Bikinis, let’s face it, are not flattering garments. Whether triangle, halterneck, bandeau or balconette, high-waisted, low-waisted or string, ruffled, fringed, sequined, hipster, skirtini, microkini, tankini, bandini, bikinis decoratively hide two, technically three things; breasts and genitals.
By telling us what needs to remain, literally, under cover, bikinis put a strange emphasis on these selective female bodily parts. They censor the eyes and yet guide the gaze towards the unspeakable.
Bikinis reveal rather than conceal.
And so, under the cover of the bikini, the semi-nude becomes semi-naked, but only as far as convention allows this.
Think for a moment of your favourite nude painting. Be it Goya’s Maja,
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
or Rubens’ Three Graces.
Picture these women. Watch their faces, their demeanour, their poses. Feel the flesh of their thighs, the weight of their breasts. Look behind the gossamer veil, playing hide and seek with the beholder. Contemplate the naked becoming nude.
Now picture these same women, wearing a bikini.
No, it does not work. Not only because they would look ridiculous but mostly because their bodies, these expanses of female flesh, of beauty, innocence and temptation would seem strangely interrupted, punctuated by cut to size pieces of fabric.
Still, the summer display of bodies is not all Ingres and Modigliani.
Some of it is Rembrandt or Lucien Freud.
For the human body is diverse. It is free and seldom does it adhere to the prevailing standards of perfection. Thus people sculpt their bodies, either through exercise or surgical intervention. People use their bodies, abuse their bodies. But flaunted or hidden, pale or tanned, waxed or hirsute, our bodies are but variations on a theme. After all, I have what you have.
Show me yours and I’ll show you mine?
The dubious elegance of the bikini does not however call for unbridled nudism. Nor is it a plea for the one-piece, elegant and tasteful as this may be. No, by all means, let us stand by the bikini. With a little help from a sarong, a pareo or a cover-up perhaps?
Perhaps. Even though a cover-up can be deceiving.
Fragonard’s Swing is, despite the heavy dress, the rich pinks and white satins and silks and the bergère hat, a dirty little picture full of naughtiness and playfulness, complicity and voyeurism.
There seems to be a place for naked, a place for nude and a place for cover up, depending on setting, on intent and, dare I say it, gender.
Due to a lack of male models, Paul Cézanne painted his Seven Bathers from memory. Selective memory thank God. For this is how we like them. Nude and naked, without the urge to reach for the fig leaf or, its modern counterpart, the Speedo budgy smuggler.
Do I hear disagreement?
The old ‘weenie count’ campaign is still relevant and the issue remains unresolved. As with the bikini. Entrapped in a continuous game of hide-and-seek, forever stuck in a fight with gravity, the reign of the bikini lingers. As does the pursuit of the bikini body.
But there is no such thing as a bikini body. And if, for the briefest of moments, there seems to be, it is only a temporary illusion. The body is flawed, the camouflage inadequate.
Beauty is imperfect and no matter how hard we try, we are, unlike Lichtenstein, unable to join the dots.
So if all else fails, all that is left to do is to wear that bikini!