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The tale of the two-piece |


The tale of the two-piece

KISS ASS - Ana G. Kalaw -

There’s been a deluge of bare, bronzed skin on Tumblr, Facebook and traditional media the last few weeks, at the Century Tuna Superbods competition, at Slimmer’s World’s Ms. Bikini Philippines, at the chaotic Labor Day weekend in Boracay that the 20-something set conveniently pegged “spring break” (apparently in the Philippines spring comes during 38-degree celsius weather). The six-pack abs and the gleaming pectorals are expected eye candy but it’s the nubile women sporting tans — bottle-bought or natural — covering inches of bared tummies, cleavage, shoulders and thighs that hold interest. My interest, anyway — and it has nothing to do with peer jealousy or intents that Manny Pacquiao and Miriam Quiambao might disapprove of.

Midway into summer in 2012, I am looking at all these two-piece clad bodies and starting to wonder, when did Filipinas start becoming so comfortable with showing off their navels? When did they really begin to accept triangle-shaped fabric and a copious amount of string as standard beach wear?

Must have crept up on us in the last 15 years.

I remember when I bought my first bikini 14 years ago. I had just turned 18. It was a silvery sports bra from Diesel with one-inch straps and basic briefs that fell just slightly below my navel, a sporty pair that befitted more a varsity athlete rather than a girl supposedly being inducted into womanhood. I remember feeling both thrilled and guilty; for a young Filipina in the late ’90s, a bikini or anything that bared both your stomach and thighs in public was considered risqué, even licentious, particularly in a society where women still wore T-shirts and puruntong shorts over their one-piece swimsuits to swim in the ocean.

At 18, I suppose I was being a bit of a rebel, but not quite like those courageous Pinays who wore those bikinis that dipped low enough to show cleavage and didn’t need to be completed by goggles and a rubber cap.

The string bikini? Practically taboo or something that only sex-kitten villainesses would wear in R-18 movies.

We were understandably being conservative, hampered by our religion-encouraged moral codes, but also by the dearth of bikini choices in the market.

Lifestyle boutique Nothing But Water can attest to what it was like nearly 15 years ago. When they opened in 1997, swimwear choices “consisted mainly of conservative and active one-piece suits. The only styles to choose from would be from racerback or halter or cross back,” says Dimples La’o, president and owner of Nothing But H2O. “Swimwear wasn’t seen as fashionable, but something utilitarian, something you have to wear because resorts don’t usually allow people to swim in shorts and tops.” Two-piece suits were already part of the store’s merchandise mix 15 years ago but they really weren’t flying off the shelves. “There were a few Filipinas who embraced the style right away, but most were still hesitant.”

It wasn’t until a few years later, at the brink of the 21st century, that more Filipina women considered the possibility of the two-piece bikini. By this time, popular print media were already taking up the call of the navel. Cosmopolitan magazine had their first bikini cover with Joey Mead in 2000, inducing sleepless nights among the menfolk and triggering realizations that, yes, women can also have abs. My first bikini shoot for Preview magazine as a green, wet-behind-the-ears editorial assistant was in 2001. It was the first time Preview was shooting just bikinis: no coverups, no sarongs, just a curvy model (still we had to get a foreign model, Norwegian-Malaysian Natasha Malthe) wearing triangle two-pieces in a shower stall. It was provocative and stylish, and a clear indication of the Filipina woman’s changing mindset.

The rise of the bikini also became a possible avenue to the self-empowerment of the Pinay. Fashion magazines and stores like Nothing But H2O helped encourage the Filipina to love her body and to be proud of it. Combined with the arrival of international gym chains, women’s attitudes towards their figures and flaunting them on the beach slowly began to change. The bikini has become a means to flaunt a healthy, gym-honed figure. It has become a standard for every woman that struggled through Atkins, South Beach, the Blood Type, and, now, the Cohen Diet. It has become a norm for a teenager experiencing Boracay for the first time.

In 15 years, more swimwear stores and brands have infiltrated the market, both traditional and online. The bikini has gone through so many incarnations: smaller, sexier, bolder, retro, more covered up, embellished, embroidered, slashed apart and then sewn together again. We have a bigger vocabulary for swimwear now: tankini, monokini, funkini, mankini. Even local designers are creating capsule collections comprising bikinis. Charina Sarte always comes up with an elegant beach spread each year. Maureen Disini recently posted on Facebook her first two-piece endeavor: a colorful two-piece that is of a different aesthetic than her Grecian-style jersey dresses. Boom Sason is sneaking in glamour to the beach scene with sequined triangle pieces, chiffon-lined tops and maillots cut dangerously low down the sides and dangerously high up the thighs (perfect for Rihanna clones).

These days, an 18-year-old won’t have to struggle to find the perfect two-piece. A young woman won’t have to think she needs to buy a coverup just for the sake of looking conservative. The Filipina may still shy away from thong swimwear or going topless (if she will even consider these options at all) but at least, these days, she won’t have to struggle with conscious-stricken thoughts and the negative backlash of baring her navel on the beach.

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