Swimsuits: Empower or Objectify Women?

When designing swimwear for women, Kamali struggles with public perception of skin-baring clothing.

by Norma Kamali
norma kamali image
Photograph: Norma Kamali

Swimwear is quite different from fashion. Swimwear, like lingerie, is a costume we wear for a specific event. Lingerie is for the bedroom and all that one imagines. Swimwear is made for the sport of swimming, but is also the most provocative clothing worn outside the house.

Women are judged by their looks, face and body, and the swimsuit is the costume traditionally worn for that in its most formalized setting,the beauty pageant. Women exercise and expend great effort to improve their form. A walk down the beach becomes a real-life show, not of fashion, but of the female form displayed to attract men and to compete with other women. Therefore, swimwear is something a woman buys with great care.

My job as a swimwear designer is to think about the swimsuit design as sculpture, 360 degrees of it, to enhance and complement the body. Most important for me is to create a fit that feels good on and a suit that makes the wearer look the best she can. I like to create styles that empower women, but I ask myself, am I not feeding into the stereotype of women as objects when I design swimwear?

I would say that may be the case, since some women in swimwear present themselves as stereotypical sex objects. These women may be thinking that anything that attracts attention is good. They may also be thinking that there is some kind of power in sexual dominance, or even that the shock factor is what will give them a voice.

This may all be true, since Lady Gaga, Madonna and Cher are great examples of women who used their sexual boldness and prospered.

For those who have a great sense of self, who work at fitness and health, and who present themselves as empowered, there is another approach.

The question for women is, are you objectified or empowered, and do we switch from one to the other in our lives?

Read How 9/11 Changed Norma Kamali's Life.

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First Published August 1, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Maricia Johns05.24.2012

Take a look at this blog. It goes right along with this article.

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