Dodai Stewart — If you read tabloids or ladymags, pay attention to advertising campaigns, or happen to live on planet Earth, you know that the one thing women are supposed to strive for — more than a functioning body, a healthy body, or a strong body — is a bikini body.
Catherine Saint-Louis examines this phenomenon for The New York Times, and finds that in advertising, from yogurt to lotion to 100-calorie “snack packs,” the bikini is a symbol of victory, a goal, and a fear motivator. She also discovers that decades ago, when the bikini was invented (and even when it gained popularity) women didn’t feel they had to lose pounds — or even wax intimate parts — to sport a two-piece.
Back then, bikini preparation was starkly laissez-faire by today’s grooming standards. In her recently published literary memoir, Art and Madness, Anne Roiphe wrote that in 1965, she suspected that a suitor was into her because of, not in spite of, the “tufts of dark hair that stuck out of the top of my bikini.”
But today it’s assumed that only the lean, muscular, hairless and ab-defined will feel comfortable in a bikini. “It’s become difficult to feel natural with a normal body,” [Sarah Kennedy, the author of The Swimsuit: A History of Twentieth-Century Fashions] said. “Fatism has taken over. It’s O.K. to be mean to lumpy, lardy people. It’s a sort of subtle intolerance towards people that’s very bad.”
The truth is, the “bikini body” craze goes so much deeper than fatism or fatphobia. It is part of our society’s relentless insistence that a woman’s body is not her own. continue after the jump