Sixty-five years ago this week, a French inventor apparently obsessed with being able to view a woman’s navel at the beach, decided to create a tiny swimsuit named after an island in the Pacific. Louis Réard, a car engineer by trade, noted that a bikini wasn’t a bikini unless “it could be pulled through a wedding ring,” therefore, beginning a trend that, since its inception, has caused women to sob uncontrollably for over six decades in dressing rooms all over the world.
Since their creation, bikinis have been a source of frustration for any woman who doesn’t have the kind of body made to wear a bikini. In all their leopard-printed, stringy glory, bikinis are not for the muffin-topped, the cellulite-sprinkled, or the saggy chested—which very unscientifically gathered statistics have recently shown happens to be approximately 99.99% of the female population.
Since I first entered puberty kicking and screaming, the bikini and I have enjoyed a very volatile relationship that usually involves me exposing various body parts to complete strangers. When I was twelve, my mother enrolled me in a co-ed swim class with the hopes that one day I could do something else in the shallow end of the local swimming pool besides scream, “Help, I’m drowning!”
Before the class began, my mother and I shopped for a swimsuit. When I tried on the bikini with the ruffled yellow top and blue jean bottoms, I realized that finding the right bikini is just like finding the right wedding dress—you know it is the right one the minute you try it on. “This is it!” I shouted with joy behind the dressing room door. It didn’t matter that the suit wasn’t practical for swimming class. All that mattered was that I looked cool.
Swimming class was going, shall I say, swimmingly, until the day my male instructor instructed me to jump off the side of the pool. As I stood on the edge with my toes desperately clutching the side, I straightened my swim cap, took a deep breath, plugged my nose, and jumped. Thankfully, I surfaced a few seconds later. Unfortunately, my bikini top was wrapped around my neck like a scarf.
Once I had been released from years of subsequent therapy with a passing grade, I moved to Los Angeles, California, where I soon realized it was perfectly okay to wear bikinis on business casual Fridays at work. I was in my early twenties and took my young age into serious consideration while shopping for my next swimming suit. “This is it!” I shouted from behind the dressing room wall to anyone who might care that I had just found “the perfect bikini.” It didn’t seem to matter that the bikini appeared to be held together with two rubber bands and a prayer. All that matter was that I looked cool.
A few days later, I headed to the beach with my young niece and other family members. After a few minutes of relaxation, my niece asked if I would like to go body surfing with her. Why not? I thought, as I stood up from my towel and adjusted my rubber bands. Together, she and I ran to the water, holding hands and laughing as if we didn’t have a care in the world. I plugged my nose and jumped in. I surfed and I surfed and I surfed some more. Exhausted, I finally stood up at the edge of the water. My niece surfaced next to me. As she stood up and turned to say something to me, her facial expression turned from pure joy to pure horror as she pointed downward.
Unfortunately until that moment, I had no idea that when I had jumped in the water, I had apparently gone one way and my bikini had gone the other. As I stood in all my raw nakedness in front of a jam-packed beach full of innocent victims (who happened to all look as horrified as my niece), I decided at that moment that the bikini and I were fini, finished, D-O-N-E.
So that is why this week, I reluctantly wish the bikini a happy sixty-fifth anniversary. And if you’re one of the women in the world who is still bravely wearing approximately twelve inches of fabric held flimsily together with embroidery thread, I say all the power to you, sister friend.
I just have one piece of advice the next time you head to the beach—whatever you do, don’t come out of the water until you make sure everything is where it is supposed to be.
“A girl in a bikini is like having a loaded pistol on your coffee table. There’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s hard to stop thinking about it.”
By Vicky DeCoster
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