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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

You look great in that bikini

When we are photographed, who do we pose for? 

A short while ago, in a lecture for an elective course, I was admittedly close to drifting into the haze of my midafternoon drowsiness when I was startled into reality by a comment made in class discussion. The topic was swimsuit photos on Instagram — deciphering the apparently perplexing meaning behind a woman sharing a photo of herself on a beach. 

The comment in question suggested that women posting these swimsuit photos are knowingly and willingly encouraging the objectification of their own selves, stemming from a lack of self-confidence. The elaborate idea was exclusive to photos of female subjects in bikinis, with no mention of their non-female counterparts in trunks. I nearly doubted my hearing.

This is my Viewpoint column, and my viewpoint is that if you are on vacation and like the way you look, it is entirely your prerogative to share photos. If you are at the beach, chances are, you may very well be in a swimsuit. Good for you. You’re looking cute today, I can tell how happy the sunlight makes you and I’m glad we get to celebrate how great you feel together. 

The implication that sharing a harmless photo can be interpreted as some kind of “come-hither” invitation for sexualization or judgment feels wildly outdated and paradoxical. Labeling a photo as a medium for objectification aggressively perpetuates the very issue at hand, exponentially more than the photo itself. 

Surely, we should be working toward diminishing the gaze of objectification rather than discouraging individuals from feeling confident. Surely, we can foster more respect all around by allowing individuals to feel that they can share a photo and still possess full agency over its purpose, rather than insinuating that they are “asking” for any kind of explicit attention beyond that purpose. 

On the second floor of the Neue Galerie New York hangs one of Gustav Klimt’s most remarkable masterpieces. I’ve visited the gallery on several occasions, yet still time seems to stop whenever I’m standing in front of the work. The painting is widely known as “Woman in Gold.” The light reflecting off the subject’s glittering gown and the wonderfully peculiar way her hands are arranged is probably the most magnificent artwork I have ever seen. 

The titular woman’s name is Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and it took 65 years for Adele to come home. The five-foot-tall painting was stolen from her property in the 1940s when she and her family fled from the Nazis. Adele passed away soon after, but her niece Maria Altmann fought until 2006 for the family to reclaim ownership of the painting. 

Therein lies the story of a woman whose image was captured by arguably one of the most prominent symbolist painters of his time, a woman who then had said image quite literally stolen from her. Sure, the painting itself was commissioned by her magnate of a husband, but Klimt’s observance — which we witness through the canvas — boasts the essence of an elegance and beauty that is none other than her own. 

I wager that anyone who has beheld the work will much sooner appreciate Klimt’s genius and the beauty in its subject’s portrayal than they would ever question her self-esteem, or deem it as a summons to have her beauty sexualized or objectified — perish the thought. 

Maybe some will view it as a reach. Maybe some will find discomfort in drawing a parallel between posing in a bikini and posing for a portrait worth a cool $135 million. But maybe discomfort is exactly what is needed to reframe the narrative that women must expect objectification and walk on eggshells in fear of its possibility. Maybe we should consider the fact that anyone posing for a photo, regardless of gender or outfit or how tropical the setting, has full agency to hold onto their image as their own, posted online or otherwise. 

When we are photographed, to whom do we feel the need to justify feeling good about ourselves? When we pose for the camera, do we need any other reason than wanting to capture a moment in time? When we share these moments, what’s stopping us from showcasing the happiness we feel in our own skin?

Reyna Lim is a sophomore double majoring in finance and English. She enjoys writing about her unsolicited opinions, assessing celebrity homes in Architectural Digest videos and collecting lip gloss. Reach out with coffee bean recommendations and ‘80s playlists at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.