The Bikini is believed to have been around for centuries, as seen on some Minoan wall paintings dating back to circa 1600 B.C., but the widely held belief of its “invention and creation” as well as its popularity today is widely attributed to two French designers: Louis Reard and Jacques Heim (although it was the former who was credited for the name), and made a big splash into people’s consciousness 60 years ago today at a fashion show in the French Riviera when a French nude dancer-stripper, Michelle Bernardini, modeled the explosive two-piece swimwear for all the world to see, and the rest as they say is history.
It is amazing how a piece of clothing, a swimsuit for that matter, can be the subject of so many debates and discussions over the years. It revolutionized the way common people viewed and perceived the human body and how we dressed in public. It has captured the imagination of every one of us. Its influence and relevance was studied and analyzed repeatedly by so-called experts: scholars, moralists and sociologists.
For the feminists, it is nothing but an instrument of men’s sexual gratification. For the moralists, it is an abomination that will send anybody into the fires of hell. To some, it is a form of sexual liberation where women can wear what they like and expose their skin without being ostracized by society. But for most people it simply a statement of oneself, a form of self-expression and freedom from the “oppressive norms” of man.
But the Bikini, popularly believed to have derived its name from the Bikini Atoll, a part of the Marshall group of islands in the Pacific, where the United States used to test the atomic bomb in 1946, proved to be too hot to handle and too explosive to suppress: thus, it refused to go away and instead gained worldwide popularity and acceptance. It has evolved into an art form, a popular and cultural icon as well as traversed cultural and racial lines. It is the great equalizer.
Everywhere you go -- from the surfers at Waikiki to the sunbathers at the white sands of Bora-Bora to the frolicking beauties on the beach of Ipanema or from one local school’s beauty contest to the prestigious Miss Universe pageant, the conspicuous presence of the Bikini is there.
It even spawned hits in music like “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and other stuff from pop to rock to rap. It was also the subject of countless movies and TV series (read Baywatch). It became a status symbol in Hollywood, where movie stars are judged on how they carry the two-piece wonder, Princess Leia in Gold in the Return of the Jedi notwithstanding. It is also the official uniform of Beach Volleyball and helped the sport creep into the mainstream (e.g. Walsh and May). The prestigious Sports Illustrated magazine has had Bikini-clad athletes/models on its cover since the 1960s.
And who can forget the bombshell Ursula Andres in the 1962 James Bond’s Dr. No and the sultry Halle Berry in another 007 flick -- Die Another Day 40 years later sashaying in their two-piece beauty?
The Bikini’s phenomenal success can only be attributed to everyone’s determined quests for self-expression and today in her 60 years of existence, we can only say that “Freedom” has come a long way and it is here to stay.
And as Aaron Levenstein once said, "Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital."
And who can tell the line between what is acceptable and obscene? What is beautiful and tasteless?
All I can say is that, Beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder. And with that I say, Thank God for the Bikini!