Swimsuit Season Lies No. 5: Bikinis Are Bad for Women

Cristen Conger

Swimsuits as you like it.
Swimsuits as you like it.

*This post is from a series I wrote in 2011: 5 Swimsuit Season Lies and though it might be a vintage blog post now, it's worth revisiting because "swimsuit season" lies will never go out of fashion, unfortunately.

Since I've been railing against the body image baloney that comes along with the time-of-year-formerly-known-as-summer, now called "swimsuit season," I felt like I should close out with a curve ball.

Swimsuit Season Lies No. 5: Bikinis Are Bad for Women

The bikini itself wasn't invented as some sort of sartorial tool of female repression to feed the male gaze. In fact, the shrinking of women's bathing attire was heralded as a form of emancipation.

During the Victorian era, ladies at the beach had to keep covered to a dangerous extent, splashing around in dresses with weights attached to the hem to prevent the fabric from billowing out and revealing any hint of flesh. Swimming for sport was a male activity anyway, so it didn't much matter than women couldn't really get around in the water.

In the early 20th century, the one-piece slowly evolved -- and shook the social mores at the time. Women could be arrested on beaches for flashing as much as a calf, but one gal in particular decided to take that plunge and revolutionized American women's swimming wardrobe. As Slate explains:

"In 1907, Australian swimmer and silent-film star Annette Kellerman-a vocal advocate of more hydrodynamic swimwear-was charged with indecent exposure for appearing on Boston's Revere Beach in a form-fitting, sleeveless tank suit. The ensuing high-profile legal scuffle led beaches across the nation to relax their swimwear restrictions. By 1915, American women commonly wore one-piece knitted maillots."

But what of the bikini? Named after the atomic testing site Bikini Atoll, the skimpy two-piece premiered in France in 1946, first modeled by stripper Micheline Bernardini. Really, the bikini wasn't all that more revealing than the short, tight trunks men were sporting at the beach. And considering the evolution of women's swimwear, it was arguably a climactic moment in women's fashion history that ushered in social acceptance for showing female skin in public and not demonizing it as some lascivious display of sexuality.

What isn't "good" for women in regard to the bikini is the body shaming that followed. In the 1960s, Emily Post said "It is for perfect figures only, and for the very young." The invention of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition in 1964 further cemented this bikini body ideal. But today, it's our choice whether we'll buy that bunk or not.