More than a marathon (part 1)

In the mid 1920s, veteran sportswriters in America consistently reported on one sporting event as the quintessential challenge to athletic prowess, strength, and endurance. The sport that sparked unprecedented media-hype and front-page newspaper coverage in 1926 wasn’t the World Series but the English Channel swim.

Front pages of the LA Times, NYT, Chicago Daily Tribune, and Washington Post covering Ederle's record-breaking swim.

Front pages of the LA Times, New York Times, Chicago Daily Tribune, and Washington Post announcing Gertrude Ederle’s record-breaking swim of the English Channel on August 6, 1926.

When, on August 6, 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman in the world to complete the harrowing swim, the press created a national hero. Headlines of her triumph dominated the front pages of major American newspapers for days. Weeks later, millions of fans from across the country clogged streets of New York City to shower Ederle with over four hundred tons of confetti in the congratulatory parade which became New York’s largest ticker-tape parade to that date. The Nation listed her among Henry Ford and Clarence Darrow as the most important individuals of 1926.

New York City's parade celebrating Gertrude Ederle's Channel swim, August 27, 1926.

New York City’s parade celebrating Gertrude Ederle’s Channel swim, August 27, 1926. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Advertisers used images of Ederle and other English Channel swimmers to sell myriad products from cigarettes to wristwatches. Why did the American media provide so much coverage of marathon swim that occurred overseas?

Mild curiosity began after Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the Channel in 1875. Several attempted to replicate his feat but until 1926, all but five attempts resulted in failure. The press began covering Channel swims regularly because each swim tested athleticism in dual ways: athletes competed against one another and against nature whose unpredictable elements made for dramatic reporting. Sometimes weather forced swimmers postpone starting, allowing the press to build readers’ anticipation. Often swimmers set off to calm seas but sudden squalls caused ten-foot waves. Powerful tides forced athletes to swim extra miles, zigzagging eastward then westward and, in the early 20th century, tides often swept swimmers beyond jagged promontories lining the beach, preventing many from finishing within a mile of the coast.

Additional threats came from aquatic life lurking in the water. Serious swimmers followed the Channel Swimming Association rules (see part 2), leaving them vulnerable to repeated (sometimes disfiguring) jellyfish stings. Until the mid 1920s, most athletes swam without goggles; the constant exposure to salt water temporarily blinded many, like Peter McNally of Boston who attempted the swim in 1897. Not only did he endure saltwater blindness, his nasal passages swelled shut; unable to breathe he was hauled from the water. Prolonged immersion in salt water chafed the skin of many swimmers or caused them to bloat. Swimmers also risked hypothermia and delirium induced by physical and mental exhaustion. The media carefully reported (in surprising detail) on all of these challenges.

To Americans in the 1920s, the Channel swim became more than a marathon: it represented an almost impossible challenge, a new frontier to confront and conquer. The swim provided an opportunity to use scientific methods and theories to subdue nature. Coaches like Englishman “Bill” [Thomas William] Burgess—the second man to swim the Channel—charted the tides, carefully timing the swimmer’s start. Newspaper reporters fueled a cultural obsession with records, marathons, and the measurement of efficiency.

Most importantly, following WWI the swim became a place to wage ideological wars. As an international competition, it provided a virtual battlefield on which nations could wage athletic wars to demonstrate national superiority. In May 1923, the London Daily Sketch offered a £1000 (then roughly $5000) prize to the first person to swim across the strait (to date, only Englishmen had succeeded). The Sketch contest enticed many aspiring athletes from various nations including two swimmers from Massachusetts, Henry Sullivan and Charles Toth. Both working-class men (a shoemaker and waiter) succeeded under dramatic conditions.

After a decade of saving and training, Sullivan prevailed on his seventh attempt: 27 hours 25 minutes of continual swimming. His triumph after repeated failure reinforced a traditional American ideology that prized fortitude, determination, and self-reliance. Sullivan’s perseverance earned widespread media attention in America and England and advertisers used him for celebrity endorsements.

Advertisement issued by the National Milk Publicity Council,  The [London] Times, 1923.

Advertisement issued by the National Milk Publicity Council, The [London] Times, 1923.

Decades before the lucrative “Got Milk?” campaign created by the California Milk Processor Board, London’s National Milk Publicity Council, used (then) famous athletes in ads in The [London] Times to promote the near-magical health properties of milk. Sullivan’s ad urged: “Safeguard your health, maintain your strength, increase your stamina by taking plenty of fresh milk.”

The year Sullivan succeeded also witnessed the first American woman to attempt the marathon. The first woman (an Austrian noblewoman) attempted the Channel swim in 1900 but few believed that women possessed the physical or mental strength to endure the grueling swim. Following WWI, however, increasing numbers of women from several countries competed. Women confronted nature, other athletes and the gender stereotypes that society had constructed. The press heightened its descriptions of the swim as a contest for national hegemony. The substantive newspaper coverage devoted to women Channel swimmers stressed that the first woman to complete the swim would bring unheralded honor to her country. When Ederle succeeded in her second attempt, becoming the first woman in the world to swim the Chanel, she also surpassed all previous records set by men–by nearly two hours.

In a fevered patriotism, the media pointed first and foremost to her accomplishment as evidence of America’s complete supremacy. Ederle, too, emphasized American nationalism, remarking, “there were swimmers from all the nations, Russian, German, French, English, Egyptian and even Japanese, and I made my swim with the thought alone of bringing the honor to my country.”

The press transformed her into a national hero. She received congratulations from President Coolidge who dubbed her “America’s Best Girl.” When polled by the press in Chicago and Washington, DC, more women aspired be like Ederle than like Miss America.

Why has Ederle been all but forgotten by the mainstream American public today? (continued in part 2)

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Her Swim Made Rolex Famous

Fog blanketed the shore when Mercedes Gleitze plunged into the stark obsidian water at Cape Gris Nez, France, before dawn, October 1927. The “Oyster”–a newly invented waterproof watch by Rolex–that she wore ticked with each stroke she took as she swam toward England.

Rolex advertisement, British House and Garden, October 2010.

A typist from London, Mercedes Gleitze captured newspaper headlines in America as one of a handful of women athletes vying to be the first woman to successful swim across the Channel.

American reporters became captivated by Gleitze, the “beautiful London stenographer” when she first attempted the swim in 1922. At the time, only a handful of men—the most seasoned and accomplished athletes—had successfully swum the strait. Most people believed that women lacked the physical strength and endurance to swim through the rough Channel waters. Reporters were fascinated by women athletes who attempted the swim and American sportswriters reported faithfully Gleitze’s attempts.

Mercedes Gleitze, publicity photo, ca.1926.

Mercedes Gleitze, publicity photo, ca.1926.

Gleitze possessed not only striking beauty but she embodied the determined and dedicated spirit that many believed defined “real” sport. Reporters continually emphasized her working-class roots and that she saved her money annually to embark on the swim. She failed in her attempts seven times over five years before finally succeeding.

American headlines captured the drama surrounding Gleitze’s swims. In 1926, after swimming 11 hours, Gleitze was nearly delirious from cold and repeated jellyfish stings. Her trainer, fearing she might drown from exhaustion, rowed out and “lassoed” her hand with a slipknot, hauling her aboard the boat, despite her protests.

Mercedes Gleitze American cigarette card.

Mercedes Gleitze, cigarette card.

 

 

 

Her “plucky” perseverance earned her a prominent place among respected American athletes and she was one of the handful of women athletes featured–for her athleticism–on collector’s cigarette cards.

On October 7, 1927, she became the third woman and the first Englishwoman to successfully swim the Channel unaided. Her post-season swim lasted fifteen hours and fifteen minutes and was splashed across the front front pages of major American newspapers the following day.

Front page of the Boston Daily Globe, October 8, 1927.

Though her October 7 swim was heralded as triumphant in America, some in Britain–especially those skeptical of women’s athleticism–doubted the validity of her swim. Noting that it occurred late in the season with few witnesses, the English Channel Swimming Association refused to recognize her swim as legitimate.

Undaunted by Association’s doubts, Gleitze vowed to vindicate her name by embarking on another swim. News of the upcoming “vindication swim” filled the newspapers across Europe and America for the week prior to event. Glietze, always smiling and spirited, won the hearts of the American public.

Mercedes Gleitze, swimming the English Channel, 1927. Courtesy Christie's.

Mercedes Gleitze, swimming the English Channel, 1927. Courtesy Christie’s.

As the media stirred up awareness and audiences awaited Gleitze’s swim, entrepreneur Hans Wilsdorf, a founder of Rolex watch company recognized a distinct opportunity. The previous summer, Rolex had launched its first waterproof wristwatch, the “Rolex Oyster.” At the time, Rolex was striving to prove itself as a reliable brand name. Wilsdorf realized that if Gleitze could be persuaded to wear a Rolex on her well-publicized “vindication swim,” the company would gain unprecedented media coverage–without directly advertising.

He provided Gleitze with a complimentary Rolex Oyster wristwatch which he asked her to wear during her late-October Channel swim and, if the watch withstood the swim, he asked her to write a testimony about its performance.

The first advertisement came informally. Watching as Gleitze was battered by churning waters for more than ten hours, a reporter noted that, “hanging ‘round her neck by a riband on this swim, Miss Gleitze carried a small gold watch which . . . kept good time throughout.”

The real promotion of Rolex began after the swim. Gleitze, sent a testimonial to Wilsdorf:

You will like to hear that the Rolex Oyster watch I carried on my Channel swim proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion even though it was subjected to complete immersion for hours in sea water at a temp of not more than 58 and often as low as 51. This is to say nothing about the sustained buffeting it must have received. . . . The newspaper man was astonished and I, of course, am delighted with it.

One month after her vindication swim, Rolex purchased the entire front page of the Daily Mail, filling it with an advertisement that featured Gleitze and Rolex together.

rolex ad enhanced

Front page of the Daily Mail, November 24, 1927, 1.

Recognizing the significance Gleitze played in Rolex’s development, the company recently designed ads featuring a model reenacting the legendary swim (see House and Garden ad above). The 2010 ad takes some liberties with the  swim that made Rolex famous. In real life, Gleitze wore the gold Oyster watch around her neck, not on her wrist as the ad depicts. Rolex’s recent ad downplayed the difficultly of the 1927 swim by picturing the swimmer as poised and pristine. In reality, Channel swimming is arduous, messy and wreaks havoc on the body. To help insulate against cold, swimmers covered themselves head-to-toe with “Channel grease” (a noxious-smelling mixture of lanolin and lard), their bodies grew swollen from multiple jellyfish stings, and most chafed and bloated from prolonged immersion in salt water. Knowing this, Rolex’s initial advertisement featuring Gleitze appeared a month after her vindication swim.

After conquering the English Channel, Gleitze continued to attempt to swim across dangerous straits around the world, including the Irish Channel, Hellespont, the Straits of Gibraltar (which she attempted six times before succeeding), the Dardanelles, and she became the first to swim from Cape Town to Robben Island and back. American newspapers highlighted that Gleitze donated much of the money she earned from swimming to charity, establishing the Mercedes Gleitze Homes for Destitute Men and Women.

Recently, Irish filmmaker Clare Delargy produced Mercedes: Spirit of a New Age (2013). The documentary, which features interviews with Gleitze’s daughter, Doloranda Pember, as well as some of Gleitze’s contemporaries, resurrects the story of this inspiring and indomitable swimmer.

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Soup, Sex and Sports: Campbell’s soup and gendered marketing (ad of the week)

“M’m for giant hunger!” a pleasant female voice croons in Campbell’s latest commercials for Chunky soup. The 30-second spots feature Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants, who is surprised on the sidelines by a large mascot (his mother and grandmother in disguise) bearing a bowl of Jammin’ Jerk Chicken Chunky soup. As Cruz obeys the maternal voice demanding that he eat the soup, we see mouth-watering close-ups of tender chicken and rice and hear the woman assert, “M’m for giant hunger!”–a play on Campbell’s iconic tagline: “M’m! M’m! Good!”

These latest commercials reinforce traditional notions of gender, showcasing as they do a hungry male football player–a symbol of masculinity–and a maternal figure providing nourishing food–a classic representation of femininity.

Campbell’s has historically targeted male and female consumers differently, in a manner which reinforces gender differences and appeals to both sexes. When selling to women as consumers, for instance, Campbell’s emphasizes women’s appearance and dietary concerns. Consider this ad:

Campbell’s soup ad, Look magazine 1971. Courtesy of Christine DeChaves, who discovered a cache of old magazines in her attic.

Reclining on the beach in bikini bottoms, the young woman’s shirt reading “M’m! M’m! Good!” carries multiple connotations. It refers to the iconic Campbell’s tagline. But, emblazoned across the chest of a recumbent, half-dressed young model, it also objectifies the woman’s body, implying that she exists to be sampled and savored like the soup. At the same time, seeing a long-legged model in a bathing suit, most women consumers are immediately reminded to be conscious of their own figures and food consumption. (And, of course, Campbell’s ads remind women that soup is slimming).

Campbell’s soup advertisement,1969.

In contrast, soup ads targeting men featured NFL players and other masculine athletes to emphasize that soup satisfies even the most manly man’s hearty appetite. 1960s and 1970s ads flirted with sex appeal and gender differences when selling soup; at the same time, Campbell’s market research revealed a “male meal dilemma.” Studies showed that men encountered difficulty finding “convenient, satisfying foods that taste good and that they feel good about eating.” Executives saw the newly developed Chunky–ready to serve from the can–as a viable solution.

Using the tagline, “The soup that eats like a meal,” Chunky ads targeted bachelors. In this typical mid-1980s commercial, the male medical interns are responsible for preparing their own meals. Women nurses appear briefly at the end, as bystanders impressed by the doctors whose consumption of Chunky soup make them alert and attractive, the ad implies.

By 2005, Campbell’s altered its marketing strategy, moving away from football and sports to feature men in occupations traditionally defined as masculine, such as construction work or ranching. A new campaign started in 2008 used ads that showed “everyday” men hard at work and sometimes alone with boys with a tagline: “A man’s got to eat. He just wants to eat better.”

The present Cruz commercial is a revival of what became known as Campbell’s “mama’s boy” campaign campaign: ads showing mothers or wives foisting soup on their grown, NFL-playing sons. Implying that women hold authority as nurturers, these ads reinforce notions of traditional gender roles.

Not only are the ads are blatantly gendered, but Campbell’s products themselves are gendered. The Healthy Request line, for instance, is marketed to health-conscious (or weight-conscious) women. Chunky, “the soup that eats like a meal” has traditionally targeted men as consumers. But, since recent market research shows that women typically purchase groceries, the most lucrative ads–like the “mama’s boy” campaign–incorporate women as supporting figures, even when the ads target men. And because research indicates that women purchase Chunky, too, Campbell’s has begun to place ads in women’s magazines.

Curiously, these Chunky soup ads directed toward women differ from the mainstream tv ads–they don’t include football players but emphasize that Chunky uses lean cuts of meat and a serving of vegetables. Why does Campbell’s feel compelled to advertise identical types of Chunky soup differently to men and to women?

The reinforcing of traditional ideas about masculine and feminine behavior troubles me, especially in these pre-election days. Does the revival of conventional and highly limiting ideas about gender in advertising–portraying women as caregivers and cooks and men as strong, active sports figures that need to be nourished–reflect or portend a trend towards social conservatism?

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Half-Dressed or Half-Naked? The Paperboy’s Swim Through Sexually Charged Waters

If you haven’t yet seen Lee Daniels’s latest film, The Paperboy, you probably haven’t been able to avoid reviews describing the suspenseful thriller alternatively as “lurid,” “a hot mess” and “high-toned sexploitation.” AP movie critic Christy Lemire reviewed the complex, nuanced film as: “characters wallowing in bloody crimes and sloppy sex, all of which seems even more lurid during a steamy summer in the racially divided Florida swamps of the late 1960s.” (If you haven’t seen the movie, watch the trailer and judge for yourself.)

Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron, wearing “tighty whities” throughout much of The Paperboy (2012).

Whether praising the film or savaging it, reviewers generally shared one observation: they fixated on the fact that Zac Efron who plays Jack Jansen—the paperboy—appears half-naked—literally—through the majority of the movie. When not sporting tight swim trunks, he wears only underwear—“tighty-whities”—which are arguably more revealing in terms of style and color than swimming trunks, especially in 1969 the year the story unfolds.

Though perplexed that Efron appears half nude in the film, Lemire didn’t criticize it. How can she? Few have debated the aesthetic appeal of Efron’s body and I’m not about to do so.

What puzzles me—enough that I had to see the movie despite reviews describing its depravity—is that films have featured half-naked women—without logical, plot-related reasons—since Hollywood’s inception. If not overtly approved, the gratuitous inclusion of scantily clad young women is tacitly expected. So why did Zac Efron’s state of undress provoke such shock and widespread commentary?

Does Daniels’s decision to film Efron half-dressed (or half-naked) signal an increased sexualization of men’s bodies by the media today?

Not necessarily. Part of Efron’s half-nakedness derives from plot: his character Jack, a college swimming champion at the University of Florida, was expelled for draining the university pool in a drunken boyish prank. As the film starts the 20-year old is living at home delivering, the local newspaper produced by his father. Stuck in a pubescent, powerless role at home, motherless, girlfriend-less, attracted to an older woman (Nicole Kidman) his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) is assisting, Jack postures and pouts in his underwear–sometimes bored, sometimes rebellious–placing his body on perpetual display.

When Isoul Harris (Huffington Post) asked Daniels why he kept Efron “basically naked” throughout the movie, Daniels explained: “When I grew up, I was in my underwear all the time in my mother’s house. . . . so, with this coming-of-age story, I was replicating what I know from my childhood.”

Interesting. Indeed, at times, rather than sexualizing Jack (Efron), appearing half-dressed infantilizes him–some have remarked that tighty whities resemble diapers–and underscores his emotional vulnerability. Anita (Macy Gray), the Jansen’s omniscient housekeeper who narrates the film, emphasizes Jack’s childlike vulnerability by describing his attraction to Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) not as adolescent lust; she explains that Jack has fallen in love with Charlotte because Charlotte embodies “mother, girlfriend, and oversexed Barbie” all in one.

Whatever the rationale for Efron’s underwear-only home scenes, any sexuality that his state of undress might conjure is overshadowed by overt, graphic, raw and sometimes brutal sexual domination experienced (sometimes sought by) other characters.

Zac Efron starring as Jack Jansen, swimming in Lee Daniels’ film, The Paperboy, 2012.

Focusing on the film’s shocking nature, most reviews failed to mention the role that swimming holds in the film. Within the first few minutes Efron has plunged into a pool and begins swimming underwater; his short, tight black trunks, starkly contrast with the pool’s white tiles. The camera first pans from above; it then submerges in front of him, visually caressing him in exaggerated slow motion as he continually strokes underwater toward the camera. The scene isn’t merely to showcase Efron’s body—though it clearly does—its significance emerges near the film’s end.

About halfway through the film, while sunbathing together on the beach, Charlotte (Kidman) teases Jack—encouraging him to have sex with one of the nearby girls. Angered and possibly humiliated, Jack stalks to the water and swims furiously, beating murky waters with the frustration he feels for Charlotte (for his powerlessness in life). After suffering repeated jellyfish stings and barely dragging himself out of the water, Jack lies on the beach, in agony, swelling with allergic reaction to the stings. The controversial, much-publicized scene of Charlotte urinating on his face and body is contextualized in the film; far from an act of depravity or degradation—urine halts an allergic reaction to jellyfish stings—the act seems bizarrely natural. and devoid of sexual overtones.

So why did the media pounce on this scene and the fact the Efron appeared half-dressed (or half-naked) throughout The Paperboy? Are there differences in way in which Hollywood eroticizes men and women?

Movie poster advertising The Paperboy 2012. From collider.com

Consider the differences in the movie posters for The Paperboy (2012; set in 1969) and Bathing Beauty (1944). Advertisements for The Paperboy don’t feature a half-dressed Efron to lure viewers; the movie poster highlights four of the main characters. Knowing the amount of time that Efron appears in his underwear, the trailer actually downplays the prominence of his exposure.

In contrast, all of the posters advertising Bathing Beauty–including the one below–showcase Williams’ body. Originally titled “Mr. Co-ed,” Bathing Beauty revolved around Red Skelton. Filmmakers renamed the film to feature Williams and advertised the movie by prominently displaying her swimsuit-clad body in advertisements.

Poster advertising Esther Williams in Bathing Beauty, 1944. From retroconfidential

 

By featuring Efron half-naked, more than half the time, Daniels may have intended Efron to objectify his body. The media commented so ubiquitously on Efron’s near-nakedness because, historically, the appearance of scantily-clad men in popular film is driven by plot. Jack’s lounging in his briefs–for no overt, plot-driven reason–stands as an anomaly. As a culture, we are accustomed to equating scantily-dressed women with sexual objects. Efron is half-dressed, but he is not objectified—at least by characters in the film (two of whom objectify themselves).

Having read the reviews that describe the film’s shocking luridness, I cringed. Loathing gore and graphic violence I nearly skipped the film. Recently, after finishing Gilliam Flynn’s Gone Girl I read her first novel, Sharp Objects. Maybe that–gripping but highly disturbing–desensitized me. I walked away from The Paperboy thoughtful but not shaken. And definitely not disappointed or convinced that Efron was gratuitously objectified. I’m  curious to hear what other people thought.

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Swimming for Social Change: Sarah Peck’s Birthday Swim

At 5:00 am on Saturday, September 22, 2012, when most Americans were still sleeping, writer and designer Sarah Peck climbed into a boat making its way to Alcatraz. Less than two hours later, Peck slipped into the frigid water and began swimming steadily from Alcatraz to San Francisco. An early morning swim in 55-degree water might seem like an unusual way to celebrate one’s 29th birthday. To make the event more memorable, Peck swam the distance wearing nothing but a swim cap. Why?

Sarah Peck swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco, September 2012. Photo from her blog, It Starts With.

She embarked on the swim to raise money for charity: water, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.
Several major nonprofits sponsor marathon runs, walks, or swimming races to generate funds for charity. Swim Across America coordinates a swim across the San Francisco Bay to raise money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment.

The difference is, most swimmers undertaking the 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco for charity (or any reason) wear wetsuits—the water temperature in the Bay hovers around 55 degrees.

Why did Peck swim nude in frigid, murky water? To make a point. After learning that 800 million human beings on the planet don’t have access to clean water Peck committed herself to making a difference. She set a goal of raising $29,000 to bring safe water to others.

Sarah Peck’s pledge, August 1, 2012. Photo from It Starts With.

Peck publicized the idea on her blog, It Starts With, boldly asking readers to forgo a bottle of wine or a take-out meal to donate to the cause of clean water. She reasoned that if 1000 people donated $29, she’d reach her goal. “It will be freezing. I will be very, very cold. But a little cold and a little bay muck is nothing compared to the lives lived on other countries in this world.” She promised that if she raised $29,000, she would embark on the swim wearing nothing but her birthday suit. And she did it.

In a nation where clean, cold water–often enhanced with vitamins–is available at nearly every corner convenience store, it is difficult to imagine having to walk five miles for potable water as some individuals must. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, diseases associated with unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions caused by lack of clean water kill more people worldwide annually than all forms of violence–even war. Young children are especially vulnerable to diseases caused by unsafe water. Sarah Peck swam to help change that.

Mercedes Gleitze, swimming the English Channel, 1927. Courtesy Christie’s Images, ltd., London.

Though she may not have realized it, Peck is following in the footsteps of other extraordinary women from past decades who used a passion for swimming to raise money to help others in need. Mercedes Gleitze, an eighteen-year-old typist in London, became the first woman swimmer to attract front page headlines in American newspapers when she announced her intent to attempt to swim the English Channel in 1922 (more on Gleitze to follow in subsequent posts).

American journalists reported favorably on Gleitze as the “beautiful London stenographer” in the “scanty swimsuit” who saved her money and tried seven times over five years before successfully swimming the English Channel in 1927. Like Peck 80 years later, Gleitze dedicated the money she raised from swimming to improving living conditions for others. Gleitze, a fascinating woman, swam dangerous straits around the world, including the Irish Channel, Hellespont, the Straits of Gibraltar (which she attempted six times before succeeding), the Cook Straits of New Zealand and the Dardanelles to raise funds to help the destitute in London.

Though Gleitze earned celebrity status among her contemporaries, she’s been largely forgotten, even by historians, today. Maybe Sarah Peck, who followed Gleitze’s example of swimming to raise money to help others, will help change that.

Peck modestly acknowledged that her swim wouldn’t secure clean water for 800 million people. But her accomplishment of raising nearly $30,000 from over 400 people–in only three months–proves that working together, like-minded people can make a positive difference in the world. “Swim for it.”

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Swimwear to Shape Bodies and Minds?

Retro swimsuit styles are resurfacing. Are past cultural attitudes about women being revived as well?

The 2013 line of Lisa Blue Swimwear modeled during the Mercedes Benz Swim Fashion Week, Miami Beach, 2012. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

At the Mercedes Benz Swim Fashion Week showcasing 2013 styles, Lisa Burke–designing for the Australian brand Lisa Blue–was one of several prominent designers who drew inspiration from patterns and styles of 1950s and 1960s.

The 2013 bathing suits resemble those worn by pinup girls of the past–with a twist. Some manufacturers are designing swimsuits from high-tech compression fabrics to shape and enhance “feminine silhouettes.” Curvallure, the latest line by the American brand Jantzen, utilizes Lycra® Beauty–a fabric engineered to provide the “newest evolution of shaping” in its full body control swimwear. Jantzen’s new shaping suits feature built-in push-up bras–to enhance cup sizes up to DD–and slimming panels to compress the rest of the body. Jantzen officials claim that new suits provide “what confident women of today want from their swimwear”–presumably more cleavage, flatter stomachs, smaller bums.

Aesthetically–as a fan of 1950s fashions–the revived swimsuit styles appeal to me. As a woman who loves to swim but feels increasing self-conscious of jiggling as she ages, the compressing suits intrigue me. But beneath intrigue lurks concern and mild uneasiness: Are these new slimming suits so different from the constrictive girdles of the past? Does the return to retro fashion reflect a revival of previous conservative attitudes about women’s place in society?

A global consumer swimwear study commissioned by INVISTA, a corporation whose brands cover products ranging from polymers and chemical intermediates to fibers and fabrics–like Lycra and Spandex–revealed that in addition to comfort and shaping performance, women want “more emotional satisfaction from their swimwear.”

Emotional satisfaction–from swimsuits? Really?

Purchasing swimwear from socially responsible companies might produce a feeling of satisfaction. Some swimsuit brands contribute financially to environmental protection: the Australian company, Lisa Blue, for instance, donates 25% of net profits to protecting dolphins and whales. Others promote their commitment to sustainability. The small Pennsylvania-based company Aqua Green manufactures fashionable “Eco Swim” bathing suits made from Repreve, a brand of high-quality yarn engineered from 100% recycled materials. Haute couture designer Linda Loudermilk created a luxury eco swimwear line made entirely from compostable material.

But the emphasis of mainstream, multi-million dollar corporations, like Jantzen, on designing swimsuits from technologically-engineered shaping material suggests that swimwear conglomerates equate women’s “emotional satisfaction” not with philanthropy but with body image. And not just any body image–but a slimmer version of the traditional bombshell idealized in the post-WWII era.

Consider this image featured in Jantzen’s 2013 new collection catalog.

Featured swimsuit from Jantzen’s 2013 collection.

The model, sporting Jantzen’s signature classic red, is positioned in paradise with erect palm fronds silhouetted against a background of sparkling blue seas. A breeze lifts her long blond hair as she caresses a classical statue with a near orgasmic look on her face. What is the underlying message here? That her ecstasy is induced from wearing the Jantzen swimsuit?

Historically, Jantzen commissioned artists to illustrate eye-catching advertising campaigns that visually associated its swimsuits with a desirable lifestyle and often featured women as centerpieces for visual consumption. Consider the similarities between Jantzen’s 2013 image and this ad of Jantzen’s Red Diving Girl, illustrated by C. Coles Phillips in 1921.

Jantzen advertisement illustrated by C. Coles Phillips, Life magazine, 1921.

Like the 2013 image, this ad situates a young woman in the foreground, with swimsuit hugging her slim but curvaceous figure. Jantzen’s trademarked Red Diving Girl presents herself to the viewer as she scans the horizon for something–or someone. In the background, among balustrades with lush plants that suggest tropical luxury, a swimsuit-clad man surveys the Diving Girl from behind. The text notes, “moments of relaxation between swims–yours, if you wear a Jantzen.”

While the 1921 ad notes the suit’s functionality as swimwear–“no loose skirts or ‘trappings’ to impede swimming”–the 2013 ads present the swimsuit as a means of showcasing the female body. The woman is posed passively and seductively–a sexual object. The video Jantzen uses to showcase its 2013 collection features closeups of a pouting blond’s mid section reminiscent of Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue. What message does it send when swimwear companies eroticize women in swimsuits–especially when their customers are real women whose body types don’t resemble the model’s?

The media bombards us with images of super models who represent the ideal woman’s body. Most women can never attain that impossible ideal naturally. But starting with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue each February, magazines, network news and blogs feature strategies, new diets and exercise programs promising to tone muscle, shrink cellulite and help women to be “jiggle free” in their bathing suits. Americans face a very serious cultural problem of obesity but offer these articles emphasize not health but “looking sexy” in a swimsuit. Even websites like WebMD offer women–not men–tips on how to prepare physically and psychologically–for swimsuit season.

In our culture, the diet and beauty industries profit enormously from  reinforcing women’s physical insecurities. Each year advertisers promote new creams, pills, foods, and constricting shape wear to help women conform–literally–to an idealized vision of physical perfection. Advertisements create a hyper-awareness of women’s bodies prompting feelings of inadequacy and shame in those whose appearance deviates from the ideal.

From the start, Jantzen’s advertising campaigns for women’s swimwear underscored female sexuality and depicted an idealized lifestyle–one in which consumption of products produced happiness. The swimsuit looks attractive on the beautiful model and the model appears so joyous or sexy—that must somehow translate to the consumer. We expect this from advertising.

But such sexually-charged advertising coupled with the use of restrictive fabric to control women’s bodies is troubling as it correlates to larger issues of controlling women in our culture. In America, as the presidential election draws near, some politicians have uttered shocking remarks about women. In August, Missouri’s Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin uttered the now infamous line: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” In mid-September, when interviewing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who may enter the gubernatorial race, the Chicago Sun-Times asked whether she could serve as governor and still raise her kids. Outraged by the sexist question, “Name it. Change it.” has launched a petition against the Sun-Times.

What does this have to do with new swimwear styles? On the surface, it may appear to have little connection. But in the past, fashion trends correlate directly to women’s social role. It prompts the question: does the return to retro fashions and prominent use of technology to shape women’s bodies reflect a deeper desire to control women culturally?

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Can a Swimsuit Build Confidence in Men? The Long and Short of Styles (Part 1)

One sweltering July day in 1940, a group of young swimmers in South Boston staggered out of the surf. While lounging on the beach some lowered the swimsuit straps from their shoulders, rolling their tops to their waistlines to bask in sunshine.

Police promptly arrested them for indecent exposure. From 1910 through the 1920s, women’s swimwear altered drastically–from long full woolen dresses to tight one-piece suits–but conservatives reluctantly accepted the change and police frequently arrested young women for violating public decency laws (more on that to come).

Advertisement for men’s and women’s swimwear, Vogue, 1930.

But the swimmers arrested for being topless in 1940 were men. Surprised?

Today, we expect men to swim in some type of suit bottom–full trunks, fitted trunks, jammers, mini Speedo briefs, or high tech new compression suits (more on that to follow). Whatever the style of swimsuit, Americans accept that men will swim and sunbath topless. But, in the scope of history, our culture sanctioned shirtless swimming for men a relatively short time ago.

Los Angeles rescinded its ordinance against shirtless swimsuits in 1929 and the Vogue ad illustrates how men rolled the tops of one-piece suits to expose their backs and chests. But most US cities retained and enforced rules prohibiting men from being topless in public—even lying face down on the beach.

Pattern for men’s swimsuit, Utopia Yarn Book, circa 1910. Courtesy Peggy, Iva Rose Reproductions.

Initially in America, men–like women–wore heavy swimsuits made from wool or flannel—materials known to insulate from cold. Most women sewed or knitted swimsuits for themselves and their families from patterns published in magazines. A typical men’s swimsuit required six hanks of yarn–more than many  contemporary sweaters.

In 1913, members of the Portland (Oregon) Rowing Club complained to John A. Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen, the owners of the Portland Knitting Company (PKC), that their homemade suits felt too heavy and fitted poorly. They inquired if PKC could create a snug and stretchy swimsuit–mimicking the one-piece suits worn by Olympians and serious competitive swimmers like Leo “Bud” Goodwin and Charlie M. Daniels.

Olympic medalists Leo “Bud” Goodwin and Charlie M. Daniels with E. J. Giannini, manager of New York Athletic Club, 1904. Section of photo by Jessie Tarbox Beals, courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Both swimmers were legendary sports figures and heroes of the era. After the 1908 Games, Daniels held the highest number of Olympic medals won by an American in swimming until Mark Spitz in 1972. Young men idolized him and hoped to imitate him–if not in swimming, at least in style and confidence.

Zehntbauer and Jantzen developed a one-piece suit knitted with lighter-weight wool in a tight rib stitch that provided elasticity, allowing the suit mold to the body and conform to movement. The suits became popular locally–men reported swimming faster which bolstered confidence–so PKC expanded sales nationwide. In 1918, the company changed its name to Janzten and began manufacturing new form-fitting swimsuits for women as well.

Men continued to wear one-piece swimsuits throughout the 1920s. But Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller helped to forever alter styles of men’s swimwear and social norms in the 1930s. Following his Olympic career, Weissmuller starred with Esther Williams in Billy Rose’s Aquacade. In 1932 he began a long career starring as Tarzan in Hollywood films. He also became the celebrity endorser for B.V.D. swimwear.

Seen as an icon of masculine virility, Weissmuller was wildly popular with women who flocked to see his films and stare appreciatively at his muscular physique. Men, too, favored his films. The primitive and powerful masculinity Tarzan embodied reinforced traditional gender roles—reassuring to a society in flux.

B.V.D. featured Weismsuller in a series of advertisements for their new trunks with the tagline: “B.V.D. swimsuits… improve your stroke . . .and your morale!”  The trunks, called “Samoan briefs,” didn’t sell well instantly, perhaps because laws prohibited men from wearing the trunks in public.

Johnny Weissmuller posed with fellow actor, George O’Brien, circa 1935. Photo from Brian’s Drive in Theater.

But advertising research revealed that men wanted to copy Weissmuller’s style and swagger. The average man might never resemble him physically, but he could purchase a B.V.D. swimsuit and–ads insinuated–purchase a piece of confidence by boldly sporting the new style. Realizing that conservatives needed to be persuaded to accept the suit, B.V.D. ads underscored Weissmuller’s athleticism to help legitimize its new trunks. Ads stressed that trunks “were designed under the supervision of no less an expert than Johnny Weismuller. They have an exactness of fit and proportion that makes for speedy, effortless swimming.” As Weissmuller’s fame spread, so did cultural acceptance of the standalone trunks—especially in California.

Outside of Hollywood, men continued to be arrested for wearing shirtless suits on public beaches. In Boston, New York and Chicago, women often complained in editorials about the new shirtless trunks for men. Curiously, women weren’t affronted by male nudity but by the appearance of men’s bodies. Accustomed to seeing Johnny Weissmuller’s smooth, tanned chest and lean, muscular physique, women criticized that real men were “anything but handsome with their hairy spindle-shank legs” and chests.

When New York’s municipal beaches allowed shirtless bathing for the first time in 1936, the decision provoked heated protest from women’s groups who told reporters they “had no desire to gaze upon hairy chested men.”  As a culture, we tend to think of beauty standards as applying primarily to women, but as the protests vocalized by groups of women in cities across the US reveal, men are not exempt. And as the publicity photo of Weissmuller and O’Brien illustrates, Hollywood highlighted male physicality and sexuality. However, as a whole, cultural norms do not condition men to associate their self-worth with their appearance.

Steve at Conneaut Lake, PA, 1956.

Beauty pageants like Miss America and Hollywood’s bathing beauty films fused the cultural association between swimsuits and beauty for women by presenting women as docile objects to be admired or evaluated. Hollywood films like the Tarzan series, in contrast, subtly associated the exposure of men’s bodies with heroism, action, and masculine power.

This is not to say that men don’t suffer from insecurity about their bodies but to suggest that advertising and popular films historically used swimsuits to reinforce traditional gender roles. Bathing suit-clad women became passive pinups whereas men in swimming trunks symbolized strength. By the end of the 1940s, the American public embraced shirtless swimming for men. As a young man, my grandfather sported swim trunks at Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, in 1956, reflecting a cultural norm. Even the playful pose–flexing his biceps–reflects a larger association between swimsuits and confident action for men.

To be continued.

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A Class of Their Own

Have you heard of Jacqueline Freney? The answers I received varied. “Is she a writer?” “Was she the one married to that French diplomat?” “Is she an internet hacker?” While several thought her name sounded familiar, no one–in my admittedly very unscientific poll of a few dozen friends and acquaintances–knew for sure.

My amazing sister, knowing me well enough to intuit that such a pointed question must be related to my research, probably refrained from rolling her eyes as she texted back, “I don’t know, is she a swimmer?”

Jacqueline Freney in the women’s SM7 200m individual medley, Aquatics Centre in East London (World News Australia AAP)

Yes. Jacqueline Freney is a swimmer. The 20-year old Australian won her sixth gold medal in six days, swimming in the Aquatics Centre in East London this summer (and she may very well win an additional medal on the final day).

Why have many Americans not heard of her—besides the fact that she is not an American athlete? Because Jacqueline Freney is swimming in the Paralympic Games and those Games, which started on August 29, 2012, have received scant media attention in America.

In 2008, many criticized the American Olympic Committee for discriminatory actions by providing less financial assistance, smaller training stipends, and fewer free health benefits to Paralympic athletes compared to athletes in other Olympic sports. At the time, New York Times writer Alan Schwarz wrote a thorough and thoughtful exposé on the inequitable treatment of Paralympic athletes. Ironically, four years later, not only do the financial benefits remain uneven, news coverage has fallen off as well. Since the Games began last week, only one article about them has appeared in the Times. Freney’s name appears nowhere in the paper–for either the 2008 or 2012 Paralympic Games. No wonder few Americans have heard of her.

Freney’s story is compelling. Born with cerebral palsy diplegia, which restricts the movement of legs and lower body–making coordination and balance especially challenging–Freney was only two when doctors informed her parents that she would spend her life in a wheelchair.  Undaunted, by physicians’ predictions, Freney’s family taught her to swim. Her father, Michael, and grandfather, Peter, who were themselves competitive swimmers and coaches with access to swimming pools, coached her. Freney credits the two for exerting the most influence in her swimming career.

Freney won her sixth gold medal in women’s S7 50m freestyle. With one more day to go in the 2012 Paralympic swimming competition, she stands poised to surpass the record set by fellow Australian, Siobhan Paton, who won six gold medals at the Sydney Paralympics. Just behind Freney in the women’s S7 100m freestyle final were American swimmer, Cortney Jordan, who won the silver medal and Ukrainian swimmer, Ani Palian, who took bronze.

Unlike athletes in other sports, before competing, all Paralympians undergo a physical assessment by international classifiers who are tasked with ensuring that the athletes are competing at similar ability levels. Swimmers with physical disabilities are classified according to several factors including strength, coordination, range of movement, and limb length. Swimmers have 3 classifications based on visual impairment and 10 classifications based on physical impairment–the latter ranging from S1 to S10. Swimmers in class S1 have the greatest impairment while those at S10 have the least. In S7, the class in which Freney and Jordan compete, paralysis on one side of the body is common.

Cortney Jordan, like Freney, is 20, and was also born with cerebral palsy–a form that prevents her from feeling on her left side. She began swimming as physical therapy and competed in the Paralympics in Bejing in 2008, winning four medals: one gold, two silver, and a bronze. A resident of Nevada, when interviewed by the Nevada Sun about her disability and swimming before the 2008 Games, Jordan explained, “It kind of feels like I’m complete in the water, so it’s nice.”

Swimming, in many ways, is democratizing. Once submerged in water, physical distinctions–from sexual characteristics to hairstyles to impairments–are temporarily obscured. For many, water also helps–temporarily–diminish chronic pain. In this way, swimming is incredibly freeing. If only the equalizing effects provided by water could extend on land and these athletes could receive equal recognition, assistance and treatment.

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Advertising American Wet Dreams (Ad of the Week)

Feeling cold water envelope your body as the relentlessly hot sun beats down around you. Tasting sweet frosty ice cream before it drips off the cone. These simple summer activities appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds—from toddlers in city centers to octogenarians in suburban retirement homes.

Jantzen swimwear ad, Vogue, 1955. © Condé Nast Archive. Flickr.

In 1955, a photo spread in Vogue cleverly combined the two iconic and wholesome American summer pastimes to showcase Jantzen’s new line of women’s swimwear. According to the 2013 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Swim Week, modest-looking swimsuits reminiscent of this 1950s style are resurfacing. The swimsuit itself may be functional and aesthetically pleasing in a fashion sense. But what does the ad say about American culture?

Functioning on multiple levels, it sends mixed messages.

The woman’s pure white bathing suit and white straw hat suggest childlike innocence, as does the ice cream cone—a double scoop of vanilla and strawberry. Standing before the red and white stripes of the American flag, she strikes a compelling, patriotic image of “ideal” American womanhood: young, innocent but alluring, white, shapely, and passively awaiting fulfillment.

The woman’s stance sends an invitation, but not an obvious one: her legs are crossed demurely but her hips are thrust slightly forward. Her left hand gingerly holds an ice cream cone while her right arm wraps around her waist—both protectively and provocatively. Her smiling mouth is partially open in anticipation—not of the ice cream, necessarily, but of something just out of the viewer’s sight. The receptive tilt of her body suggests she’s waiting for a man–not just ice cream or cool water–to quench her heat.

Both the woman and the ice cream cone exist to be consumed. Just as the ice cream cone must be consumed quickly before melting, the woman—like all women—should be enjoyed quickly—before her youth melts away. But the woman in the ad represents more than disposable sexuality. Her white swimsuit, designer hair scarf, crisp hat, and crossed legs lend her an air of respectability. They suggest she is a wholesome girl-next-door-type that one weds and beds (though not necessarily in that order).

The juxtaposition of sultry and sweet, seductive and wholesome has deep roots in Jantzen’s advertising history and served to establish the company as a leading swimsuit manufacturer in its formative years. Ironically, season 4 of AMC’s Mad Men opened with Jantzen executives seeking help in selling the company’s wholesome one-piece swimsuits to women in the age of the itsy-bitsy bikini. In the situated “hyper-real” history offered by Mad Men—a show I follow avidly—Jantzen executives stress the company’s family orientation and desire to uphold Christian values by selling modest swimwear.

But in historical reality,  Jantzen’s most successful advertisements insinuated that a smoldering sexuality lurked just beneath the modest surface of their respectable-looking suits. In the early 1920s Jantzen revolutionized women’s swimwear by mass-producing a sleek, short suit that resembled a man’s union suit. Short trunk bottoms encased women’s upper thighs but a long, form-fitting tank top skimmed the top of the thighs, covering the leg openings like a mini-dress.

Jantzen swimsuit advertisement, Life, 1921.

In the early 1920s, when real-life women tried to wear these new suits on the beaches they encountered resistance. Most cities had very strict public ordinances about what was appropriate public exposure and violators were often arrested (more on that to follow).

So Jantzen faced the task of generating widespread public acceptance of the new sleek styles. Advertisers accomplished this feat by associating is swimsuits with happiness and a distinctly modern and desirable American lifestyle. Jantzen ads that appeared in Life and Vogue targeted young middle-class consumers, promising them a life (or at least a summer) filling with promise, happiness, and possibly romance–all from wearing a Jantzen brand swimsuit.

Featuring a young girl poised to dive, the ad asked, “isn’t it good to be alive?” The attractive rosy-cheeked diving girl confidently regards the viewer. Behind her, an exotic seaside sea-side scene unfolds. Beautiful white villas stretch along the shore and young people—wearing Jantzen swimsuits—frolic. Immediately behind the diving girl, a couple stands closely together, posed as if flirting. The man dangles a cigarette which then symbolized chic rebellion and glamor. The choice to light up could—especially in the movies—signify sexual prowess and power.

While ads subtly hinted at subtle sensual promises that wearing a Jantzen swimsuit could bring, text promoted the practicality and respectability of the suits. The names of three champion male swimmers are printed on the left side of the page of this 1921 ad, highlighting that athletes preferred Jantzen. The text in the ad explains:

Those who really enjoy water sports find Jantzen the logical bathing suit. Practical because it permits utmost freedom of action in the water. Beautiful because it fits perfectly and holds its shape permanently.

Verbally, the ads associated Jantzen swimsuits with serious athleticism and practicality. But visually, ads captivated the imagination by suggesting that Jantzen represented youth, freedom from responsibility, comfort, and an idyllic modern American lifestyle.

The visual message appealed to both men and women. Presenting young women as modest but modern, sexy but subdued, rebellious but patriotic, the ads captured the sentiments of confused young generation devastated by the unprecedented trauma wrought by World War I. Buying and wearing a Jantzen–the ads implied–young men and women could begin express their individuality. Because Jantzen’s Diving Girl’s sexuality is implied not overt, middle-class men could ogle her openly–she exists to be admired.

Wearing the sleek Jantzen suit, young women could begin to explore their sexuality in public while retain respectability. Some feared such youthful expressions of freedom would threaten traditional gender roles. But in the end, the Jantzen’s ingenious blend of sexy and sweet didn’t upset the existing social order in America. Instead it perpetuated the complex eroticization of women swimmers and reinforced traditional gender stereotypes.

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Drowning in Fashion: Trash the Dress

Photograph from wikipedia commons, illustrating “Trash the Dress” trend.

Newlywed Maria Pantazopoulos wanted an unforgettable photograph of herself in her wedding dress. She posed, in full wedding attire, in the shallow waters of the Ouareau River in Canada. As she edged into the stream, water seeped into her dress weighing her down. The 30-year old drowned–in her bridal gown–just weeks after her wedding.

Humans are more buoyant in water. Fabric, however, increases in weight—exponentially—and the long billowing layers of dresses would cause even expert swimmers to struggle. This doesn’t stop trendy photographers from suggesting that brides be photographed in their gowns, in unusual settings like abandoned buildings and waterways.

The trend “Trash the Dress” reportedly started over a decade ago when wedding photographer John Michael Cooper persuaded clients to pose in their wedding dresses days or weeks after the traditional ceremony and reception shots. Mimicking the edgy, heroine-chic style of some fashion photographers who juxtaposed refined beauty and harsh reality, Cooper shoots newlywed brides in their expensive wedding dress in unexpected or offbeat locales–often at waterfronts. “Is This Any Way to Treat Vera Wang?” Caren Chesler queried facetiously in a 2007 New York Times article exploring the trend. The video of photographer Kadie Pangburn at work shooting a recent bride dressed in full regalia illustrates, the process.

In theory, any bride holds the right to save, repurpose or dispose of her gown however she sees fit. Yet, the trend “Trash the Dress” is flirting with danger. It also represents a disturbing mentality of a disposable culture with little knowledge of history.

A hundred years ago, custom dictated that women wear long heavy dresses to swim. These early bathing suits—made of wool, flannel, or sometimes taffeta—grew heavy in water. Full skirts hampered leg movement incapacitating even the most adept swimmers in the water.

Margaret Wessell Piersol learning to swim, 1896, Courtesy Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.

At the time, drowning presented a serious threat to American women and children. In 1904, over 900 women lost their lives when the steamboat General Slocum caught fire and sank. Most women drowned in relatively shallow waters, close to shore. Summer after summer newspapers across the country continued to lament the tragic deaths of women who drowned.

Physical educators and swimmers fought long and hard for years to win public approval of shorter swimsuits that permitted women to move in the water. The National Women’s Life Saving League (NWLSL) formed in 1911 in New York. One of its four aims was to promote “simplicity and rationalism in bathing and swimming costumes.” To illustrate the danger of swimming in a full dress, the League staged a life-saving demonstration in which they tossed a fully-clothed mannequin into the water. Members of the NWLSL raced to swim to the mannequin to rescue it from drowning before the weight of the dress caused it to sink.

Perhaps if swimming were taken more seriously as a sport in America, and its history chronicled as thoroughly as baseball or football, women would understand–or at least be aware of–the very real dangers posed by plunging into a body of water wearing a dress.

It’s a tragedy that Pantazopoulos drowned in her wedding dress. Other women, however, are opting to wear gowns to go swimming.

Sample of new swimming dress designed by Shivan Bahtiya and Narresh Kukreja, 2012.


In July, swimsuit designers Shivan Bahtiya and Narresh Kukreja launched a line of haute couture swimwear that included colorful, glamorous swimming gowns, bikini tops with long flowing skirts, and more traditional styles. Priding themselves in Indian cultural ethos, designers offer women more modest swimming gowns cut from expensive and boldly colorful materials. I wonder what Annette Kellerman and the other women who fought so diligently for the right for women to wear short swimsuits in public would say?

Posted in bathing suit history, bathing suits, drowning, popular culture, swimming | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments