upside down in public — the dreaded, much discussed “upside-down bikini trend” — but they’re also wearing their bottoms backwards and their bottoms as tops. [Insert brain exploding emoji.]

In hundreds and hundreds of videos, women of all ages, shapes, and sizes teach their followers about how to flip their bikinis and tie them differently to make them more flattering. One girl (below) demonstrates 11 various ways to tie a simple top, calling at least three of them “super cute,” and one of them “literally adorable.” So easy!!! Or so it seems.

The thing is … I do find most of these options literally adorable. Obviously, I question whether some of them would work if you moved your body, like, even an inch, or had a larger cup size. For every life-hack video on TikTok, there’s another one debunking it, or arguing that it only works for a photo, or on women who are skinny blonde teenagers. (And, of course, there are plenty of videos of people botching it.) But even if these hacks aren’t useful in real life, they’re certainly fun to watch.

One of my favorites — mostly because it’s so absurd — is the hack where you layer two bikini bottoms on top of each other to create a top, instead of just … buying a top. But whatever works, I guess.

As it turns out, I am currently in the market for a bathing suit, but I’m having trouble finding one that’s average priced, not crappy, and relatively normal looking. One that won’t give me wild tan lines, and that I don’t have to wear upside down or backward or inside out to flatter my body. Is that so much to ask?

Apparently, it is. Of course, there have always been absurd bathing suits out there. Back in the day, women used to wear wool to the beach, so I guess you could say there’s been a marked improvement in swimwear over time. But I’m pretty sure Instagram reversed whatever progress we’ve been making — and by Instagram, I mostly mean the Kardashians and Kardashian-adjacents.

For years, the Kardashians have been teasing us with teeny-tiny bathing suits that seem anatomically challenging (and occasionally look like face masks). They’ve also recently gotten into tying their bathing suits every which way, either inspired by TikTok or vice versa. Their style has, naturally, exerted an influence on swimwear brands, and now, we seem stuck between two extremes: Either you can buy a boring bathing suit for getting in the water, or an eye-catching bathing suit that only works on Instagram. Where’s the middle ground?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a neat conclusion here. Maybe social media’s effect on bathing suits explains why women have to hack their way to the beach these days. Maybe what I really need to do is wear my tops on my bottom, and my bottoms on my top, and walk to the water on my hands.

When Did Wearing a Bathing Suit Get So Complicated?