Photo Illustration: Dearest Creative. Photos: Getty Images, Stocksy

This week, InStyle is diving into the changing look, complicated impact, and undeniable power of summer’s uniform: the swimsuit.

Lola Méndez
Jun 15, 2018 @ 9:00 am

The first time my Midwestern mother hit beach in my father’s homeland of Uruguay, he was mortified by her swimwear. This was Punta Del Este in the ‘80s, so there’s no doubt it was nylon with an obnoxious neon print, but that wasn’t the issue. And it wasn’t that her bikini was too revealing either. Being a good girl from Kansas, she made sure her booty was modestly covered by bikini bottoms that were far from cheeky—and strangely, that’s what made him blush.

It was the norm in South America at the time for women, and even some men, to wear colaless (literally bottomless) bikinis. As opposed to string bikinis, narrow strips of butt floss, or low-rider bottoms, the colaless style featured thong bottoms with thick straps cut so high on the leg, they seemed to create an optical illusion that the hips start just under the chest (think: that iconic Pamela Anderson’s Baywatch swimsuit). My mom was slender, tanned, and fit (thanks to her love of Jazzercise), so you bet she looked killer in that bikini with its V-hips when she finally caved in and bought her first colaless bikini.

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I didn’t inherit my mother's silhouette or freakish lack of cellulite. Instead, I was blessed with my paternal grandmother’s short, voluptuous body—and her indigenous features of straight hair, high cheekbones, and soft, hairless skin. My mom must have forgotten her days of lounging in the sun in a thong because she always steered me toward full-coverage bottoms. She’d point out that fashion magazines always suggested ruffled tops for flat-chested girls and one-pieces with accentuated waists for curvy girls like me. The glossy pages featured minimal bottoms exclusively on tall, skinny chicas with body types dubbed “athletic.”

My reaction? Screw that. This booty is just as worthy of soaking up the sun as any other. I was never allowed to wear skimpy swimsuits back home in Kansas, where they were were considered scandalous. But when we’d visit Uruguay, I’d see all shapes and sizes of people exposing their butt cheeks as they relaxed in the sand and splashed around in the sea. It wasn’t even necessarily a question of confidence or sex appeal—it was one of style; colaless bottoms were the coolest choice of swimwear and everyone owned a pair. It’s sort of like going topless in Spain. As a teenager, I’d forcefully participate by “forgetting” my more modest swimwear back in the States and buy a new skimpy bikini each time we visited Punta Del Este.

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Courtesy

I've never not had a booty, and I’ve never not wanted to bronze it in the sun. To be honest, it’s not much of an act of defiance against beauty standards, in my case. I find that smaller cuts are actually more flattering on my curvaceous behind, while more coverage just frames it like a wide, shapeless blob. After a living off of noodles and rice in Southeast Asia for over a year, my behind is plumper than ever, and the more sun-kissed my butt is, the more confident I feel (plus who likes tan lines?). Everyone knows a bit of sun (acquired with mineral SPF to protect your skin!) can help cover up “flaws,” and my tush has plenty that I prefer to hide. I can’t ignore my stretch marks, acne scars, and cellulite when my behind it’s pasty in the winter. My thong swimsuits aren’t brave or brazen—I wear them because they’re what make me feel good, which makes me look good.

Wearing my colaless bottoms on beaches around the globe has also been a tool for embracing my Latina culture as I accept and celebrate my perfectly healthy and functioning body. My thick body has taken me to over 50 countries, often in itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny thong bikinis. That said, I don’t exactly recommend baring it all in conservative countries. Even I, hater of tan lines, occasionally rocked full-coverage bottoms at certain at public beaches over the last few months in Southeast Asia. I have, however, see thong bikinis in the United Arab Emirates and topless girls lying on the beach in India.

RELATED: Want More Body Confidence This Summer? Go to a Nude Beach

My mother still isn’t a fan of my barely there swimwear choices and always tells me it looks like I have an epic wedgie. I know she’s worried about unwanted advances and stares from men as I bare my beach bum worldwide. I’ve gone to nude beaches in Montenegro and Croatia without anyone paying any attention to me, yet at home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., men have gathered to stare at my behind. I swat them away like a flock of annoying seagulls. I care about as much when women are grossed out by my dimpled booty walking down the shore. I’ve been so disappointed to hear so many women shame other girls that have decided to go colaless and make crude comments about their figures and swimwear choices.

The thong bikini was made for all of us. It’s not just for Kim Kardashian West with her bodacious behind or Emily Ratajkowski with her tiny tush, both of whom can be credited for popularizing the style and rocking it with an unparalleled confidence. My body is “beach ready” and deserves to be celebrated year-round. If you don’t like it, don’t look.

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