Thong Bikinis – Progress or Prurience?

It has been a long, sweltering summer, and on U.S. beaches, women attired in “thong” bikinis have been a common sight. While still in the minority, this fashion choice has grown over the past few summers and now appears to be an established trend. Naturists inevitably have two minds about this and can only wonder if this is progress or prurience.

For more than 150 years, society has been on a march toward women’s body freedom and body confidence. Bathing attire has undergone a slow process of reducing clothed coverage to increase skin exposure. Along the way, standards for modesty and acceptable body exhibition have relaxed. At each stage, the revelation of more skin has initially been viewed as morally loose and risqué only to become an accepted norm with the passage of time. Naturists and nudists can view this history favorably as it harkens to a day when a healthy and widely acceptable nude body culture can exist. The thong bikini (I wish it had a different name…) shows promise as the next logical step in this process.

Women’s bodies have long been a battleground for social control, both between the sexes and amongst the female gender itself. Women constantly explore fashion to coalesce around shifting norms for beauty and acceptable, proper body presentation, while at the same time, negotiating boundaries of attractive desirability and modesty with men. It is an ongoing cultural dialog that moves society through issues of gender identity as well as equity. Bathing wear, given the inherent absurdity of wearing anything at all to bathe, is a key focal point of this dialog.

There are presently three female body areas (genitals, breasts, and buttocks) that society calls to cover up for modesty’s sake. (There are effectively only two for men.)  Everything else, which is substantially the same for both sexes (arms, noses, etc.), is free for exposure. As behinds are also substantially the same between the two genders, it is not a stretch that exposure of the backside would be explored for possible normalization. Why not? Only time will tell if butt cheeks on the beach achieves broad acceptance and normalcy (and whether men adopt this fashion in some way). If it does, it would be progress toward full body freedom and thus would benefit the Nudist/Naturist Movement.

On the other hand, it is also fair to question the thong as potentially decadent. The adventurous individuals sporting these bikinis today are often doing so to sexualize their bodies and attract attention. The fashion is revealing by design and has the effect of titillating a fair share of onlookers. This sexualized intention and effect is, to put it frankly, prurient (but arguably only mildly so). Given that society’s conflation of nudity with sex is an enormous barrier to widespread adoption of Nudist culture, this prurient element presents a conflict toward Naturist ideals. While revealing more of the body is a step forward, the increased sexualization driving the change is also a step backward.

Consequently, all things considered, Naturists/Nudists can view the thong bikini as both progress and prurience. That females broadly feel safe, comfortable, and enthused to bare more of their bodies is definite progress toward a Naturist culture. That they may be doing so to flash their wares and excite does not align with our values but can serve the cause if the sexual effect diminishes over time. Assuming history repeats, wide adoption of this fashion will dramatically reduce its ability to tantalize. The motivation of thong wearers today may be to get sexy, but ultimately their effort may render this revealed body part commonplace and ordinary. Time will tell. It is also possible that this fashion is nothing more than a decadent fad that fades away, potentially a disappointment for the Naturist cause.

Two other points are worth mentioning. First, men’s swimwear remains unaffected by this trend so far. There was a time in the last century when a minimal swimsuit, referred to as the “speedo,” became popular. If the ladies’ thong bikini becomes permanent, perhaps a time may come when men follow suit, probably at the behest of their lady friends, and start putting some color in their cheeks. Secondly, while the Top Free Movement advances in fits and starts, progress continues, and one can anticipate a day when women and men are equal in baring their chests. At such a point, it is possible that beachwear fashion could become truly equal, unisex, and minimal… thongs for all. This naturally would set the stage for culture to advance to the ultimate destination… normalized nudity. It may never happen, or it may take a generation or two, but today’s Naturists/Nudists can entertain a vision of this future as a real possibility and view the thong as an imperfect step in the right direction.