Wear the Swimsuit: Interview with Jennifer Weiner

By Olivia Weiner

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WEAR THE SWIMSUIT

An interview with author, Jennifer Weiner


Jennifer Weiner’s books have sold over 11 million copies and spent over 5 years on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Her body positive protagonists - and female empowering social media presence - have created a massive following. In the summer of 2016, Jen posted a picture of herself in a bathing suit with the #weartheswimsuit hashtag asking women of all shapes and sizes to get out of their heads, get in the water and post a picture while they do it.  A movement was born. Jen is currently on tour with her latest novel, Mrs. Everything (which just debuted at #2 on the NYT Best Sellers list), where she was generous enough to answer some questions about how young women can learn to embrace our bodies, use social media in a healthy way, and the one piece of advice she would give to her sixteen year old self.  

1) It feels like women are culturally conditioned to hate our bodies, but the books you’ve written, stories you’ve told about your life, and the creation of the #weartheswimsuit movement have pushed back on this idea. Why is this an important issue for you? 

               When I was growing up, the books that I devoured, by writers like Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz and Shirley Conran, were Cinderella stories, about poor little rich girls who fought their way to happily-ever-after. And all of them were thin. If there was ever a fat character, she’d either have to lose weight to get the happy ending, or she was consigned to the role of supportive best friend.

         I loved those books, but they made me feel invisible and inadequate, and those were feelings I carried with me for years. I spent a lot of my teens and twenties on a diet, trying to get my body to a size that it did not want, and probably was never meant to be. I spent a lot of money, and a lot of time, and a lot of energy trying to fix myself, and it made me very unhappy. Finally, I decided that I would do my best to accept myself, just as I was, and get on with my life. And I can’t say things have been perfect since then, but they’ve at least been better.

         When I wrote my first book, it was with the intention of helping other young women who’d felt the way I did learn to accept themselves, and believe that they deserve love, just as they were. And that’s only become more urgent since I had daughters. I don’t want them growing up or living in a world where self-loathing is the default setting for every woman. I want them spending their energy changing the world, not changing themselves.

2) What can a movement like #weartheswimsuit do to help women get over their fear about accepting their bodies and enjoying their lives this summer? 

         #weartheswimsuit was intended to get women out from behind the camera, and into the picture – and the water! For a lot of women, even confident ones, bathing suits are the final frontier of self-acceptance. When the world tells you that your body is flawed in a dozen ways, it’s hard to put it out there in a few handfuls of spandex.

         But what we know – thanks, science! – is that looking at pictures of other normal women can help us feel better about ourselves. I posted my own picture, and encouraged other women to post their pictures, as a way of showing any woman who might be on the fence that there are lots and lots and LOTS of women who look just like she does, who are flawed and imperfect and are out there anyhow, enjoying the sun and the water. I told myself that if I got even just one woman out of her cover-up and into the pool, I’d have done my job for the week. Turns out, a lot more than that did it. I was very glad.

3) Social media is difficult for young women when it comes to body positivity. What’s one small thing each of us can do to change that narrative? 

I’ve actually got a few tips!

For starters, I wish there was an extension you could add on to your social media browsers that would post the words THIS IS NOT REAL over any shot where a filter or photoshopping or Facetuning’s been used. Women need to remind themselves that, in real life, not even supermodels look as good as they do on the ‘gram, and that what you’re looking at (and, too often, comparing yourself to) isn’t real – it is the result of intense manipulation. Even the “reality TV” stars aren’t quite real – they’ve had plastic surgeries, or injections, or hair or eyelash extensions, or fake tans, and they have glam squads on call 24/7 to keep them looking the way you see them on your screen.

       Another small thing is, whenever you’re feeling dissatisfied, or like there’s something about yourself you need to change, ask yourself – who is making money from my dissatisfaction? What industries would collapse if women could accept themselves the way they are? Are those people who deserve your money, your time, your energy and your attention? What could you do with all the time and money and energy you saved if you decided, just for a day, to love yourself the way you were?

     It is unrealistic to ask girls to unplug from social media – so much of their lives happens online. What they can do is fill their feeds with words and images of women who don’t fit into the thin/tall/white box. There is research that looking at real women’s bodies that haven’t been airbrushed or retouched can change the way you feel about your own – you can actually rewire your brain and change the way you see yourself. When you look at normal bodies all day long, you feel more normal; when you look at artificially perfected bodies all day long, you feel less than perfect.

The good news is, there are lots of women out there to follow! Here are some of my personal favorites:

Plus-size athletes: (Olympic shot-putter Michelle Carter, @shotdiva, yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley, @mynameisjessamyn, softball player Lauren Chamberlain @lochamberlain

Musicians (@iamsarahpotenza, @bethditto, @lizzobeeating)

Comedians (@jennyzigrino)

Models (@huntermcgrady, @tessholiday)

Actresses (Danielle Brooks -- @danibb3, @daniellemacdonald, @beaniefeldstein, @jenponton)

Activists/Fashion influencers (@whitneywaythore, @nataliemeansnice, @the12ishstyle)

Writers (@thelindywest, Samatha Irby, @bitchesgottaeat, @carmenmachado, @roxanegay)

 There are many, many more, but these are just some of my favorites!


4) Your books often feature women that don’t fit typical “leading ladies” stereotypes. Was that something you initially set out to do? 

 Toni Morrison has a famous quote, about how if you can’t find the book you need to read on the shelf, it’s your job to write it. When I was a teenager and a young woman, I could not find any books where girls who looked like me got happy endings, unless they got makeovers and lost 50 pounds first. I needed to read that book…and so I wrote it.

5) Your latest book Mrs Everything just came out. A review called it “an unapologetic feminist novel”... What does that mean to you? 

Of everything I’ve written, MRS. EVERYTHING has the most to say about women over the years – what’s changed, and what hasn’t, and how it seems we’re stuck, fighting for the same rights, solving the same problems, over and over again. The groping boss in the 1960s becomes the groping boss in 2013. Abortion was illegal when one of the characters gets pregnant in the 1960s, and now, in some states, abortion might soon be illegal again.

I wanted this book to entertain readers – I want all of my books to do that – but I believe that the personal is political, and that by telling the truth about how women really lived, I can show what still needs changing. I hope that readers will come away from this book feeling like Jo and Bethie are women they know, and that they’ll also be provoked, and encouraged to think about their own lives, and the lives of all the women they know.