The celebrity bikini photo — and the backlash to barely-clothed women — are timeless features of the Instagram epoch. But stars are now defending their right to dress down.
This week, Salma Hayek, 54, said posting photos taken during a January getaway was “liberating” as they represented her health goals. "I'm glad I took a lot of pictures, I have no shame on it, because it was the first week of the vacation,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “I had to lose a lot of weight and exercise to get into the bikini towards the end of last year,” adding, “People are sick of it but I'm going to let them take a break.”
Elizabeth Hurley, 55, launched a photo series titled “Pretend Vacation” for which she posts one swimsuit shot per day as an antidote to pandemic boredom. Though, after Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan called her recent topless photos “creepy," we love them even more.
And Paulina Porizkova, 55, the current reigning queen of body-positive photos, posted a nude portrait in defense of Hurley. “When I was in my twenties and thirties, the less I wore, the more popular I was,” she wrote in her Instagram caption. “In my forties, I could walk around practically naked and illicit nothing more than a ticket for public indecency. At fifty, I am reviled for it. ‘Put on your clothes, grandma. Hungry for attention, are you? A little desperate here? You’re pathetic.’”
Porizkova added, “Why is sexiness and nudity applauded in a woman’s youth and reviled in her maturity?...the only thing that is pathetic here is allowing others to set your priorities.”
Why are some triggered by celebrities in bikinis? “There is a fine line between jealousy, which is a competitive or hopeful feeling (‘Maybe I can look like that’) and envy, which drives our impulse to destroy. (‘You have something I want and there’s no hope of me getting it’),” Los Angeles psychotherapist Bethany Marshall tells Yahoo Life. That last emotion, she says, drives angry social media comments.
It’s not just that celebrities are beautiful — their bikini photos suggest a certain air of liberation that runs against sexual stereotypes. “What these images say is, ‘I control my life’ a position that historically, was not applied to women,” explains Marshall. “It’s a type of freedom we can’t stop looking at.”
And, as Porizkova says, there's ageism. In 2019, supermodel Heidi Klum, then 46, shared photos from her honeymoon with husband Tom Kaulitz in which she lounged on a yacht wearing bikini bottoms and nothing else. “All I see is a midlife crisis,” someone commented. Others wrote, “You look like my 70-year-old mom from the back” and “Why is she half-naked in every other picture?”
“Older women aren’t ‘supposed’ to be sexy — especially when they’re mothers,” remarks Marshall. “These photos are taboo to those who believe that beyond their childbearing years, women should hide their bodies, and if they don’t, they are vain.”
And women are damned if they post and damned if they don’t. Billie Eilish, who has experienced body dysmorphia (a mental health disorder in which one self-perceives non-existent flaws) once explained that she wears baggy clothing so “nobody can have an opinion” on her body. However, when she did share photos that depicted her in a swimsuit during a Hawaiian vacation, she was called a “whore.” As Eilish told Dazed last year, “Like, dude. I can’t win. I can-not win.”
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