“The bikini is about freedom, it’s about fun. It’s a lifestyle. The bikini is for the bad girl — it’s not for Barbie.” –author Kelly Killoren Bensimon
The bikini is most definitely a creation of man — two men, to be precise.
In 1946, as the French rival designers Louis Reard and Jacques Heim, competed to produce the world’s smallest swimsuit.
Heim’s swimsuit, it turns out, was first to hit the beach, Bikini but it was Louis Reard (an automobile engineer) who gave the bikini its memorable name, thanks to an American A-bomb test in the Pacific’s Bikini Atoll.
But for the debut of the bikini in Paris, Reard had one big problem: no one would model it.
“He couldn’t get models,” Kelly Killoren Bensimon, author of “The Bikini Book,” told CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altshul. “But he did enlist a stripper to wear the bikini and she wore it. And the picture is so cute.”
“Little did she know that she was going set the stage for the rest of the world.”
As a model herself, Bensimon is no stranger to the subject.
“The sexy body is one that looks like it can do something,” said Bensimon. “And when you see women, athletic women, or just women that are, you know, in a bikini, you really see their body. You really see that they can do something with it.”
“The difference between a two-piece and the bikini is that the bikini exposes the navel, which is the ‘zone of contention’ — ‘No, no, don’t look there’ — and that’s why it became really provocative.”
In the years that followed, films like “And God Created Woman” with Brigitte Bardot (another popular French export) helped promote the bikini.
It took two decades of pinup girls, surfer girls, Bond girls, and even cavegirls to make the bikini acceptable, if not entirely respectable, in the USA.
“The bikini’s associated with scandal and that’s why it’s survived,” Bensimon said. “The bikini is about freedom, it’s about fun. It’s a lifestyle. The bikini is for the bad girl — it’s not for Barbie.”
Bikini evolution has continued on it’s trend towards tiny to micro mini, and so now begs the question: How low can it go? And is smaller better?
“I think it is,” Bensimon said. “You know, it’s like when you wear tight jeans, you look better. When you wear baggy jeans, you look like you’re hiding something. When you wear a smaller bikini, it just looks better.”
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Tina Ramone is a staff writer for Siren International.
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