Friday, June 22, 2007

Bikini vs Underwear?

As she hops on the bus, her sister and brother in law give out an exasperated sigh. “A bikini top!” her sister says with relief. “I thought you were wearing a bra! I was gonna kill you!”

Right then I wanted to stand up and exclaim. “Yes, America! This! This is what’s confusing me about your definition of proper.”

In a couple of fashion shows that I watched online, and attended, the same thing happens. The girls would be walking the runway in bikinis or lingerie, then grow upset if the windows in the change rooms are not sealed to the top. The managers would be very strict with the boys and cameras, preventing them from lingering in the change rooms, or peeping through any holes onto the girls who are in their underwear. (This
Victoria Secret Fashion Show is an excellent example; look for the very end of the show, 6:30/6:47)

Don’t tell me this is plainly a legal matter, because if managers are fearful of being sued, the girls are plainly upset about their own privacy. But what privacy? If bikini’s are sometimes skinnier and more revealing than underwear, and if walking the runway means being speculated in more detail-what is it that the girls want the public to stay out of?

The same scenario happens in back stages, theaters and sports; that awkward moment when the definition of body, privacy, and propriety is encrypted in a language that I cannot understand. My smile is torn, as I remember once again how foreign and alien I am to people I shared two years with. And just because I speak English pretty well, asking for a translation would not be taken without offense.


Anonymous said...

Why they don't allow camera's in the changing rooms? Obviously because the models are changing lingerie there. And while they're putting on an other lingerie set, they're naked.
Sounds logical to me...

It's probably also about having a place to relax for a while during the show, without having to smile because someone might be taking a picture. (not that I know how the fashion world works. I've never been at a fashion show. It doesn't look very interesting to me)

As for the difference between underwear and swimwear. I guess it's mainly a hygienic matter. Underwear is made to absorb your sweat. Swimwear doesn't absorb water.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

well my most cynical take would be that liberation of women in america has in many cases, especially when in comes to sex, meant that women have been given greater control over the commodification of their bodies. so the ideal woman is still a very sexualized object, but she gets to decide where and how she sells herself.

in this case privacy works as a means of control over her body as a source of income and power.

underwear is private precisely because it is under...the bikini is not because it is designed to be seen in public, on the beach, etc. the exposure of underwear is an act of intimacy, seduction/flirtation/sexuality (hint of a thong seen with low waisted jeans), or profit.

by and large the meaning of a woman's body has not undergone the type of social transformation that would be necessary for full social equity since the woman's body is still largely oriented towards male-consumption. she is allowed a great deal of freedom as long as she does not refuse that social idenitification which makes her an object of constant consumption. if she does try to refuse that role she is considered prudish (at best) or frigid, lesbian, feminist (feminazi), man-hating, etc. in which case her place in society is deemed idiosyncratic.

Aysha said...

You make a good point in regards to not allowing cameras in, but the following points still confuse me:
- how about boy models who are getting changed as well?
- If boys and girls are so friendly and together upfront, why do they break away all of a sudden as they go in?
- Why is it that the boys change rooms are not as strict with the cameras or the girls?
- In a society that admits homosexuality, and thus acknowledges same-sex attraction, why is it okey still for same-gender nudity, but not okey in cross-gender situations?

Please understand that my questions are a mean of trying to understand, and never an attempt to pass judgement.

Aysha said...

You are very much an academic, because you were able to touch upon the problematic areas which had caused confusion, then go about explaining them in detail.

Just a few weeks ago I came across this quote by Marilyn Monroe "I don't mind living in a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it." And I think it does sum up your theory of where women's liberation is pending. Where the fashion industry seems to have settled.

"(Liberation) is the opium of masses!"

Growing up in Saudi, teachers would endlessly stress how Islam has liberated women from the slavery they faced before. And I guess in America, there's still the voice that compares the present to the past as well. I believe that effect to last up until reality is more painful and evident than the theory at hand.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aysha,

First off all, I'm not American. I've never been in the states. I'm European (I live in Flanders) so you know more about America than me. On the other hand, Europe is a lot more like America than Saudi-Arabia is. (I've been in Riyadh. Only 5 days, so that doesn't make me an expert).

Are cameras allowed in the changing rooms of male models? That would surprise me. But I don't know the fashion world.

The attitude towards nudity depends very much on the situation in Europe (and I guess also in the states). It also differs quite a lot between several countries in Europe. The Scandinavian countries for example are a lot more relaxed about nudity than countries in the south of Europe.

Mixed sex nudity is generally not accepted. Although there are exceptions. In the sauna for example. Most sauna's are mixed sex and generally, you only have a towel to sit on. You don't cover your body.
Showers and changing rooms on the other hand are generally not mixed sex. Why? I don't really know. Many people wouldn't feel comfortable I guess is a mixed shower or changing room. And if you go to some sports center, you can skip the sauna if you feel uncomfortable there, but you can't skip the changing room. (I know of some people who don't use the shower and go home to take their shower there. They are exceptions, but they exist.)

As for homosexuality: it's not written on someones face that they are homosexual. And what you don't know, doesn't make you feel uncomfortable. But maybe same sex showers are one of the reasons why generally men are more tolerant to lesbian women than they are to homosexual men and vice versa.

There are no strict rules and things change over time. Therefore, it's not always very logical. Generally men and women swim together in the same swimming pool, but because of the growing Muslim population, many swimming pools only allow women during some hours in the week. On the other hand, there are swimming pools that organise special hours when you swim naked (mixed sex). I guess it's a matter of supply and demand. If more people feel uncomfortable sitting in a mixed sex sauna, mixed sex sauna's may become exceptions. If on the other hand people become comfortable sunbathing naked, beaches where you are supposed to wear bathing wear might become the exceptions.

Anonymous said...

Hi LoA,

I don't share you very negative view on the freedom of women in the west. Some women like to look like models with a lot of make up and revealing clothes. Others never wear make up. Some men like the barbie doll type of women, others don't like them at all. Some men pay a lot of attention to their appearance. wearing expensive clothes and perfume. Some men couldn't care less and grow a beard.

Of course not all types of clothes are accepted by the people around you. And sometimes people make decisions because of a certain social status they hope to achieve. But eventually, what everyone has to learn is that you should be yourself and should wear what you feel comfortable in, not what you think others expect you to wear. And that's exactly what most man and women in the west do.

Hans said...

Hello Aysha,
I just can add an example to Anonymous of Flanders. In the Netherlands, I once took a drawing course, with nude models. Those models, male or female (one at a time) were sitting in front of us stark naked, but the undressing took place behind a screen. Same it is when I visit a medical doctor and he or she wants to see me naked. Than I have to undress behind a screen or in a separate room. So, the act of undressing is what causes the shame, and not the nakedness itself. What do you think?

Aysha said...

This wonderful feedback everybody. I have nothing to add but to read again, and think some more...

Thank you!

AngloGermanicAmerican said...

I agree with your observations, and here is how I would articulate the distiction.

It is "form over substance." You are looking at the substance, i.e. little or no functional difference between underwear, bathing suits, and birthday suits. The difference lies not in the substance, but in the form, i.e. each of these "suits" have their appropriate occasion. That is the only difference.

I had similar reflections earlier this year when my family vacationed south of the border. One day was spent at a beach that was well attended by, shall we say, fully liberated women from the string bikini up. Nobody walked to the beach topless, but once there, off they came - quite naturally, it seemed, after a while.

a.b said...


i couldn't agree with you more. specially on the bikini/ underwear thing. It's just hypocrisy. I mean they call it a different name name so that makes it adifferent thing? lol

Same goes for the following:
a female who gets paid for sex
is an actresess as long as there
is camera filming the action. However, if there is no camera
filming then hell she is a prostitute!! PURE hypocrisy.

those are just two examples of
many other hypocrisy cases that fill the western culture.

Aysha said...

"Form vs Substance."
Precise and well articulated as usual!
Speaking of the string Bikini, a friend of mine went to the beach one day with some American friends when they pointed to a the "string bikini" girls condemning their lack of self respect! She told me later that it confused her that a slight cropping would make such an impact on how they judged the girls.

Thank you for introducing me to my "New Learned Word," You'll find it on the left side of the blog. How did I survive thus far without knowing it :S ?
As for the examples you listed, I think they are very carefuly choosen, and relevant.


I am so grateful for the intellectual analysis, feedback, and discussion this post has stirred. When quality and quantity comments come together, aaah! That means a very lucky post.

Um Naief said...

from experience, i know that guys and girls change together during fashion shows. sometimes there are curtains hanging to separate the two, but because everything is soooo incredibly hectic and fast paced, usually a girl will have to change right in front of everyone because of time pressures.

w/ this said, i totally disagree w/ any cameras being backstage. no one should be allowed to see what goes on and see men and women changing.... altho, sometimes, w/ particular garments, it's as though the girls have nothing on at all, so what's the big fuss about?!!

i think that the states, in some areas, has gotten a little outta hand w/ what they're wearing and what they're calling fashion. but hey... i feel like as i get older, i see this so-called fashion crap a big crock.

btw... thanks for stopping by my blog. :) i'm glad you like it. sometimes i have a knack for writing... and sometimes i don't... deeply depends on my mood. ;)

Aysha said...

um naief,
Glad to have the insight of an insider. I am curious to learn how the fashion industry is run, to hear first hand experiences from models, photographers, designers. As mysterious as the politics of this industry is to me because of where I come form, as much as I want to know more.
Thank you...

Um Naief said...

w/ respect to the industry... i can tell you a little about it. i modeled back in my 20s... not print, but runway and i also did fashion week in dallas a few times. during runway shows, you just change... you aren't paying attention because you have a limited time to change into the next outfit and be back out there. you don't think about it and it's not about looking. it's about getting changed and looking the best you can look to make the outfit the best it can be or you wont get hired back.

and then was just like it is now. you had to be a certain size or else you werent hired and the clothes didnt fit.

competition was cut throat w/ girls undermining u every chance they got. theres a lot of bad things about the business esp when ur new and trying to make a name for urself.

Aysha said...

um naief,
Wow, runway! That is not easy to get nor to keep being part of, and while print can be edited runway is more of the real, live stuff. Despire the competition there, can you not say that it was fun to be out there?

Despite how corrupt the fashion industry might be, I respect something about it. There's purity in the sense of a human saying outwardly that they are seeking fame. That they are standing out there because they want to be in the light, and be admired.

You see, humans sometimes go through many lies, cover ups, and turns just to avoid admitting their "egoistic" sin! Selfishness is the most dominant trait, and by purely admitting it, one CAN work with it & put it into good use instead of fighting against it a useless fight that could cost a life time because it is equal to fighting "THE HUMAN".

Anonymous said...

Most of times changing and manipulating words to describe the same act is the way to run away from what we feel is incorrect or "improper"...
This is the power of the language and words...

Part of the nature of human being is ethics and principles...
So, here it comes the power of language:
I wear Bikini "almost nothing in reality" which is made especially for beach, BUT I do never ever let anybody sees me in my underwear. God forbid, since I have ethics...

Being naked in sauna's mixed sex is ok, BUT I do never ever let anybody sees me naked in changing room since I have ethics...

And so on...

When I reflect upon these matters I find that we always create two words, or more, for the same "incorrect" action to justify it:
One for the positive indications
and the other for the negative ones, which "others" usually do not "us" of course...

As a.b said:
It is just Hypocrisy, and laying to ourselves...


Piety Seeker said...

the human nature don't accept nudism,as well as killing another human and eat his flesh.

Both are not accepted although they exist.

Allah Jal wa 3la, creat human biengs and give them knowldge,and choice.

Aysha said...

Salma, the philosopher!

"I find that we always create two words, or more, for the same "incorrect" action to justify it:
One for the positive indications
and the other for the negative ones, which "others" usually do not "us" of course..."

That is a very applicable and rich conclusion. I fee like I have read it somewhere a very long time ago. However, the way you mention it now makes it so fresh and regenerative. For two days, my mind kept noticing the two words to things around me.

Thank you!

Aysha said...

piety seeker,

Since childhood teachers would say that humans do not accept nudism. Yet, to be honest with you, I feel that this is inaccurate. It would take a thorough and non subjective reading in anthropology to find out how man's relation to clothing had been since the early days.

Piety Seeker said...

Well, I don't see it that way,

Allah ( Swt ) said in the Holly Qura'an,:

" And ( unto man ): O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden and eat from whence ye will, but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong doers. The Satan whispered to them that he might manifest unto them that which was hidden from them of their shame, and he said: Your Lord forbade you from this tree only lest ye should become angels or become of the immortals.
Thus did he lead them on with guile. And when they tasted of the tree their shame was manifest to them and they began to hide ( by heaping)on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. "

Since Adam and Eve were in heaven, they were wearing clothes.
This might lead me to a question:
Why Adam and Eve began to hide themselves using leaves of the Garden ? Why didn't they enjoy the scene?
that's why am saying it's in the nature of humans not to reveal their bodies.
And, for me, I believe that nudism ( this word makes me feel sick, yeky )is as bad as killing another human and eat his flesh.

"I find that we always create two words, or more, for the same "incorrect" action to justify it:
One for the positive indications
and the other for the negative ones, which "others" usually do not "us" of course..."

I like this, very true indeed.

Aysha said...

Piety Seeker,
I believe that interpreting the Quran as such is limiting its genius and wide scope of interpretation which allowed it to survive thus far.
In the story you mention, there is no declaration of clothing, there's no word for word mention of it. As to why Adam and Even begin to hide themselves other than enjoy where they're at, on important response would be: they are responding to their sense of shame. The Quran is drawing a beautiful and wholesome image of how their inner feeling was at the time.