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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Birthday Suit

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the first bikini. Fifty-seven years ago, the skimpy two-piece made its fashion entrance as 129 square inches of cotton newsprint.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Alden Howard “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” Sweet and Lowdown (Soundtrack) Sony (1999)]

On July 6, 1946, a French stripper clad in 129 square inches of cotton newsprint flaunted Louis Reard’s immodest proposal to the fashion world. He called it the bikini, after the Bikini Atoll, where nuclear weapons were tested five days before his skimpy couture exploded onto the catwalk.

The evolution of the bikini began during the Second World War when fabric rationing revolutionized swimwear, and women started wearing a patriotic two-piece to the pool. Reard routed earlier styles by making his bikini, well, teeny. A bikini wasn’t a bikini, he said, unless you could squeeze the whole thing through a wedding ring.

Thanks to Annette Funicello back then, and the swimsuit issues of Sports Illustrated today, it seems you can’t have a beach without a bikini. But as the first half of the bikini century came to a close, scientists issued warnings about sunburn, wrinkles, and cancer caused by UV rays, and people were advised to supplement scant beachwear with sunscreen. And more recent studies suggest that even the strongest SPF factor may not be enough. While sunscreens can prevent sunburn, some scientists doubt their ability to protect us from longer waves of UV light that cause the most lethal skin cancers.

The bikini maven and movie star Esther Williams once said, “A bikini is a thoughtless act.” And I’d have to agree. If you have to think when you see someone wearing a bikini, you’ve missed the whole point.

And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.




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