The bikini is celebrating sixty-seven years of shock and awe. First introduced on July 5, 1946, it was aptly named after the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, the explosive cultural fallout continues today.
At first, numerous countries outlawed the scandalous suit. Even the Pope condemned it. It took nearly two decades for the two-piece swimsuit to become mainstream. Thanks to models like Twiggy and Goldie Hawn—it became iconic during the rebellious 60’s and helped usher in the sexual revolution.
The bikini shouted defiance at old-school modesty. Females of all shapes and sizes were soon wearing less than a ¼ yard of strings and spandex. Girls thumbed through the pictures in popular teen magazines to see the latest, skimpiest styles, wondering how they could lose enough weight to look as good as the glossy photos.
Summer wardrobes from the mid-sixties to the 21st Century featured variations of the bikini along with the shortest of shorts, halter-tops, and revealing bits of cloth disguised as high fashion. Modesty belonged in geriatric wards while daring-to-bare was touted. Today’s teen girls use social media to taunt and flaunt their skin. How’s this working out America?
Since the 1960’s, the cultural changes are stark. Divorce rates are above 50%, marriages are in decline, STD’s are at epidemic levels, eating disorders emerged in record numbers, depression and suicides have increased—especially in youth. Can we blame two tiny bits of cloth?
Indeed we can. Rebellion can manifest in many ways, but it never ends well. And stripping down to as little as legally allowed is rebellion. By choosing to play by fashion rules, girls and women have become pawns in a game they can’t really win. Honestly, what young woman doesn’t check out the other girls at the beach and secretly wonder if she measures up to the competition?
It may be the bikini’s birthday, but we can’t celebrate the loss of modesty. The cost has been paid by at least two generations of women. The bikini has opened Pandora’s box for advertisers to use sex appeal (ala the bikini) to sell products, the entertainment industry to use scantily clad women to entice moviegoers, and the porn industry to lure in susceptible men while gullible girls get used as sex toys.
Modesty is still an available option. Indeed, fashion designer Jessica Rey recently was a social media sensation with her talk about the evolution of the bikini. She provides an alternative for girls and women to look good without selling themselves out. Modesty won’t close the Pandora’s box of bikini exploitation, but it could usher in a culture of sensitivity for women that we haven’t seen since the 60’s. Now that would be a refreshing change without any risqué exposure.