In the past it was morality, today it is sexism?

Around 1890: Exclusion from public bathing

Women of the 19th century usually undressed in so-called bathing carts in order to enter the water unobserved. This circumstance can be traced back above all to the conservative, Catholic society, in whose interest it was to largely exclude women from bathing in public. In case of violations, denunciations and punishments were to be expected. The heavy layers of fabric often led to death by drowning, especially when bathing in the sea. 

1922: Arrests on the beach

In the course of the first wave of feminism in the early 20th century, female swimmers and isolated women who were enthusiastic about swimming initially fought against the conservative world view that valued the female body as something dirty and indecent. Courageous protagonists even accepted arrest in order to stand up for their rights. 

1946First bikini exposes the navel

 The invention of the bikini by Frenchman Louis Réard caused a massive scandal in 1946, as it was the first piece of swimwear to expose the navel. The skimpy two-piece was paraded by a nightclub dancer, as ordinary mannequins feared the presentation would ruin their reputations. The sexually conservative and body-phobic 1950s delayed the establishment of the bikini in broader social strata. even accepted arrests in order to stand up for their rights. 

1971: Sexual Revolution and the Bikini

In the course of the sexual revolution and the emancipation movement in many Western countries, women of broad social strata began to wear the scandalous bikini even when swimming at the lake and in the open-air pool in the course of the 1960s. The revolutionary two-piece was gradually freed from its disreputable image and became a chilling symbol of women's liberation.
Photo of Wannsee.

1980Battery advertising: "Everybody jumps at it!

From the 1970s onwards, swimwear gradually left its terrain of sun, holiday, pool and beach and was used as advertising dress for products that had nothing in common with it. Cars, construction equipment, drinks or cigarettes - with a bikini the interest increases. The designation of an advertising girl as a "sex object" is justified when the sexualized depiction of a woman has no discernible connection to a product or brand and the model merely functions as a kind of decoration. 

2016Bikini ad causes scandal in Munich city centre

 In 2016, a bikini advertisement by the brand "Calzedonia" at Munich's Marienplatz, which showed Brazilian model Adriana Lima in a two-piece, caused an immense scandal. Above all, the sexualized representation was criticized, which would suggest to young girls and women that only a slim, trained body could be considered attractive. The voices of those in favour of a ban on sexualised advertising are becoming increasingly louder today. Nevertheless, a closer look reveals that the discourses on the female body that have been conducted over the centuries are characterized by a great ambivalence: Social perception always oscillates between stigmatization and objectification.

Today, discussions around sensitive topics such as sexism and feminism are more topical than ever and of global importance, not least due to movements such as #metoo. Especially with regard to the treatment of swimwear, the different positions are reflected, since in hardly any other area of everyday life is the lightly clad body of women publicly visible. This discourse should nevertheless take into account the historical context:

The female body carried a stigma of indecency until well into the 20th century. Women who dared to violate the strict dress code while bathing had to expect denunciations and punishments. The scandalous exposure of the belly button through the invention of the bikini in 1946 can therefore certainly be described as a milestone of emancipation, considering that many women drowned due to the heavy, multi-layered swimwear.

As the bikini became established as swimwear in the 1960s, it was also increasingly used as advertising dress in sexualised advertisements.

While some voices still celebrate the skimpy two-piece today as a symbol of women's liberation, some critics increasingly call on women to cover their bodies so as not to be degraded to sex objects. The instrumentalisation of the female body as a product advertising tool seems to promote a reactionary image of women that denies models an individual personality.

In order to promote a timely formation of opinion and to advance a common discourse, the BikiniARTmuseum has initiated the forum "Liberation versus Sexism". We want to initiate a collective process, discuss broadly together and promote a timely formation of opinion. We not only want to shed light on the historical development of swimwear, but also bring the discussion to the fore - weighing liberation versus sexism.

In order to create a dynamic process, your opinion is needed:

  • Where is the line to be drawn in today's society?

  • What is possible in public? When are boundaries crossed?

  • Which bikini representations can be described as self-determined? Which ones as objectifications?

  • What thoughts and emotions does the subject matter evoke in you?

  • Have you already had experiences with sexism?

  • Do you have any advice for sufferers?

Share your views and pictures with us via #bikinivoices on Instagram or Facebook! This way we create a forum for joint discussion!

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Opinions and thoughts of visitors on the topic "Liberation versus sexism".

"I think everyone should feel comfortable in their body and wear what they want.
The bikini museum is mega! I have so much more confidence now! THANK YOU!"

"It's nice to see how far liberation and self-determination has come and yet I question how much free will this is and yet how much collectivism is driving it all."

"On one hand, I'm angry and sad that women had to fight for so long to get the freedom to decide for themselves what to wear. On the other hand, I'm very proud that women have made it!"