A white woman smiles wearing a camouflage print swim top with thumbs hooked on the halter strap

Birthday Suit! Sophie Top & Nixie Bottoms

Click ‘play’ for audio version

Me:  “I’d like a two-piece swimsuit with a supportive bra-style top, a removable halter strap, full-bum-coverage bottoms with a waistband that can convert from high-waist to low, in a muted abstract print, please. Oh – and I’d like it to fit me.”

Retail Swimwear Universe: “Yeah…we got nothin’.”

And so was born one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever made myself! Behold the Sophie Swimsuit Top from Closet Core Patterns and the Nixie Briefs pattern from Jennifer Lauren Handmade. Together, they teamed up to become my dream bathing suit, and I truly could not be happier. This is the best-fitting, most comfortable suit I’ve ever worn. And it only took 53 years to manifest it!

A white woman with red hair smiles with hands on hips wearing a two-piece camouflage swim suit
A white woman with red hair faces away from camera with her hands in her hair wearing a two-piece camouflage swim suit

I’m going to invoke the Birthday Clause here and get something off my bikini-clad chest. Emotionally, psychologically, and professionally, it’s a scary thing for me to put photos like these out into the world. And it infuriates me that that’s true, which is precisely why I’m doing it. Working in an industry that denies opportunities to women of my age, size, and shape means that I could be kissing what little may be left of my career goodbye. That might sound hyperbolic to some of you, but to my colleagues — they get it. Hollywood philosophy dictates that women over 45 are old and those over size 8 are fat. And old, fat women on screen must be kept to a minimum.

When I read this post by Jenny (@johassler on IG) last week, where she talks about how rarely she sees herself or her community on screen, I felt angry and helpless. I couldn’t suggest any shows because that well is so dry, it’s practically a fire hazard. The entertainment industry decided long ago that only thin (and young) women have interesting, complex, lives in law, medicine, the military…art, science, space…the past, the present, the future. And they continue pushing the bullshit that people don’t want to see themselves after a long, hard day at work or with the kids. They want to escape! They want to see (a narrow, limited version of) sexy, beautiful people doing cool, dangerous, romantic, secretive, violent things! Sexily! Sex sells and only thin people with smooth skin have sex!

A white woman with red hair stands sideways wearing a two-piece camouflage swim suit


I guess that’s why there’s a collective wave of joy when Kate Winslet insists that her tummy and wrinkles not be photoshopped. Is that why my heart fluttered to see Aujanue Ellis battle and dance across space and time and Wunmi Musaku have a sordid affair in Lovecraft Country? Or why so many North American women can’t wait for the next Netflix drama from the UK or France to come out just to see faces and bodies that more closely resemble their own? 

A change must come, for a Master’s thesis worth of reasons, but it boils down to this: Imagining our own big, expansive future. It is literally the reason we get up every day. We are trying to envision and build a future for ourselves. So when, night after night, we turn to our chosen screen to be whisked away into stories of possible worlds and see so few people of our size, age, race, ability, gender…there’s a little voice at the back of the brain that whispers, “I guess that’s not possible for me. I’m not (whatever) enough for that”. A lot of attention is put on how this limits children’s view of themselves, but I submit that it is equally sabotaging throughout all stages of adulthood. It not only constricts creativity and hope for the remaining 10, 20, 30 years of our own lives, it makes us project those constrictions and judgements onto others. It fuels the epidemics of loneliness, isolation, stress, depression, and the list goes on. I am so fed up of my richly talented performing friends being shoved into boxes labelled ‘fat & funny’, ‘old & dour’, or worse yet, taken out of casting consideration altogether. Are we really supposed to think, “Well, I’m a double-digit size and I’ve only got two or three more DECADES left of my life, so that’s it for me…”?? It’s beyond ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that it’s just fucking boring.

So, here is one 53-year-old woman’s size 12-ish body — one that is still learning how to manage fibromyalgia, menopause, arthritis, and all the repercussions of forcing it to do, fit, and be things it wasn’t meant to for so many years. I’m finally listening to and taking better care of her. I’m making clothes that fit and express her — something everyone woman of every size deserves. I’m even starting to love her a little more, and trust me when I say that that is a miracle worth celebrating…with an amazing bathing suit!

How’s that for a killer segue back to our regularly-scheduled sewing post?

A white woman with red hair wears a two-piece camouflage swim suit

Ok. For the top, I followed the Sew Your Dream Swimsuit online course from Closet Core. I’d had the course for quite awhile, but other things kept jumping the queue and I never got around to it. Cut to me being temporarily relocated for the summer and discovering that I didn’t pack a single, solitary swim suit. What better way to get super motivated and tackle a project you’ve been avoiding! So I cozied up with my iPad and a cup of tea and hit ‘play’. Heather Lou is a fantastic teacher. Even though I consider myself an intermediate-level sewist who is familiar with quite a few techniques, I learned several tips and tricks that definitely expanded my skill set. I’ve also fully embraced her mantra of “No one has to know” when things go a bit wonky. There’s a good chance it’ll end up cross-stitched on a pillow in my sewing room some day.

A white woman wears a halter style camouflage print swim suit top
A white woman wears a halter style camouflage print swim suit top with one strap detached

The Nixies are one of my favourite full-coverage underwear patterns. The first time I made them in jaguar-print knit, they were perfect right off the page with ZERO alterations. For this water-friendly version, I added the yoga waistband piece from the Waimea Swim Bottoms by Greenstyle Patterns. I used some foldover elastic as flat piping on the side seams so that, no matter what height I’m wearing the waistband, the black line from the overlap of the side leg seam continues. I won’t lie – I’m quite pleased with myself for this little wisp of inspiration. 😉

Close up of camouflage print swim bottoms on a white woman
Close up of camouflage print swim bottoms with rolled-down waistband on a white woman

The pixelated camouflage print came from The Fabric Fairy. I only had a yard, but I still have some left over that will become either a sports bra or some trim on a rash guard. Like many patterned swim fabrics, it’s printed on a white base, which peeks through a little if you stretch it too far, but I didn’t have any issues with that using these patterns. To my dear friends Craig and Eric, I’m ready to christen the new pool when I get back!

Thank you for sticking with me through my birthday rant. My wish is that you take a moment out of your day to stand in front of a mirror, gaze at your wondrous body, and shout “I LOVE YOU!” right out loud. Then give yourself a great big hug! 

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10 thoughts on “Birthday Suit! Sophie Top & Nixie Bottoms”

  1. Lesley Macaulay

    Fabulous photos Paula , and a wonderfully written rant . Brilliant bathing suit , you are a marvel !

  2. Johanne Pomrenski

    Happy Birthday Paula Jean!
    You are an inspiration to this 63 year old.

  3. Paula, you’re the best and look absolutely fabulous. Alicia, my wife, 49, as I listened to your post said “OMG where did she get that bathing suit!” Yep. You’ve got a fan.

    Big hug and happy birthday. Love y’a from afar!

    1. DAN!! So great to hear from you! Thank you for the birthday wishes and I’m so happy to have a fan in Alicia! Hope you are both doing wonderful. Big love to you!

  4. Patricia Manessy

    Thank you for your courage in being completely who you are in every moment! You are an inspiration to many and to me, who turned 70 this year and who definitely has a hard time shouting I LOVE YOU to my aging body.
    Rock on, Paula Jean!

    1. Oh, I feel you, my friend! It’s a practice that I don’t expect to get easier any time soon. But you’re an amazing woman and you deserve to feel that in every part of you. Much love. XO

  5. Happy Birthday Paula! It is wonderful to see you looking your gorgeous self <3

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