Bikini’s Rise and Fall
Historically, exposing a women’s navel has been considered taboo. In many cultures around the world, the area has been associated with fertility and was considered too sacred to show deliberately. In the Western world, specifically, the navel was seen as an erogenous zone that should be covered to thwart sexual provocation.
In 1946, this taboo was challenged by Louis Reard, a French engineer, who introduced a new incendiary bathing suit style. It consisted of four triangles with 30 square inch of fabric held together by strings of cloth. The triangles covered the breasts, the female sex organ and part of the buttocks. Every other part of the body was left exposed and most significantly the navel was on full display. Most women in his circles did not want to wear anything so garish but he did find a young performer named Micheline Bernardini who agreed to model the swimsuit that Reard aptly named ‘bikini’. The word ‘bikini’ entered the cultural sphere at that time because of ‘Operation Crossroads’. The United-States government was conducting high-profile nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll, an island in the Pacific ocean. Reard capitalized on the media coverage and aligned his new design with the violence of the Able and Baker tests. At the time, he declared “like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating.”
While the ‘word’ bikini is now seemingly benign and embedded into the collective lexicon, its origins belie a sordid story. The native residents of Bikini were relocated to another island, where there was not enough food and water to sustain the community. They relocated to yet another island, better than the previous, but still inadequate compared to their home. The United-States had promised their return to Bikini but the radiation levels are still so high, that the island has not been deemed safe for human settlement. Attempts to clean up the site were considered unsafe and quickly abandoned.
While the native residents still grapple with the consequences of their displacement, the bikini also continues to dictate how womens’ bodies should be framed for admiration by the male gaze. From the Freudian perspective, the bikini and the events at Bikini Atoll both confirm that ‘the sexuality in most male human beings contains and element of aggressiveness – a desire to subjugate.’’ It is not a coincidence that the bikini was a ‘male’ invention that was named after nuclear tests that destroyed the local community and the Bikini Atoll’s ecosystem. Women today now have to make sure their bodies are ‘bikini’ ready and will go to all lengths to conform to their bodies being transformed into mere sexual object.