Nope. The issue has not yet been put to rest.
I’ve decided to return the swimsuit I purchased. Here’s why: 1) I didn’t love it; 2) Why the hell should I pay full price for a swimsuit in July?
So I’m on the hunt for a sale item I shall treasure through next summer.
As I peruse the options online instead of doing things that actually need to be done (ok – really I’m doing laundry), I can’t let go of one particular part of this swimsuit issue: At what point in societal history did it become acceptable to sit around in your underwear with your friends in an oversized bathtub?
Because I was curious, I went to the Googles and discovered there is a book on this very subject, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America by Jeff Wiltse. According to an interview with Mr. Wiltse, the first municipal outdoor pool opened in 1883 for the purpose of? Bathing.
City officials intended for the pool to function essentially as a large public bathtub for working-class residents, who lacked bathing facilities in their homes.[…] Once it became known that the source of diseases was invisible microbes that could be transmitted through water, pools suddenly became obsolete and downright dangerous as baths. Consequently cities added showers to the changing rooms, so swimmers would be clean before entering the water, and redefined pools as sport and fitness facilities.
And lucky for me, he also discussed the evolution of the swimsuit. Apparently at the turn of the twentieth century, a woman’s swimsuit took ten yards of material to make. By 1940, it was down to one yard. He gives three reasons for this shift:
[First] Young women contributed to the downsizing by persistently wearing swimsuits that pushed the boundaries of public decency. At first immodest swimmers were ejected from pools and sometimes even fined. But, as one public official explained, skimpy swimsuits must be “the trend of the times,” and who was he to defy “popular demand for such bathing suits.” Second, swimsuit manufacturers spurred the market for skimpy swimsuits during this period through advertising campaigns.
Finally, Hollywood movies influenced swimsuit trends and cultural attitudes about proper dress. The swimsuits actresses wore onscreen inspired considerable imitation. […] Having already been revealed onscreen, skimpy and tight-fitting styles seemed more conventional when they appeared at the local pool.
It’s a very interesting interview and looks like an interesting book, too. The interview with the author concludes with his noting that, though public pools were once an important social institution, families now favor more private forms of recreation, or more “entertaining” options, such as water theme parks.
Of course all of this only supports my instinct to not be completely comfortable in my underwear in a public situation, doesn’t it?
Some people I know (including two of whom grew in my womb) feel completely comfortable in their swimsuits in public, however.
But I don’t judge. Except when it comes to shoes.