The Perfect Beach Body Is B.S. — & These Gorgeous, Un-Retouched Photos Prove It

"There’s not one box we can all fit in," says Clémentine Desseaux, model and co-founder of the All Woman Project, a group dedicated to spreading body positivity, confidence, and inclusivity across social media. "It's time for the media to start putting out positive messages, especially around 'beach body' time, the summer time — less hating, less diet, less changing your body, and more embracing your body, loving your body, and accepting how it is. Our goal is to show women they can be their own inspiration."
She is right, of course. Earlier this summer, Refinery29 surveyed 1,000 women about their bodies, and among the more shocking revelations: 73% of respondents said that wearing a swimsuit at the pool or beach is one of the most stressful situations they face; nearly three in four reported they avoid the beach because of their body image. While we don't expect everyone to love their bodies, we do wish that more women could let go of irrational expectations and actually enjoy themselves this summer.
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With some visual inspiration, the AWP is here to remind us to embrace our flaws, and take back the beach with a vengeance. Below, read what this diverse group of women have to say about self-confidence, self-love, and the notion of a "perfect beach body" — which, for the record, is total bullshit.
Director: Julia Pitch; Director Of Photography: Tarek Turkey; B-camera: Julia Pitch; Assistant Camera: Alice Plati; Post Producers: Julia Pitch, Jessica Rezendes, and Stacy Scripter; Editor: Sara Sowell; Graphics and Subtitles: Evelyn Zhang.
Clémentine Desseaux
"Wearing a swimsuit is probably the most challenging thing to do for most women, and it was for me, too, for the longest time. I grew up having insecurities with my body. From age 10 through 22, so most of my life, I tried dieting; I was trying to look like someone else or be something else. Until I moved to Miami, I was only accustomed to wearing a swimsuit three or four times a year, so I was quite stressed about showing my body and people being able to see my cellulite, which I usually hide under pants and dresses, or my belly that I cant suck in all the time. France (where I'm from) is so narrow-minded, and a country where looking like me is a problem. In Miami, everyone was free and wearing bikinis at whatever size. It was very liberating to see that and realize that I wasn't that different or abnormal, that I could just be myself.
Carven Pull-on Waistcoat in Ottoman with Embroidery “Mini Blason C,” $507, available at Carven; Araks Enil bikini bottom, $105, available at Araks; Eres One-piece Triangle Swimsuit, $506, available at Eres; Karla Colletto swim brief; Off White T-shirt.
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"It was until very recently that I decided to stop and to live for myself and be happy, regardless of what my body looks like, regardless of my weight or my size. It takes a while; I think it’s a long journey that every woman goes through, and we all have different ways of dealing with it. But when I started being happier and more confident with my body, I can now say that being on the beach in my favorite swimsuit is probably the moment I feel the best and the most confident. And I don’t really care anymore if my belly’s too big or if you can see my cellulite when I run on the beach."
Karla Colletto Iris Silent Underwire Lace-up One-piece Swimsuit, $363, available at Neiman Marcus.
Charli Howard
“I didn't wear a bikini in my teenage years. I actually still haven’t been on holiday and worn a bikini, which sounds a bit ridiculous to people because I’m a size six, but it’s true — I’ve never felt comfortable enough to put on a swimsuit and own it. I’ve always had insecurities about my body, and I never want to feel that way again. I want to feel confident for the first time. I want to go on the beach and not worry about what I look like, and just enjoy the beach for what it is: a lovely holiday. I don’t want to constantly be worried about jiggling, or whether or not I look fat in a swimsuit. I just want to have fun. I’ve spent my life worrying so much that I don’t look right or that my body is out of shape or not thin enough, and for the first time I just want to put on a swimsuit and have fun.
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"I think as I've gotten older and just see women enjoying themselves and walking around with cellulite and not looking like the women I see on Instagram, that's really encouraged me to do and act the same. I don’t worry anymore about the size of my thighs or the fact that they’re not super-toned or skinny. They’re mine and I love them.”
Tory Sport rash guard; Araks Mallory Hipster Lemon Bikini Bottom, $140, available at Araks; DKNY pants.
Sammy Picone
"I started pole dancing about three years ago, and my body has gone through a huge transformation. I’ve grown a lot more muscular — what some people would call more “masculine” — so it’s been a struggle, at times, and I definitely have overcome it by seeing women around me who look similar to me, and seeing what my body can do for me.
"I actually feel most confident in a bathing suit. I’ve never been one to express myself through clothing, I’d much rather express myself through my body. Because I have such an athletic body type and I don’t really see that represented in fashion, there’s some sort of disconnect between me and what I wear. At times I feel frustration about that, but again, it’s inspired me to express myself in other ways, so it’s definitely been a positive thing. So, despite, again, having insecurities, I really feel most comfortable when I’m free to show my body to the world. I think allowing one’s body to flow and move without restriction is a way of expression that many people don’t get to experience in life, and I think it just allows a person’s true soul to shine through."
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Eloquii Crisscross Contrast One-piece Swimsuit, $111, available at Eloquii.
Bree Wijnaar
"My body is long and luscious; I’m 6’4” and a size 16/18. In my teenage years, there wasn’t a lot out there in terms of fashion options for my height and for my body type, so I really struggled to find basics, cute shoes, jeans. And that makes it really hard, because dressing the way you want and being comfortable in your clothes is such a big part of the energy you exude. Right? I think that’s for everyone. If you put on a dress that doesn’t fit properly, you’re uncomfortable.
"That's why I absolutely love when I see women loving themselves and being confident, no matter what shape or size they are. I think, as women, we should do a better job encouraging each other and also voicing the positivity you get from them. When I see women who are either dressed to the nines or are just killing it in their outfit or have a Naomi Campbell walk, I voice my appreciation. It makes me feel great when I see someone else thriving, and I think it rubs off on me. But we don’t always say it. And I think we need to do a lot more of that."
Eloquii Off The Shoulder Bubble Bikini Top, $83, available at Eloquii; Eloquii Ruched High Waist Bikini Bottom, $65, available at Eloquii; Araks Elias Bikini Top, $200, available at Araks; Versace skirt.
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Lulu Bonfils
“I definitely feel insecurities every now and then, and I always have. I have a lot of cuts on my arms and legs, and everything is very noticeable when I'm wearing a swimsuit because I have pale skin and I’m not covered up at all. I've started to slowly overcome them by forcing myself to show more skin, especially my arms, and just being like, ‘fuck it,’ wear a tank top, wear short-sleeves, and not care anymore.
"I feel like a lot of people get it twisted that it’s trendy to be diverse, that it’s just an image. But I feel like it’s definitely an ethical necessity to have diversity, and I think a lot of people are trying to press people to become the more fit, better version of themselves, but I think everybody is fine the way they are. I feel people kind of want to include me as the “token fat girl,” or they just want it for the quick image. I think that a lot of people, a lot of young kids, are looking up to plus-size women in the fashion industry because it’s what they need and it’s what they want."
Rag & Bone Daphne Sweater Dress, $550, available at Shopbop; Lands’ End Women’s Swim Tee Rash Guard, $28, available at Lands’ End.
Miski Muse
“I don’t want to hide my body when I go to the beach this summer. I don't want to compare my body to the next woman's, or feel like I have to have the 'perfect bikini body,' whatever that 'perfect bikini body' is. I don’t believe in imperfections: Your rolls make you you. Society creates that. Nobody has a six pack. A handful of people get to decide things for the rest of us. Just embrace your body and everything kind of falls into place.
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"I think I speak for most women when I say we’ve all had an insecure moment or two. Growing up, I never liked that my hips were wider than the rest of my body, so as I’ve grown older I’ve really taught myself to just accept the body that I’m in and embrace my flaws. At the end of the day, this is my body and I only have one. I don’t wear a two-piece or bikini, and I haven’t for a very long time. I wear a maxi dress or something loose and comfortable to the beach, for religious reasons and also personal preference. I don’t wear a traditional swimsuit, but I still go to the beach. I love the beach, I love the ocean, and I don’t allow any restrictions to hold me back."
Karla Colletto Barcelona One-piece Off-the-Shoulder Swimsuit, $262, available at Karla Colletto.
Natalia Harris
"My body is unique because it's bionic. I’m a bone cancer survivor, and I have an internal prosthetic leg that’s made out of titanium. It’s definitely made me who I am and has allowed me to embrace what society may call imperfections and view it as a beautiful masterpiece.
"I love wearing bodysuits that shape my body, as well as shorts that show my scar, because it brings up questions. It’s something that you don’t expect people to embrace, and some people don’t, and it shows that, regardless of our scars, or what society may consider a flaw, it doesn’t define us. I think showing my scar is a way to show others, or a young woman like me, that although I may have a 15-inch scar down my leg, I can still wear shorts, I can still be beautiful, and they can too. I think a part of growing out of insecurities is not comparing yourself to others and realizing the beauty in authenticity, and realizing that there’s so much more to you than what’s on the outside."
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Karla Colletto Barcelona One-piece Off-the- Shoulder Swimsuit, $262, available at Karla Colletto.
Leyna Bloom
"I feel most confident being naked. If it’s in the summertime, I try to be as naked as possible, because during the summer, I just want to be free. I want to just wake up and go out into the sun. This is the time people wait for all year round. You waited all year long for the summer. This is your time to really rock it. Don’t let a swimsuit hold you back.
"Every person on this earth goes through a stage of not loving the person they’re looking at in the mirror. It’s a scary feeling. But to overcome that, you can’t just love the outer you, you have to love all of you. I’m the only person on this earth who has my measurements. I’m the only person on this earth who has my smile, my walk, my touch, my energy. Knowing that is truly heavenly. I love that no one looks like me, and I celebrate that. I don’t want to look like anyone else. I want to be blessed in my uniqueness.
"So be free, and let the wind blow through your hair."
Eres One-piece Swimmer, $483, available at Eres.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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