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2018.08.13 - The bikini was not the first scandalous bathing suit – and not the last one either

The bikini was not the first scandalous bathing suit – and not the last one either

Back in the days it covered, nowadays it shows a lot, but scandal has accompanied the bikini at all times. A long time ago the bathing suit was actually a dress, today it is a few grams of textile. Dressing - or undressing? - on the beach has always stood in the centre of interest, and a lot of scandals came along with it throughout the years, but the bikini was neither the first, nor the last in this respect.


Bikini was put on the market by Louis Réard, its name originates from the location of the nuclear bomb experiments of the USA, but the “bi” can also refer to the fact that it has two parts. At the same time in France Jacques Heim came out with a similar swimsuit, which was even smaller than the bikini and was called “Atom”. The word atom referred to the smallness of the dress. It looks like the story of the bikini kind of intertwines with the beginning of the atomic age. The scandal began even before the introduction, because there were no fashion models who would wear the bikini, so Réard had to hire strippers for the premier. The bikini got forbidden immediately in most states of the USA and in the more conservative European countries, such as Italy and Spain. Even the Pope mentioned this devilish clothing. Bikini needed 16 years to be accepted, in which a lot of iconic films helped, like Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman” from 1956 in which Brigitte Bardot shows up in a bikini for the first time on screen. Atomic age won the moral versus bikini fight with a James Bond film from 1962. In Dr. No Ursula Andress comes out from the sea in a white bikini so convincingly that from that time every woman has dreamt about having her own bikini. Scandals turned out to be helpful for the business since in that rebellious time no one wanted to seem old fashioned, so by the end of the 20th century women from all around the world spent around 800 million dollars on bikinis.

Bikini hosszú

Happy years of peace?

The decades before the arrival of the bikini were not peaceful either, since devotees of free clothing had to fight a lot to be able to make such tiny beachwear accepted. We don’t really have notes of beachwear scandals from the times before the 19th century, even though there must be a lot of people who crossed the line of standards. In the Middle Ages men and women had a bath separately - totally naked. In the age of the Enlightenment beachwear wasn’t different from normal clothes, at least in the aspect of covering surface and material.

One of the milestones of the scandals before the bikini was the year 1907. Australia’s Annette Kellerman was one of the first women who tried to swim across the English Channel. She invented a new one-piece swimsuit that did not cover the outline of the female body, but still it covered all the body. This was necessary since the former baggy swimsuits were not ideal for swimming. Annette Kellerman was a performer too, she performed ballet in a container full of water. She used a short-sleeved, shorts-style and tight-fitting swimsuit, which she designed on the basis of men’s swimsuit. When she performed in Boston in 1907, she was arrested for public scandal right after the first performance...

Later she was the leader of free body culture and fitness. In “A Daugher of the Gods” she was the first significant actress who showed up completely naked, only her hair covered her body. These pursuits started to make their way through the Victorian morals, first at the Olympic Games in 1912, where women were allowed to swim in the Kellerman-type one-piece swimsuits; later the pants part became shorter and the neck and shoulder parts were covering less, although in the 1920s on some US beaches there were inspectors who checked it with a measure tape if there was too much space between the knee and the bottom of the pants. The beach photos from the 1930s show that no one really cared about this anymore, and everyone moved around naturally in swimsuits while enjoying the water and the sunshine. This was the period when new materials appeared on the beachwear market. Wool and cotton are not really ideal for swimsuits, because they soak up a lot of water which makes the swimsuit hard to wear. In addition to this, cotton becomes transparent in water which can cause unpleasant moments for the person who wears it. However, jersey and other synthetic materials are flexible and they don’t soak up that much water, so the focus of the clothing revolution moved from the shape to the material.

Bikini, emberek

Scandals after the bikini era

Nowadays are not exempt for beachwear scandals either, despite that the morals today are much freer. There are some norms which shouldn’t be disregarded. The fight is constantly going on between the individual’s rights and the community’s expectations, although nowadays the individual is winning. It is interesting that these scandals are almost always about women’s clothing, like their nudity or being covered was more important than men’s. But it looks like this asymmetry doesn’t really bother men.

These days scandals are about children’s - more specifically young girls’ - beachwear, since a company called Abercrombie & Fitch put possibly scandalous beachwear on the market. The fashion company sold spongy bikinis to girls between the ages of 8 and 14, which made them look like they were more mature. Former scandals were about adults and we often smiled about how ridiculous they were, but nowadays the life of young people is as over-sexualised as it has never been before, and this can lead to serious damages in their mental development. Not only with the clothes, but also by using too young fashion models, companies can threaten the mental maturing of children by treating them like they were sexy adults.


Another recent scandal is also about the bikini, although not on the beach but in the world of beauty contests. A lot of people consider it humiliating that these girls have to show up in a bikini, basically almost naked in front of the jury and the audience –this is the reason why this part isn’t featured in Miss America contests. The concept of beauty – it very much seems – is changing, and from the beauty of the body it is shifting towards a deeper meaning again. There’s no problem with this, if it happens due to real need, but this phobia is getting connected to the harassment scandals of the past few years, and is believed to be manipulation.


Too much is a problem too - the burqa scandal…

Ahenda Zanetti invented the burkini in 2004 in Australia. The word comes from the combination of the two words burqa and bikini, and means a swimsuit which can be worn by Muslim women too, since it covers all the body and hair, and is suitable for swimming. Who would have thought that half a century after bikini’s debut the scandal would be about women wearing too much clothing. Burkini was a huge success already in the first year, although it caused revulsion too. Firstly there is a contradiction in the fact that Muslim women, for whom morality is very important, swim together with western women who are way less moral – according to some people they should either wear the same clothes or swim somewhere else. This situation is similar to the one when on a nudist beach nudists are looking at people who have clothes on with contempt. The other part of the scandal has more serious consequences, since in some Western European countries burkinis have been banned, partly because of health issues, partly due to the fact that the burkini is a religious symbol. It seems that there will always be something that can be banned in certain parts of the world, which is really appreciated by the journalists since they can write many articles about it for months or years. Only a small group of people talk about the practical side of the burkini: since it protects the skin from sunshine, it is becoming more and more popular among non-Muslim women too.