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Sun's out, bums out

by Kym Middleton
22 May 2018
SOCIETY, RELATIONSHIPS AND CULTURE

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The temperature has dropped on the east coast of Australia and we’re realising the seemingly endless summer of 2018 has indeed come to a close. Cool nights, cooler mornings, and fresh water temperatures are here. Kym Middleton reflects on the summer that was… the summer of bare butts. 


 


Beachgoers would have noticed our lucky country has been hit with a rather European trend. Or is it South American? Women and girls of all ages and shapes were donning g-string swimsuits and Brazilian bottoms. Arse cheeks were out and as sun-kissed as a brown forearm, curiously suggesting they had never been covered up. Insert thinking emoji face here.

 

If conversations and interactions underneath Instagram posts are anything to go by, people seem to care a lot about this newish ocean side fashion. People have been looking and commenting and rubber necking and commenting some more. Was that the sound of a drone hovering over the group of young women lying belly down on the sand? 

 

“Whether a bit more butt cheek is nudity or not, our different reactions to the sight of peach shaped posteriors reflect so much on our different ideas of bodies, gender, and sexuality.”


Whether a bit more butt cheek is nudity or not, our different reactions to the sight of peach shaped posteriors reflect so much on our different ideas of bodies, gender, and sexuality. Australia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, so it makes sense some sort of overarching cultural attitude to how much skin we should show doesn’t exist. Even individuals will sometimes revere and scorn the sight of skin – context is everything.

 

Nudity can be a beautiful thing. It’s darn delightful to see the kids running around the backyard in the nutter on a hot day as the sprinkler runs, free of all the bodily self-consciousness that will hit them in adolescence. Such sweet, innocent freedom. 

 

But by the time we’re all growed up, we’re sexual beings and our bods better be covered or it’s just down right creepy – unless you’re at the beach of course. It’s often said women are more free to dress how they like in any environment but even a boringly functional shoulder on a hot summer’s day is wildly inappropriate in some workplaces. Then again, imagine a man exposing his knees by wearing shorts in a corporate environment or strutting into the boardroom in flipflops. 

 

Shoulders, knees and toes, so risqué. No wonder people love to get semi-nude when they’re near sand and saltwater. The working week’s uniform is so prudish when compared with the itsy bitsy teenie weenie things we’re permitted to sport in public at the beach. And perhaps that’s the beauty of this summer’s bare butt trend – a liberation of the social and cultural expectations most are happy to play along with but only for limited week day bursts. 

 

Maybe it’s the influence of Kim Kardashian’s glorious glutes. Maybe HBO started the nudity thing years ago – Australians tend to follow northern hemisphere trends a season or more later. Maybe it isn’t about popular culture at all and it’s just that women want more skin tanned and are seeing it’s now acceptable. Could we stretch this to a health argument by bringing up vitamin D? Or is it just that despite the good advocacy work of the Cancer Council, people can’t resist the warm, fuzzy feeling of sunrays touching their arse? 

 

“On one hand, you could argue the butt cheek trend is marking a positive social shift in attitudes to women’s bodies – one where we’re less concerned about the shape or size of anyone’s booty.”


On one hand, you could argue the butt cheek trend is marking a positive social shift in attitudes to women’s bodies – one where we’re less concerned about the shape or size of anyone’s booty and getting it out there shows women and girls in particular aren’t as hung up about their physical selves as we once believed. 

 

On the other hand, you could argue this is a submission to sexism. Plenty of people don’t like to see women and girls enjoying their bodies this way. While arguments in favour of modesty can attract accusations of a controlling type of chauvinism, they are often made in defence of women’s liberty. Why must the so called fairer sex feel an obligation to display so much skin? Can’t women and girls have fun in the sun without feeling they need to sexualise themselves? Is all this bum display a nasty product of patriarchy getting its insidious tentacles into our beachside R&R?

 

I descend from a people not known for bodily inhibitions. If Hungarians aren’t presented with a sign in public baths telling them to don swimwear, the only suit necessary is the one your mama gave you. Some baths even supply disposable coverings for men and women’s nether regions in case they forget to pack something (although I suspect there are a few Magyars who don’t own a cozzie). 

 

The other side of my family values dressing modestly in public. Headscarves are worn to social gatherings and ankles covered. Someone walking bare butt into a space, let alone naked, is unimaginable. 

 

So, do we care which direction Australian beaches head? And how does a culturally diverse country make a general rule around appropriate levels of dress? 
 


Kym Middleton is the head of editorial and events at The Ethics Centre. She produces Intelligence Squared Australia. Get your tickets to the next debate, ‘#MeToo has gone too far’ here