. . . A Brief Survey of Aussie Male Swimwear
Summer in Australia invariably sees a resurgence of the (often humorous) debate about the best type of swimwear for men. Is it boardies or Speedos?
In 2009 the debate received national attention when photos of a Speedos-clad Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition party in Australian federal politics, were widely brandied around and discussed. With Mr. Abbott being well known for his staunch Roman Catholicism, the images briefly earned him the nickname “Mad Monk Hunk.” By and large, however, he – and his Speedos – were ridiculed.
In response to all the hubbub, Melbourne’s Herald Sun conducted a survey and declared that “the verdict from the girls is in – board shorts win for modesty.”
Yes, it would seem that Speedos have definitely fallen out of favour. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, as some guys definitely look, well, good in them.
And maybe for a lot of people, that’s the issue.
After all, in our still largely patriarchal society, it's acceptable to view and admire women as objects of beauty and desire, but less so when it comes to men. Why is this?
I think it's got something to do with what Ramsey Burt talks about in his book The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities. Maybe the “spectacle” of a good-looking guy in a pair of Speedos is similar to that of a well-toned and graceful male dancer. Both, in their beauty, strength and vulnerability, have the potential to challenge, undermine and/or redefine patriarchal notions of masculinity.
I once read that the key to wearing Speedos is to have them tight around the back and loose in the front. Unfortunately, most guys get it the wrong way around. The result is a saggy bottom at back and a case of "too much information" up front! Of course, even when worn "correctly," there's always no doubt that it's a male body inside a pair of Speedos. That must be a problem for a lot of people, given the popularity of the Speedos' derogatory nickname of “budgie smugglers.”
For my non-Australian readers the following illustration by John Hunter humorously shows what a “budgie” or budgerigar is, and why such a colourful little bird gets caught up in the whole "boardies versus Speedos" debate.
The history of the Speedo is quite interesting. According to Tim Hunter, who made Packed Lunch, a documentary film about the much-maligned Speedos, “the classic swimming brief was designed by Peter Travis, a gay man now in his 70s and living in Sydney, who was approached by Speedo in 1960 to produce a range of men’s leisure and swimwear.”
“Travis,” says Hunter, “started with the hips as the body’s stable point, not the waist, and reasoned aesthetically that anything worn on the hips couldn’t be more than three inches (7.6 centimetres) wide. Thus, the Speedo brief was born.”
Hunter argues that the Speedo is “acceptable as a functional garment, worn when you’re swimming laps at the pool or competing in a triathlon or under your boardies at the beach. They're even acceptable as a fashionable garment, within reason.”
This question of "within reason" is humorously highlighted in, of all things, the following advertisement from New Zealand for Trumpet ice creams!
Interestingly, I'd doubt you'd see a guy as young as the actor in this ad wearing a pair of Speedos. On Australian beaches it's generally older (and, er, less-in-shape) guys who don the Speedo. So how does Tim Hunter account for the widespread negativity towards the Speedo? He writes that:
The Speedos Cringe is . . . born of embarrassment. After all, we're talking about a piece of clothing that leaves very little of a man's assets to the imagination. That's why there are myriad slang nicknames for them: budgie-smugglers, sluggos, dick togs, lollybags . . . the list goes on.
Yet as the photo at right, er, clearly shows, revealing swimwear for men existed long before the advert of the Speedo. I wonder if these bathing suits from the 1930s were ever disparaging referred to as "dick togs"? Or were people less prone to sexualizing or turning into a fetish every glimpse of the male penis? What's wrong with observing, even admiring, and then moving on?
Speaking of which, there’s one group of people who rarely fail to admire the Speedo, especially when worn well: gay men. I put this down to a certain gay male aesthetic. It’s not possessed by all gay men, to be sure, but by a significant number of us I would contend. It’s an aesthetic that is drawn to affirming and creating beauty in all manner of forms – from literature to music, from liturgies to, well . . . swimwear.
Which brings me to the latest news in the development of Australian male swimwear. According to a story in last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph, a new type of swimwear that’s “halfway between the boardie and budgie smugglers” is gaining popularity with Aussie men.
“The popularity of trunks, or Euro-togs,” writes Briana Domjen, “is growing, allowing wearers to flaunt more skin than board shorts but leave more to the imagination than Speedos.”
Domjen quotes Sydney’s Channel Seven’s style advisor Kai Aiyub as saying that “[Euro-] togs [are] the best of both worlds,” the “love child” of the board shorts and the Speedo.
I guess I'll have to wait until next time I'm in Australia to see just how popular the Euro-tog becomes. Somehow I think boardies have won the day and will continue to reign supreme on Australian beaches.
Oh, and for the record, I wear boardies and Speedos – both at the same time! You see, like a lot of guys, I wear Speedos under my boardies.
But who knows. Maybe next summer I'll be looking like this . . .
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• Shards of Summer
• The Trouble with the Male Dancer
• A Fresh Take on Masculinity
• Ian Thorpe's Difficult Decision
• Making a Splash
• Openly Gay Diver Wins Olympic Gold
• The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism
Recommended Off-site Links:
In Defense of the Speedo – Spokane Al (Spokane Al, December 11, 2010).
Male Nudity: Do Women Like to Watch? – Emma Jane (The Punch, January 31, 2011).
The "Sheer Magnificence" of Ricky Berens' "Pretty Good Show" – The Leveret (August 15, 2009).
Why (Most) Men (in the US) Don't (Won't) Wear Speedos – David Sebringsil (Sebringsil's Papers on Male Sexuality, 2007).
Image 1: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 2: My friend Raph – looking good in a pair of boardies! Photo: Michael Bayly, 2010.
Image 3: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 4: Canadian diver Alexandre Despatie.
Image 5: Model Gui (DNA Magazine).
Image 6: John Hunter.
Image 7: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 8: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 9: Patrick Horne and Claudine Gibson. (Photo: Sunday Telegraph).
Image 10: Subject and photographer unknown.
Image 11: Models Heath Meldrum and James O'Halloran. Photo: David Caird (Herald Sun).