There are a few things I always expect to see when I browse a swimwear site: models with taut abs, perfect tans, golden beach waves. What I don't expect to see is a body that looks more like mine. So while browsing the newly launched, L.A.-based brand Rheya Swim, it took me by surprise: visibly striped bottoms modeling a two-piece. Sure, the bottoms were still perfectly taut and toned, and the stretch marks were subtle— but still noticeable. It made it a body that looked a little more realistic than the filtered, air-brushed to perfection butts I'm used to seeing.
"It was intentional," Chloe Madison, the 21-year-old founder and designer tells me, adding that the models in the photos are actually herself and her best friend. "When we got back photos from retouching it was shocking. I didn't really recognize my body–enhanced to someone else's idealistic version of it," Madison recalls. "I sent it back and asked for all of that [retouching] to be stripped off and it made me feel better about it."
"WHEN WE GOT BACK PHOTOS FROM RETOUCHING IT WAS SHOCKING. I DIDN'T REALLY RECOGNIZE MY BODY–ENHANCED TO SOMEONE ELSE'S IDEALISTIC VERSION OF IT"
"There was a level of insecurity over the stretch marks and 'blotchy skin,'" she admits. "I thought, I wonder if people are going to notice and compare it to other sites where models look completely flawless? But, ultimately I thought it was the right way to go," she says.
Showing off stretch marks is just an extension of what Madison says is a goal of her brand–to accentuate and "celebrate a variety of curves." That's why her designs always accentuate the waist, only come in solid colors (to "focus on the woman wearing the suit than the suit itself") , and feature barely-there bottoms (to show everything off–marks and all).
I think what really got me is that the brand didn't make any deal out of using unretouched photos or pitch it the way others do, making body positivity the selling point for their clothes. It's just there, and I just happened to notice it. While headlines are still made out of Kendrick Lamar rapping about stretch marks, celebrities like Chrissy Teigen showing off her "stretchies," and a Victoria's Secret Angel photographed having them (gasp!)–perhaps the way the unretouched photos simply exist without fanfare (except, well, this article) is progress. This is what women look like.
"[Shoppers] see super photoshopped girls and think that's something they need to be and I didn't really want to celebrate that anymore." Madison said. "I would rather purchase something I could relate to and I could see myself in as opposed to someone that doesn't even look like a real person."
By Kristina Rodulfo