Harvey H. Jackson: Brazilian women want bigger bikinis
Feb 23, 2012 | 4432 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the dead of winter I am thinking about … bikinis.

Well, actually, I wasn’t until my buddy Phillip sent me an Associated Press article announcing that “Brazilian bikinis burgeon to fit the fat.”

That started me thinking.

Now, I do confess that, between St. Agnes Eve and Easter, bikinis do occasionally come to mind. Every year, when the weather is cold and spring seems far away, Sports Illustrated brings out its swimsuit issue and thoughts turn naturally to the young and tan and trim and nearly naked.

Not, however, to bikinis that “burgeon to fit the fat.”

Yet, that is the way thoughts are turning in the bikini industry of Brazil — Brazil, where the “Girl from Ipanema” walked the beach in so little and helped start a beach-attire revolution.

Over the years, I have made a study of evolving swimsuit fashions down on the Gulf Coast, a study not coincidental with my research on the Redneck Riviera. And after all the watching and researching and watching again, I have come to this conclusion.

It seems to me that, for some time now, women, more than men, have determined how swimsuits are designed and what is bought and worn.

A little history.

After World War II, women had two types of swimsuits from which to choose — a modest two-piece and an even more-modest one-piece. In the years that followed, as post-war families formed and Baby Boomers were born, new mothers, wanting to project a more-mature image on the beach, opted for the less-revealing one-piece outfit.

The two-piece disappeared.

Modesty was all the rage.

As for the bikini, it might be found in Playboy, which was just getting started, but you would not see one worn by a respectable girl or woman on the beach or by the pool.

That changed in the 1960s. Baby Boomer girls rejected what Mama wore and briefly turned to the two-piece, which they soon set aside for bikinis like the girl from Ipanema wore. It was then that young men learned that young women did not have a staple in their navel the way Playboy centerfolds did.

Mothers were not happy.

A friend tells the story of one young woman who appeared bikinied at the community pool and was the center of attention until her mother arrived with a blanket, wrapped her up and took her home.

This change in beach attire led to changes in the female form. Bodies got thinner, firmer, more bikini-appropriate. Where in the 1950s we guys admired girls with Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell curves, by the end of the next decade, the ideal girl was more slender, more fit and more exposed.

Now, there are those who associate this change in fashion with changes in attitude among young women — changes brought on by the women’s liberation movement that freed women from men who controlled their fashions like they controlled their lives.

I don’t believe a word of it. As the bikini revolution swept across the nation, I never once heard a guy say, “Stop it before we lose control.”

No sir.

Others argue that the bikini was part of a conspiracy by women to control men.

I can believe that.

The bikini revolution inspired women to get into better shape. Of course, the arrival of Title IX and more athletic opportunities for girls surely had something to do with female physical fitness, but that alone would not have been enough. Today, women are as active and health-conscious as men — maybe more so. Why? Bikinis!

Unfortunately, exercise and diet cannot always turn a full-figured girl into a rail-thin supermodel. Moreover, there are many among the full-figured who are happy enough with how they look and want swimsuits that will allow them to show it off.

Which brings us back to Brazil.

After years of making bikinis for the “tall and tan and young and lovely” who stroll the Copacabana beach, Brazilian swimsuit manufacturers (according to the AP article) “have woken up to Brazil’s thickening waistline and are reaching out to the ever-expanding ranks of heavy women.”

And why are they doing this?

Because women with “thickening waistlines” were once-thinner women, and as thinner women, they wore bikinis. They see no reason not to wear them now.

And if men complain, well, men should get over it.

As Brazil has become more prosperous, its people are eating more of the things that prosperous people eat — including the junk food that puts on the pounds. But rather than give up these newly affordable delicacies, women have demanded that bikini manufacturers make bikinis for them.

And today, in Brazil, bikinis now come in plus-sizes.

Because women are demanding them.

Will this trend spread to American beaches? I’ll let you know if they do.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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