How Western is the Bikini?

France has recently decided that women must bare their flesh at the beach. No burkinis allowed. Not my idea of liberty but hey, France is a sovereign nation and I don’t have to go there.

The rationale for the banning of the burkini seems to be that it is a foreign and alien importation into France, an impurity introduced into France’s pristine secularism. The burkini is a play on the burqa (worn by Pushtuns indigeneous to Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the bikini. Bikinis are now (presumably) supposed to be compulsorarily worn by women at French beaches – whether they like it or not. But how French, or indeed how Western, are bikinis?

A hundred years ago in Europe, men and women covered themselves when going to the beach. Women covered themselves up fairly thoroughly going just about everywhere, save for perhaps balls and banquets and even then there were exhaustive rules of decorum to abide by. Despite the occasional and partial unveiling of flesh, the linking of clothes and civilised mores was maintained.

Ideas about the beach changed, however. Beach excursions were traditionally seen as ways to take in the water, paddling the feet in the saline waves the order of the day. Gradually enjoyment of the sun was added to enjoyment of the sea and sand and this new additional enjoyment called for less clothes (this was long before the harmful effects of the sun vis-a-vis skin cancer were known).

However, what really shifted attitudes towards swimwear was the increasing fascination Westerners had with South Sea Island (Polynesian) culture. Polynesian females had little scruples about exposing themselves and they were content with being ‘hunted.’ A critical book in this regard was anthropologist Margaret Meads Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). Polynesians were portrayed as not only sexually liberated (this was known in the 18th century but frowned upon generally) but were also seen as being free of the ‘vices’ of moral purity that ‘blighted’ Western society. This extolling of Polynesian morals was coupled in the inter-war years with a critique of Western sexual mores led by people like Franz Boas, Meads mentor.

The upshot was that the authoritarian and patriarchal family structure of the West – which regulated sexual behaviour for the common good – came to be seen as immoral, wicked and a general obstacle to liberty. Tragically, the theories of those like Mead have come to be seen as fabricated but the myth of an idyllic sexual paradise was too strong a pull for idealists in the West. Down to this day, it’s regularly bandied about that traditional ideas of morality cripple people and psychologically damage them.

In 1946 the bikini was invented in France and fittingly named after an island in the South Sea – Bikini Atoll. Perhaps equally fittingly, this name was also chosen because the bikini was small and explosive like the atom bombs being tested on that island at the time. Quite a statement! The swimwear now enforced on French beaches is associated with destructiveness and inhumanity.

The papacy is arguably the one defining institution of Western Christendom. Pope Pius XII declared the bikini to be sinful. Countries like Ireland and Spain refused to partake in the first Miss World contests over the bikini and the new style was attacked by American Catholics.

So the history of the bikini answers our question. Its inception was part of the broad-based lie concerning Western sexuality and family. Moral purity and wholesome values which the bikini eroded are pillars of Western civilisation and destructive Polynesian type mores represent an attack on the West. So, how Western is the bikini? Not very.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. yaamatullah says:

    Reblogged this on Al Amatullah and commented:
    Two thoughts about this:

    1) If France wants to police what women wear that is fine, but they absolutely MUST stop with their “liberte fraternete” nonsense. They are not pro-Freedom. They are secularocracy. (I just made that word up.)

    2) The West saw deficiencies in how they approached sex and sexuality (the Victorian era was extremely repressive), and sought to correct these deficiencies by taking from other cultures (cultural appropriation). Unfortunately this threw out the baby with the bathwater, as women dressing provocatively is not the solution for a society so sexually repressed that even sex with one’s legal spouse is seen as shameful and disgusting. To this day in the West, women are still judged for wanting sex, enjoying sex, and for dressing in a sexual manner in public. Very little liberation came from this transition, unfortunately.


  2. In the 1950ie an d 60ies we do had to fight against our parents wishes that we ahd to have covered our legs and arms. In Europe at that time our parents still wore a full body swimwear, and women when in public had ot have a hat or scarf on, plus in church their head had to be covered, older women wearing a veil.

    It is very surprisingly when the countries where head covering had the longest tradition and Italy and France still having many Catholic churches where man and women are still not allowed with bare arms and legs and where women need to wear a head covering in church, that so many protest against Muslim women their covering clothing, though find it normal that those nuns walk around in habit and do expect other women to be nearly naked.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s