AIDA AUSTIN: “The bikini: a badge of fitness and phwoar”

EVERY spring, as sure as daffodils bloom, so does the idea that women should worry, diet and exercise their way to bikini-ready bodies.

Magazines compound the idea that this ground-work is absolutely crucial, with all the subtlety of a club-hammer. They scream, “IS YOUR BODY BIKINI-READY? and “BIKINI-BODY COUNTDOWN STARTS NOW!”, as if this bikini-test was on a par with the HPAT and only a donut-eating shirker would settle for a one-piece.

On four occasions in its lifetime, my body has swelled to the size of a space hopper in honour of my babies. It has pushed them out into the world and fed them. Because of this — and because I’m the kind of person who’s never put much store by my body, beyond its ability to race around doing the stuff it needs to do, my flesh now has about the same consistency as warm Play-Doh: all-over soft.

In terms of universally-recognised, ideal bikini-body aesthetics — ie rock hard — this is a definite minus. On the plus side, however, I’m an eight-stone lightweight, because I don’t eat doughnuts.

As far as self-body-image goes, my feelings generally register on the Moderate Emotional Scale; they’re about as intense as those I have about my about Nissan Micra: it’s middle-aged but reliable, up to the job and handy-sized, nothing to shout for joy about — or shed a tear over either.

So, just to re-cap, I’m slim, wobbly and at ease.

This week however, as I stood in a Debenhams fitting-room, sporting a polka-dot bikini, I noticed that my feelings were swinging past Moderate and over towards the extreme end of the Emotional Scale, in a dramatic, speedy arc. Less cheeriness, in other words and more… fright.

The problem really has nothing to do with the bikini itself — it has more to do with the enormous pair of Invisible Deconstructing Judgement Specs with Special Popular-Culture Lenses that we always put on before wriggling into a bikini. Only when the specs are in place and our perspective has been sufficiently skewed, do we go about the business of deconstructing ourselves, bit by bit, into: Body Parts to Hate, About Which There is So Much to Do and Get Upset.

The bikini was first introduced in 1945, by French engineer Reard, who designed the swimsuit in the back of his mother’s lingerie shop, in response to the conclusions he’d drawn from observing women roll up their tops to get a tan on the beaches of the Riviera. Surmising that women needed a swimsuit in which they wouldn’t feel quite so hot and in which their tummies could get nice and brown, he designed the bikini.

Dominic Smith, editor of UK lad’s mag, Nuts, gave the bikini this appraisal on its 63rd birthday: “In the austere post-war years, mankind needed something to bring peace and happiness to the planet once more. That thing was the bikini. Its perfection of form and function ensured that once again, mankind was united in a single thought: phwoar! Happy 63rd birthday, bikini — possibly the greatest enjoyment-giving invention of the 20th century.”


When the bikini was first introduced, initial sales were slow, only really gaining momentum in the 1960s and early ’70s, by which time Western women of all ages were wearing them. A pale roll of flesh around the tummy, or a soft bottom didn’t disqualify anyone because the fitness revolution was still roughly a decade away. Popular culture had yet to start enshrining muscular, entirely hairless, physical perfection, and the culture of “phwoar!” had not arrived.

Pre-fitness revolution, no one had heard of high-intensity total-body workouts, so the bikini was still a swimsuit — not The Badge of Fitness and “Phwoar!”

There was no bikini season prep — because women’s bodies were already ready.

Imagine! The concept of bikini season prep, as meaning ‘already ready’! That’s bringing peace and happiness to the planet, right there!

Back in the day, bikini-wearing was a doddle: by way of preparation, by and large, women got their bikinis out when the sun came out. Then they put them on — and jumped in the sea. Which is I what I intend to do this summer — slim, wobbly and at ease. In polka-dots.


Kim Sheehan is an opera singer from Crosshaven, Co Cork, and is this year’s recipient of the Jane Anne Rothwell Award from Cork Midsummer Festival.A Question of Taste: Cork opera singer, Kim Sheehan

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