Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fashion police

Annette Kellermann wearing the controversial one piece bathing suit, 1900s. Image courtesy of the George Grantham-Bain collection, Library of Congress.

I wasn't going to say anymore about the imposition by the Muslim Mayor of Dandenong (well, he's said to be a follower of Islam) on non-Muslim's at a proposed swim meet during Ramadan next year, but it's just too, too delicious, to let go of. I recall the controversy during the 1960s that surrounded women wearing bikini's on Melbourne's beaches and I found this fantastic little article, with some revealing cartoons, one of which is dated 22 April, 1955 (my fourth birthday). Have a look at it, it's quite amusing and reveals how local councillors (primarily men) have been determining what and what isn't appropriate swim wear for Australian women for quite some time.
However, it wasn't only women's bathing costumes that created antagonism during the 1960s. I remember my grandmother (who brought me up) telling me not to speak to men who wore Speedos. We almost always encountered these men on the beach where we swam; they appeared more confident, more sexual than those who wore woollen bathing costumes that resembled shorts. Perhaps Speedo wearers felt freer and less inhibited, or maybe our perception of them was determined by the fact that their genitalia was pronounced and easily seen through the sheer fabric.
Burqini (Islamic bathing suit), equivalent to a 1900 neck to knee bathing costume, is basically a tunic with head covering worn over leggings made from polyester fabric. It's touted as a costume, which enables those wearing it to be modest, but it is also a way of women concealing body weight, scars, cellulite, or to protect them from sunlight and skin cancer.
I personally loathe having to wear anything whilst I'm swimming, no matter how comfortable the material. But unfortunately nudity is not the equalizer we might think it to be ~ it may remove the mask that clothing offers, but as soon as you begin to expose your body you are subject to a gaze that's mediated by society's idea of the body beautiful, with the end result being, if you are overweight or physically unattractive you are encouraged to cover up. I guess that's part of the reason why our Aussie culture has been so determined to make personal choices about how much of our bodies we expose, particularly when we swim. We have a tradition of flying in the face of fashion police who would impose their standards and their morality on our clothing choices.

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