If you look up ‘most dangerous islands’ in the world, you always find Bikini Atoll on the list. First, let’s clear this up. Is the bathing suit named for the atoll or what? Yes, it is.
On July 5, 1946, French designer Louis Réard unveiled a provocative two-piece swimsuit at a popular swimming pool in Paris. No ‘legitimate’ model could be persuaded to wear it in public, so they hired a stripper who had no problem and even considered herself to be a bit overdressed. The bikini was inspired by the news-making atomic test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the west Pacific earlier that week. The name was taken because the bikini was supposed to be an ‘explosive’ innovation. It certainly was.
In Europe, women had been wearing two-piece suits since the 30s with just a belt-wide sliver of flesh showing. Basically, it consisted of a halter top and shorts but with the sexually incandescent female navel vigilantly veiled. In the United States, this outfit was finally allowed in the 1940s due to a cloth shortage when wartime rationing of fabric saw the removal of the skirt panel and other superfluous material. I’m not sure I buy this, but it makes a good story.
“I’m doing it for the war effort, mom! Geez, I hate you!”
[Young Debby exits kitchen (door slam) and scene.]
At the end of WWII two French designers, Jacques Heim and Louis Réard, developed competing prototypes of the bikini. Heim called his the ‘atom’ and advertised it as ‘the world’s smallest bathing suit.’ Réard’s gimmick was a top of two triangles of cloth connected by string and a skimpy bottom. Significantly smaller. Made out of a just 30 inches of fabric, Réard promoted his creation as ‘smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit’. Ha-larious.
In France it was a big hit, but it was banned in Spain and Italy because it might lead to having sex (ironic that the two most Catholic countries [hence biggest families] tried so hard to keep sex under the rug). But they finally gave in along with everyone else and sales soared. Réard said in one ad that it wasn’t a real bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.” Nice line, I must say.
In America, we held chastity to a higher standard than our nasty French friends. But when Brian Hyland sang ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini’ in 1960 and Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon began jiggling n’ jiving in beach movies, the arbiters of decency were smushed like summer bugs on the windshields of the ‘youthquake’ movement (which was a real word back then coined by Diana Vreeland editor of Vogue Magazine). Now we letter the generations and strangely are already at Z.
Rudi Gernreich, a fashion designer in Hollywood, tried to innovate even further with his ghastly topless bathing suit in 1964. He called it the monokini but it was ugly, uncomfortable and used way too much war cloth (Vietnam).
Bikinis available now are so infinitesimally microscopic that your great grandmother might just slip you and extra five-dollar bill in your birthday card for saving so much cloth.
Of course we historians of this subject know that the ancient Romans really invented the Bikini.
None of this makes Bikini Atoll itself particularly dangerous, of course. No, the primary reason Bikini makes the dangerous list is because of the USAs quest to perfect its doomsday machine by testing atomic weapons there starting in 1946.
156 Micronesians were moved out temporarily as the 22 tests took place. ‘Temporary’ is a relative term—as in, maybe someday your relatives can move back to this still uninhabitable island.
To measure the effect of nukes on ships, one of the largest fleets in the world of nearly 100 derelict WWII ships were anchored at the test site. Predictably, they sunk. The last test in 1956 got so far out of hand that radiation spread over the entire world.
In this age of grand illusion, we tend to forget that we are sitting atop a lot of nuclear weapons. But don’t worry. Nearly all of them are being carefully protected by Trump, Putin and Xi. Oh, and that fellow from North Korea, Kim something…
So what is the other hazard on Bikini? It’s good ol’ sharks. Finally, a problem we can deal with. It seems that with no one fishing there, the sharks have returned to pre-human occupation levels and divers like to go there and feed them sushi.
In the end, the bikini has killed more people than atomic bombs or sharks as the full cover-up of a hundred years ago prevented uncountable cases of fatal skin cancer.
So to your list of worries you can add sharks, nukes and skin cancer. Also choking to death on an Oreo. Chew well.
Oh, and don’t go swimming at Bikini Atoll in a bikini while eating a cookie. See, I just saved your life.
Bonus Easter egg for those who got this far:
Movie review: Love, by Gaspar Noé.
I love how this trailer warns you that if you watch just the trailer you might have an epileptic fit. They are not kidding. If you watch the entire film you’ll have a bigger fit than that. What the trailer doesn’t show you is that is most sexually explicit film ever made that is not a porno. What makes it not a porno? Well, there’s real filmmaking here. The critics didn’t take to it when it debuted at Cannes in 2105, and it only took in one million bucks on release—but once it hit Netflix it became one of their most popular downloads at number 7. They took so much heat for it they had to take it down this past June.
You can get it on Amazon Prime now. Bezos doesn’t care what you watch. I think it’s a groundbreaking excellent film and it’s loaded with the old in-and-out. If your great grandmother hears you saw it, you can forget about that $5 bill on your birthday.