In 1946 French designer Louis Reard launched a sensational two-piece bathing suit.18 Th e bikini, as it was christened, celebrated the Allied eff orts in World War II. Fashion historians have noted that European vogues in revealing clothing tend to coincide with periods of war: “Fashion is al- ways at its most provocative during or aft er times of war, for the excellent reason that, from the woman’s point of view, there is more than a good chance of a lot of eligible males turning up their toes at any minute (one night at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, the next day carnage at Waterloo) so speed is of the essence in the sexual come-on message.”19 Clothing and fashion, of course, can be manipulated by both individuals and society. A
Shigematsu, S., & Camacho, K. L. (Eds.). (2010). Militarized currents : Toward a decolonized future in asia and the pacific. University of Minnesota Press. Created from sfsu on 2022-10-21 03:56:35.
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woman may choose to expose her body for attention, but society also has investments in such display.
In the context of war, society has an ideological stake in the reifi cation of female bodies when male bodies are being sacrifi ced heroically: “During the First World War women were urged to inspire and distract the boys as they marched off to battle or came home on leave. A new coquettishness began to aff ect female swimwear as daring exposures overtook everyday dress and corsets were abandoned. Collar-bones and elbows, ankles and calves came into view on the street, and evening dresses, suspended by the thinnest straps bared even the armpit. On the beach, instead of fending off mascu- line attention with massive yardage, it now became entirely respectable, even a tinge patriotic, to begin cautiously to gratify the searching male gaze.”20 Th e bikini bathing suit found its position in this fashion ideology.
While being liberated from earlier cumbersome swimsuits, bikini-clad women21 joined other variously clothed—or unclothed—model female images pinned up for a heterosexual male gaze: “A system of power . . . au- thorizes certain representations while blocking, prohibiting or invalidat- ing others. Among those prohibited from Western representation, those representations denied legitimacy, are women. Excluded from representa- tion by its very structure, they return within it as a fi gure for—a represen- tation of—the unrepresentable (Nature, Truth, the Sublime, etc.). Yet in being represented by, women have been rendered an absence within the dominant culture.”22 Th e mass production and distribution of seminude female images are forms of sacrifi ce—or symbolic atonement—that sub- stitute and domesticate the unrepresentable chaos of nuclear war: “Th e original scientists working at Los Alamos took bets among themselves as to whether they would ultimately have a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl,’ that is, a success or a dud. A success it was, and the ‘fathered’ (by J. Robert Oppenheimer) bomb was nicknamed ‘Little Boy.’ A few years later, the bomb underwent a sex change operation: the device dropped on the Bikini Islands was nick- named ‘Gilda’ and painted with an image of sex symbol Rita Hayworth.”23 Th e sacrifi ce of the Islanders and military personnel during nuclear testing in the Pacifi c cannot be represented without threatening the legitimacy of colonial power, so nuclear technology becomes gendered and domesticat- ed. In the end the female body is appropriated by a colonial discourse to successfully disguise the horror of the bomb.