Watching Anthony Bourdain the other night, it was clear that he not only ate everything his mom ever served, but everything anyone ever served him. And, he has never backed away from cooking and serving people some of the crap he has eaten, even though he suspected that more than a few people have had to excuse themselves from the table. The more a cooked meal moves across a plate, slithers around a bowl, and gazes, with some concern, at the man-creature who is about to chew on it, the better Uncle Tony likes it.
Great, bold approach. But lacking Bourdain’s millions of followers, I have often chickened out of telling the whole truth by using self-censorship. For example, I try not to name some people, especially if they are relatives, or still alive. More especially, if they can beat the hell out of me. Cowardice being the better part of discretion, I try to look around.
Here’s the thing. I have already written a light piece of fluff about the swimming pool culture I knew when growing up in Hemet, CA., way back when. But I said nothing about swimsuits. So, what’s the big deal about bathing suits? Well, there is no big deal about them. Just a little, ordinary deal, like a Donald Trump wet dream. You could call this post Fluff Number Two. I began the post with fluff (something that you, in your half-dozens have not responded to, for or against), and I am determined to finish this two-part series the same way: Like Bourdain, true to myself. Fluff all the way. Fluff to the end. Fluff on a stick, 50% nitrates and nitrites, and dangerous in the same way that boredom and death are part of the same contagion….
I might add that, at the end of this story, I will share the idea that Brigitte Bardot, even before Monroe, saved feminism, saved women, from the slow, endless grind of having very white, very old, very Christian, oldsters and elders, all males, with tons of female enablers, dictate the tenets of life and death to the female/other half of the world. The whole fraidy-cat lot is still out there today, pounding the pavement and the pulpits with the same old bullshit about not-good-enough for heaven, but just fine as firewood down there in the hotter, lower reaches. Like the same bunch behind the Amish bakers who put salt into the chocolate chip cookies they sell at Kenyon College.
Wrap your mind around this. You are out there on a Southern California beach on a hot summer day. It’s the Nineteenth Century, after the Civil War. The beach is empty. No closed-down nuclear power plants, no freeways, no cars, no coconut oil lotion, no nothing. Do you go swimming? Hit the surf? No, because even if you wanted to strip down, you would not. It would be indecent, God would know, and you would not only be hellbound, but jailbait to boot. For doing nothing more than showing your body to nobody.
Let us read. Los Angeles Times. July 9, 2017
“At the turn of the 19th century, photographs show beach strollers beneath hats and umbrellas, dressed as if they were attending church. If anyone dared a bathing suit, it was cut from flannel or thick cotton “mummy” cloth. The suits were hardly revealing, but women on the beach were unrestrained by corsets and men went uncovered below the knee. “Promiscuous lolling” on the sand, prudes complained to the Times, inevitably followed.
Nearly every city along the coast at first had a bathing suit ordinance that required full coverage for men as well as women. The Long Beach City Council determined the legal distance between swimsuit and knee in 1916. Santa Monica police were still arresting topless (male) sunbathers as late as 1929. Laguna Beach hadn’t repealed its modesty law until 1940.”
The Times continued by explaining that there was no revolt in the streets against the restrictions. No popular rising up of the masses. In California, at least, it was health and good looks that drove the constantly evolving changes in style. The wonders of sunshine; plus all the movies with the beautiful people showing what the world might look like if people would just strip down and get loose. Look at Tarzan. Look at Jane. Even superstar chimpanzee, Cheetah, who lived his whole life au naturel, claimed he lived to be 80 because he left his swimsuit in the treehouse.
Not that the prudes have all disappeared, as if by magic. No, the prudes, like the rest of us, can be slow movers when making their exit. Think of Howard Hughes and his attempts to make Jane Russell wear oil funnels beneath her sweaters. Janet Leigh got the same treatment.
Which was OK with the Hollywood sex accountants who worked at all the studios to enforce the 1930s Hays Code, also known as the Motion Picture Production Code. The original idea seems to have centered on hiding the male and female belly button, which was thought to be the very center of the sexual volcano destroying mankind. By the time the Code petered out, so to speak, in the 1950s, it not only covered the belly button, but virtually all of society, by implication. If eliminating “vulgarity” and “suggestiveness” were to be removed from the movies, then how about the schools and workplaces? Even the home, where Lucy and Desi slept in single beds with a lamp table between them. Lustful kissing? The prudes said you had three seconds per kiss. And no tongues! Miscegenation? Black people and white people in any kind of sexual encounter? Inferences of sexual perversion? Come on, now.
All this, and more, was covered by the Code, which is still creeping around out there. Think not? Have you seen the TV ad with the (white) couple lying in separate bathtubs, cloyingly holding hands, just waiting for the camera to stop rolling so they can jump each other? (More likely, today, one of the crew will bring over an animal, and they will pet the frickin’ dog, instead!).
Back to the Hemet High School pool/Hemet municipal plunge. Still the 1950s. Coach is still checking for athlete’s foot, Webb is lifeguarding, and kids are still whacking popsicles against the freezer to cut them in half. Over on the other side of the pool, the girls are talking, laughing, and rubbing on lots of suntan oil.
How is the Hays Code doing, as evidenced by the impact of the movies on Hemet youth? Well, it ain’t the 1930s, for sure, but it ain’t the 1960s, and beyond, either. The boys can clearly get away with an exposed bellybutton, and their light fabric bathing suits are generally loose and comfortable. Plenty of fresh air and exposure. Plenty of room for a nice sunburn.
The girls…. It always seemed to me that the girls were wearing girdles. It also seemed that most of them wore heavy compound one-piece items that must have been hell to get on and off. There were probably two-piece bathing outfits, too, but if Ava Gardner was forced to wear a two-piece bikini that hid her bellybutton, well, then…what’s good for Ava must have been good enough for the girls of Hemet. That is, after bikinis were accepted at all. Who was the first Hemet female to wear a bikini to the pool or the beach? No clue. But it took guts.
Of course, the first two-piece English and American outfits were not the true bikinis, thongs or other styles that women like Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, the women of Rio, and others introduced to finally drag America into the more free-wheeling styles taken for granted today. But I can just imagine the sense of freedom, the joy, and then the power a girl or a woman got when finally able to wear what she wanted. And now, the rapidly growing ability to say it, and do it, even if some countries and congregations wish to make a U-turn and head that truck right on back.
And thank you, Ms. Bardot, for showing and telling it like it is. As an observer of the human condition, I appreciate it. But, BB not a feminist, not a revolutionary, from age 14, and her first Elle cover? I may be a guy, but I’d be real careful about that one.