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My apology for my absence this time is not due to my ballet endeavours but down to a good, old fashioned beach holiday. I am sporting a very rare (for me) tan thanks to a little bikini I lived in for the past seven days. Indeed, as I looked about me on the Croatian beach, the classic one piece swimsuit of my childhood has all but vanished. Bikinis seemed to shrink smaller and smaller and several beautifully brave women lolled around topless to perfect their seamless tan.

I found myself remembering (sun damage worries aside for this thought) that women did not always have this freedom and luxury. In the late 1880s and early 1900s when “swimming” became fashionable for recreation as well as health reasons, I would have been wearing not a handkerchief size bikini but a dress complete with apron, pantaloons and stockings covering almost every patch of skin from the wrists and jaw upwards. Try bubbling merrily through the waves with the drag of what must have felt like your entire bed linen cupboard.

Of course, I understand that fashion and women’s liberation (thankfully) naturally affected the female swimming attire. But there was one woman who, at the tender age of 18, was arrested for indecency on a US beach in 1907. Annette Kellerman (swimmer, performer and writer) was sporting this costume:

The emphasis placed on a golden brown tan, bikini-ready body and confidence in baring your naked breasts is all open for discussion. But the beauty of what I saw all around me on a gorgeous pebbly beach in Hvar was that all the women there had a choice, there was no visible judgment or uncomfortable looks or comments from anyone standing around. No police showed up because my shoulders were on display. In fact, as a normal female who can feel self-conscious and negatively compare with other women’s bodies, I felt a relaxed freedom in the closeness of so many different, unique and imperfect female forms around me.

The brave efforts of many women have made what is seen as normal life for me today possible. Thank you, Annette, for the part you had to play.

More: Annette’s entry on IMDB here

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2 thoughts on “Sun, Sand and Swimsuits: Annette Kellerman

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